Dallas Keuchel isn't one to sugarcoat things.
So no, he doesn't need anyone to remind him that things didn't go so hot for him last season. He was there, upsettingly, for him, for all of it.
"I was constantly battling myself to really find it," the Chicago White Sox' veteran left-hander said in November. "The constant uncompetitive pitches and getting myself into counts and deep pitches into games.
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"I had a tough time going to the field, just based on the fact that some days were tougher to go in than others because I wasn't doing my job and I felt like a burden to some of those guys. I like to say that when the season's going on, you should have a smile on your face because you get to play in a big league stadium with a big league team.
"There's things that I've done in this game that I know that I'm still capable of doing, and I feel like I just didn't do my job very well in the second half."
Considering the large amount of offseason work still facing Rick Hahn's front office and front offices around baseball, a certain segment of White Sox fans are hoping the team finds a way to upgrade the rotation — and remove Keuchel from it in the process. But even if the South Siders stick with their currently full five-man starting staff, the critical eyes on Keuchel won't go anywhere.
It was a career-worst campaign for the Cy Young and World Series winner in 2021, ending with a career-high 5.28 ERA. Even though he captured his fifth Gold Glove, he also gave up a career-high 25 homers and walked a career-high 59 batters. Typically effective against left-handed hitters, he was at one point struggling enough against them that he said he felt "like I'm on Mars."
Most notably, though, the highest paid pitcher on the roster was bad enough in the second half that he was excluded from the playoff rotation, missing out completely on the disappointingly brief American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, his old mates.
Again, Keuchel doesn't need a reminder — he understood the reality as far back as the end of August — and after spending 2021 discussing his unsuccessful 2020 playoff start as a motivating factor, he's getting a jump start on his 2022 motivation in the wake of being left off the postseason roster.
"It hurt," Keuchel said in November. "It hurt the competitor in me to not be able to even remotely help out whatsoever, especially (against) a team I know so well in the Astros.
"I'm being serious (about the motivation level). I've already relayed that to a couple of guys, Rick Hahn and (assistant general manager) Jeremy Haber. That second half was not who I am, and I want to get back to who I am."
Plenty of fans will be excused for being skeptical, that's the nature of these things, but there are reasons to anticipate a bounce back for Keuchel, who has a history of swinging back and forth between strong seasons and less-than-ideal ones. After winning the Cy Young with the Astros in 2015, he had a 4.55 ERA in 2016. After helping lead the Astros to a championship in 2017, he gave up more hits than anybody in baseball in 2018. After posting a 1.99 ERA in his first season with the White Sox in 2020, he had a dismal 2021.
When Keuchel has lost himself in the past, he's made a habit of finding himself again, so if he does it in 2022, it shouldn't come as a surprise.
Of course, that's what the White Sox' front office has to figure out: Does the faith in Keuchel returning to pitching the way he's shown he's capable of outweigh the win-now temptation of making an outside-the-organization splash in the rotation?
Regardless, redemption will be on the docket for the lefty this season, as he's now got two frustrating Octobers under his belt in two seasons as a South Sider, with just one guaranteed year left on his deal. With some impressive pitching talent around him in Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease, he won't have to do too much when it comes to carrying the starting staff. But he can also make an already strong group even stronger with a bounce-back campaign.
Finding himself pitching in October again would be a very good thing, meaning he did enough amid a crowded collection of high level arms — Michael Kopech is joining the rotation this year, too — to earn that postseason nod. Considering Keuchel's value as a guy with a lot of playoff experience under his belt, the White Sox would be very excited to welcome him back to the status of one of the game's most reliable and dependable pitchers, as it would boost their chances at capturing a World Series title.