Most of the White Sox fandom, myself included, is in agreement with our feelings towards Dallas Keuchel. This season, he has not played up to the 3 year, $55.5M contract he signed before the COVID shortened 2020 season. At his current rate, he is on track to have the second-worst season of his career, only narrowly beating out his rookie season back in 2012. If the season were to end today, he would finish with his second-worst K/9 (5.35), BB/9 (3.27), HR/9 (1.43), and ERA (5.23) of his career. On top of that, he has been publicly critical of the rest of his team, while showing a lack of accountability for his own underwhelming performance. All of this combined has led to a growing consensus that come October, he should be watching the games from home.
Now that we have gotten all of the bad out of the way, it is time to play devil’s advocate. My prediction is that the White Sox will carry 4 starters and 8 relief pitchers. Without question, Keuchel has been outperformed by the other 4 starters, so a rotation spot is (hopefully) out of the question. In the bullpen, however, there are probably only 6 locks to make the roster in Hendriks, Kimbrel, Tepera, Kopech, Bummer, and Crochet. I won’t include Reynaldo Lopez in the “locks” category; however, he has most likely done enough to earn a spot in the bullpen as well. This leaves one final bullpen spot accounted for.
There will be several pitchers on the 40-man roster who will most likely be in consideration for this spot. This list, along with Keuchel, will include Jose Ruiz, Mike Wright Jr, Ryan Burr, Matt Foster, Jace Fry, Jimmy Lambert, and Evan Marshall.
Now, if Evan Marshall gets healthy and shows his 2020 form in the final weeks of the season, then he is probably the best bet for the Sox. However, this is not something the team can rely on happening, so he is probably on the outside looking in. Mike Wright Jr. and Ryan Burr have shown some promise in brief stints with the big-league club, however, they both have advanced metrics that show they have probably way outperformed their actual abilities, as they both have a FIP and xFIP roughly 2 full points higher than their ERA’s. Neither Matt Foster nor Jace Fry has done enough in their brief stints with the club this season to stick around, so they are both most likely going to be left off the club as well. The same can be said for Jimmy Lambert, who has provided enough value to fill an occasional spot start, but he should not be relied on for much more than that at this point.
This leaves us with two final options: Dallas Keuchel and Jose Ruiz. Now, on the surface, Jose Ruiz has the better overall stats and is probably the preferred choice for many. However, digging a little deeper will show plenty of concerns with his projection in a playoff situation. While he has put up a respectable 2.89 ERA this season, his 3.87 FIP, 4.20 xERA, and 4.26 xFIP are probably better indicators of his overall performance this year. On top of that, he has only been reliable out of the bullpen in low leverage situations. Out of the 20 earned runs Ruiz has given up this season in the 62.1 innings he has pitched, 6 of them were given up in the 8.2 non-low leverage innings he has appeared in, according to Fangraphs. He has also allowed an OPS against of over 1.000 in those innings, leading anyone to be skeptical about relying on him in any game that truly matters.
Now, Keuchel has obviously shown his own reasons for concern this season (with the numbers pointed out in the first paragraph). However, there are also reasons that he could provide some value as the final bullpen arm in a playoff situation. Looking at the numbers, it is clear that the majority of the damage done against him has come after his first time through a lineup. This season, his ERA when facing the opposing lineup the first time in a game is a much more respectable 3.98. It only goes downhill from there, as his ERA dips to a 5.04 his second time through the order, and an ugly 8.51 ERA facing an opposing lineup for the third time in a game. In a bullpen role, it is unlikely he would go long enough to get to a lineup a second time through, so he would be playing to his strengths.
That alone may not be enough to firmly cement Keuchel as the last bullpen arm for the team, but he brings other qualities that give him an edge over the rest of the list. First of all, the Sox bullpen is low on lefty arms, so Keuchel could help diversify the bullpen in that aspect. Also, the former world series experience does bring a minor edge to his resume vs the rest of the candidates here. And finally, the White Sox are paying him to pitch in games that matter. That may not be a great reason for this argument, but it is true nonetheless.
So like it or not, don’t be surprised if Keuchel is still pitching for the Sox. If this is how the roster plays out, don’t freak out. This spot is for the last bullpen arm and likely one that won’t impact the outcome of these games too much.
All of this assumes that the White Sox are fully healthy come October. That being said, if last night’s injury to Carlos Rodon is anything long-term, the case for Dallas Keuchel to make the playoff roster will only get stronger.
There is still a lot of baseball left over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out.
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