It's not been pretty for Dallas Keuchel lately. In his seven starts for the Astros this season, he's sporting a 5.77 ERA/1.67 WHIP, with 14K:25BB and 8HR in 39IP. It started out well enough, though. In his first three starts (20IP), he allowed 14H/3ER, albeit with 8K:9BB, for a 1.35 ERA/1.10 WHIP - including a complete game against the Indians on June 23rd, his 2nd Major League start.
In the four starts since then, though...dadgum. His BABIP rose from .194 in the first three starts to a far more normal/brutal .313. In his last four starts, he's thrown 19IP, allowing 26H/22ER, 6K:16BB, 6HR, and a 1.119 OPS-against, for a 10.42 ERA/2.21 WHIP.
Should we be worried? Well, yeah. There's no way to spin the last four starts to say anything otherwise. If you allow as many homers as you get strikeouts (six), there's some cause for alarm. But let's take a look at Keuchel's history in advancing levels to see if there's something at the end of the rainbow besides a knife-wielding leprechaun, who is also a card-carrying member of the IRA.
Hard to gauge anything here, because Keuchel made 10 starts (11 appearances), throwing 56.2IP, and posting a 2.70 ERA/1.08 WHIP overall. In those ten starts, he threw 52IP, allowing 43H/13ER. The one relief appearance was a disaster, in which he gave up 9H/4ER in 4.2IP. He was fresh off a College World Series appearance, so he ostensibly was better than most of his competition.
2010: Lancaster / Corpus
Aha. Here's our first good example of Keuchel's level adjustments. Keuchel started the 2010 season at High-A Lancaster. In 19 appearances (18 starts), Keuchel threw 120.2IP, allowing 129H/45ER, with 97K:25BB, for a 3.36 ERA/1.28 WHIP. Not bad, huh? Well, the beginning was rough. In his first three games for the JetHawks, Keuchel allowed 28H/15ER, with 13K:2BB, in 13.1IP. That's a 10.15 ERA/2.25 WHIP. There were some hiccups the rest of the way, to be sure, but after those three appearances? 107.1IP, 101H/33ER, 84K:23BB, or a 2.77 ERA/1.16 WHIP.
So he got promoted to Corpus. And got roughed up. In nine starts for the Hooks towards the end of the 2010 season, Keuchel posted an overall 4.70 ERA/1.30 WHIP. But in his first five starts at Double-A (26.1IP), Keuchel allowed 33H/17ER, with 20K:4BB, which translates into a 5.82 ERA/1.41 WHIP. In his last five starts of the 2010 Corpus season, he turned it around for 26H/11ER, 16K:7BB in 27.1IP (3.63 ERA/1.21 WHIP).
2011: Corpus / Oklahoma City
Another year, another promotion. Keuchel started the season at Corpus, and picked up where he left off with those last four starts. In 20 starts for the Hooks in 2011, Keuchel posted a 3.17 ERA/1.12 WHIP, which earned him an August promotion to Oklahoma City, which did not go well, at least initially.
In his first two starts for the RedHawks (who were miserable in 2011), he threw 5.1IP, allowing 18H/18ER, 1K:4BB. That's "good enough" for a 30.57 ERA and a 4.13 WHIP in those two starts. Bad, right? Well, in his final four starts for OKC in 2011, Keuchel threw 30.2IP, allowing 27H/11ER, with 10K:7BB - a 3.23 ERA/1.11 WHIP.
This brings us to 2012. Clearly throughout his career, Keuchel has had a rough start to a new level, and made adjustments. Save your jokes about the 2012 Astros, but they're obviously not in the minors anymore. Look, yeah, Keuchel's career minor-league walk rate was 1.9 BB/9 innings. In the majors, it's 5.8 BB/9. He's not going to strike a bunch of people out (5.9 K/9 in the minors), and major-league hitters aren't going to swing at his pancakes. But, for now, anyway, I do think Keuchel will be able to make the adjustments he needs to make to be a serviceable starting pitcher. And to be perfectly honest, would you rather let a 24-year old Dallas Keuchel see if he can figure it out, or let Nelson Figueroa pitch? Give the guy time, he's proven that he at least deserves a chance to right the ship.
Keuchel started his Major-League career out strong, and hitters made adjustments. The question is whether Keuchel will be able to adjust to the adjustments.