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Do the Right Thing, Rick Hahn

It is past time to say goodbye to Dallas Keuchel and Josh Harrison

MLB: Game One-Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Guardians
Ever since the 2020 playoffs, it has been all downhill for Dallas Keuchel on the White Sox.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Hahn, it is time to put your best 26-player roster in the dugout every day. Enough of Dallas Keuchel, and enough of Josh Harrison. It is time to cut your losses, so that the Chicago White Sox can cut their losses in the standings.

Keuchel has been bad for awhile now. His 5.28 ERA in 162 innings back in 2021 would be awesome to have right now, because the team might have a couple extra wins in the season. In 2022, Keuchel is sporting a 7.88 ERA, and the thing he was good at, not walking many batters, has become something he can’t do. He has the same K-rate as he does BB-rate (12.2%), which is just abysmal. Maybe he is nibbling on the edges a bit more, because a walk might just be his best outcome — none of his pitches are effective right now.

Dallas Keuchel pitch selection stats
Baseball Savant

Keuchel’s cutter was very bad last year, and has been even worse this year. To his credit, he is throwing it 7% less this season compared to last, but he is just using his sinker more. The sinker, supposedly Keuchel’s best pitch, suffers a .471 slugging percentage against so far.

Keuchel’s immediate replacement, Vince Velaquez, is better than Keuchel — but who isn’t at this point? There was, of course, no reason to start Keuchel on May 26 against the Boston Red Sox with Velasquez still on the team, but it happened anyway.

Carlos Rodón is not on the team — complain all you want, but he just isn’t, so let’s set that gaffe aside. Also, Lance Lynn should be back soon, but odds are Keuchel would be lined up for another start or two before Lynn is back with the Sox; that would be one or two preventable blowouts if Velasquez is given the spot in the rotation. Now, it is sad having to say a pitcher (Velasquez) with a 5.30 ERA is much better option, but that is just a fact. The peripherals are better for Velasquez anyway, which is why he might stick in the bullpen once Lynn returns.

The strikeouts are down for Velasquez, but his walk rate is down as well, so he is able to mitigate the damage he gives up. Home runs given up are a problem for both him and Keuchel, but why not give the ball to the guy who doesn’t allow as many runners on base, to avoid as many big innings as possible?

To be clear, Velasquez is no answer for the starting rotation, as the graphic below shows. White Sox starters are not a deep group, but Velasquez has shown he gives the Sox a better opportunity to win right now.

Vince Velasquez percentile rankings
Baseball Savant

The other option to start before Lynn is back is to promote Davis Martin and just continue to see what you have in him. Of course, the danger with a potential DFA of Keuchel, however bad he is, is that it gives the White Sox one less starting pitcher who can take over if and when there is another injury.

Martin is a late bloomer, but he has been pretty good the last couple years in MiLB, and of course, he was good enough in his spot start this year already. In 2021, Martin was with the Winston-Salem Dash, but did not do particularly well (5.32 ERA). His strikeouts and walks were good but he was hit around too much with a .384 BABIP. Martin was promoted to Double-A and finished the year much better (3.54 ERA), but you could chalk that up to a 75-point drop in BABIP.

Fast forward to 2022, Martin’s velocity is up, so he is working more in the mid-90s — as he showed in his only start against Kansas City, he can dial it up to 97 mph. Martin had a great start in Double-A (3.00 ERA) and quickly earned promotion to Charlotte, and then the spot start for the Sox. He is a good command pitcher, with good enough breaking pitches to have high strikeout numbers. The trouble Martin has had, and why the Sox did not keep him up, is that he allows too many homers. In 39 MiLB innings, he’s allowed eight homers, and that has dinged his performance in Triple-A with a 4.80 ERA. That is by no means impressive, but Martin throws harder, has a better fastball, and has better breaking pitches than Keuchel. Martin also has the added advantage of still having an unknown ceiling compared with Velasquez, who we know is a spot-starting long reliever.

What should happen, today, is that Keuchel should be DFA’ed. Then the decision comes down to who starts until Lance Lynn is back, Martin or Velasquez?

Another question is what to do with Tanner Banks. He should clearly be sent down, but it depends for whom. If the front office wants to keep multiple starters in their bullpen, then Martin should be the guy, if not, it should be Kyle Crick or Ryan Burr. Removing Banks from the roster is secondary compared to Keuchel, but both pitchers make things worse when they are on the mound and Burr, Crick, and Martin are better options.

On the lineup side, it ought to be cut and dry, Josh Harrison and Leury García are terrible and they shouldn’t be on an MLB team, let alone one with World Series aspirations. However, García signed a three-year deal in the offseason, so there is no reason to pretend he will be released. This is the White Sox; long contracts stay until their final year.

In a perfect world where Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert are active, García would start against righties and Harrison against lefties. Instead, both of these players are getting far too many plate appearances against both, and they are doing particularly poor against lefties.

Leury batting average per zone against lefties on the left, Harrison on the right

For the above heat maps, only the top left corner for Leury is a batting average better than .200, while the hot zones are not actually hot, but better than no hits. García currently has a 5 wRC+ with no walks, while Harrison has a 9 wRC+ with a 9% higher strikeout rate against lefties. Both of those samples are beyond terrible at this point of the season. At the very least, Yolbert Sánchez could be promoted and would improve the lineup against lefties, at a the bare minimum.

Between High-A and Double-A last year, Sánchez slashed .304/.382/.392 against lefties, and so far this year in Birmingham and Triple-A, he has a slash line of .375/.528/.450 against lefties. Yolbert can hit them.

Against righties, it is a bit different, with García still sporting a bad 40 wRC+ on the year, but Harrison is up to 87 wRC+. Though with Harrison, there is a catch, because he has a .628 OPS off righties because seven of his eight extra-base hits are off right-handed pitching. His OBP is still worse than .300, and the batting average is slightly above the Mendoza line. So, some might say give Harrison a shot and just wait until the White Sox are required to have no more than 13 pitchers in their roster later in June, (they have the MLB-allowable 14 right now) because Harrison can still hit righties. Well, Sánchez can do that, too, but it is more simple than that.

We know what Harrison is as a player. He is a declining career utility player in his age-35 season having his worst offensive year since 2019. On the other hand with Sánchez, there is a lot of unknown regarding what he will be in MLB, but what we do know is that his breakout started in Birmingham at the end of 2021, continued in the AFL where he hit .400 over 45 plate appearances, and has still continued this year in showing a better walk rate. In short, Sánchez is on the rise and should get an opportunity to prove he is a major leaguer, and at the very least will be a better option for the White Sox lineup against lefties. Harrison has proven he shouldn’t be an option anywhere any longer.

To bring it all together, Hahn can do these things and the team will immediately be better:

  • DFA Dallas Keuchel and have Vince Velasquez or Davis Martin get those starts until Lance Lynn returns
  • Release Josh Harrison and give Yolbert Sánchez a shot to prove his breakout is real in MLB. (It could also give Lenyn Sosa a promotion to Charlotte, to prove his breakout is real in Triple-A, too, and if it is, maybe he will make the Romy González jump from Double-A to MLB in a season.)

Trades are not going to happen right now, but these tweaks actually make the team better now.

It’s time to do it: Cut loose the sunk cost, Rick, everybody will feel better.