Dallas Keuchel, Further Reviewed

It’s time for another Dallas Keuchel update. He’s been this season’s breakout star on the mound, aside from Masahiro Tanaka who kind of doesn’t count. He’s received his share of attention here at RotoGraphs, and FanGraphs (Uno, Dos). Amazingly, he’s still available in 24 percent of Yahoo leagues, which is just a travesty.

Here are some numbers of Keuchel’s compared to other major league starters.

ERA – 2.55 – 15th best
FIP – 2.65 – 11th best
xFIP – 2.59 – 3rd best
SIERA – 2.41 – 2nd best
GB% – 66.5% – best by a silly six percent margin
K%-BB% – 18% – tied 16th best

Additionally, among pitchers with at least 10 starts, only three have averaged more innings per start – Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, and Mike Leake (the latter has thrown .1 more innings than Keuchel in the same number of starts). So we’ve listed several important numbers that describe a pitcher’s performance and Keuchel is at or near the top of all of them. If you’re concerned about his career best walk rate, it’s in line with his minor league numbers – he typically walked about 5 percent of batters.

Keuchel has the numbers of a stud, so let’s try to understand him more as a pitcher. Here is his pitch usage for the 2014 season

Keuchel Pitch Usage

He throws three fastballs, with the sinker getting the most work. Left-handed sinker ballers are pretty rare. Keuchel’s ground ball rate matches the elites – Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb. Unless I missed a name, the only other extreme left-handed groundball pitcher since 2002 is Jaime Garcia. Hitters see a lot of sinkers when they’re ahead in the count, which is the perfect time to throw a well controlled, moving fastball. His slider comes out to play once he’s ahead in the count. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s a doozy. His change gets a lot of action against right-handed hitters, although lefties never see it.

Keuchel SABR

Here’s the money chart. I’ve added some helpful boxes to draw your eye. Notice his slider and change generate a very high rate of whiffs per swing. Moreover, when batters swing, his slider is whiffed or fouled away over 77 percent of the time! We’re working with small sample sizes, but that’s still mighty impressive. His sinker and change are both fantastic at drawing ground balls when they’re put in play.

If you want a reason to fret, it’s that his success has been a very recent thing. He was solid in April, but far from spectacular. His ISO by pitch type captures the trend.

Keuchel ISO1

If we zoom out to include 2013, we might be seeing where things really clicked for him – August. Again, this is ISO by pitch type.

Keuchel ISO2

Now that we have a better understanding of who he is as a pitcher, let’s talk fantasy advice. If he’s still on your waiver wire, go grab him immediately. He might also make for a great buy high candidate from somebody who is looking to cash in on his hot three games.

There are two drawbacks to using Keuchel on your fantasy squad. He ends a lot of counts early, which isn’t going to help your strikeout rate. Even though he’s sitting down 22 percent of batters with a 11.5 swinging strike rate, he only has a 7.77 K/9. As such, you’ll want to pair him with a top reliever like Wade Davis.

This “drawback” is also a positive. Quick at bats means lots of innings per start and those correlate strongly with wins. Unfortunately, the Astros feature a tepid offense and weak bullpen, so he’ll have to pitch very deeply into games to ensure a win (his team is the second drawback).




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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.


21 Responses to “Dallas Keuchel, Further Reviewed”

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  1. Terence says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    With a wRC+ of 97 the Astros offense is 13th out of 30. Not sure if that qualifies as tepid or not. The bullpen was the worst in the majors in April with a .330 BABIP and a 15.5% HR/FB. They are top 10 in May with more normalized results. Those may not be good reasons to avoid Keuchel going forward.

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    • Brad Johnson says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      The bullpen is definitely a concern. It’s pretty damn terrible regardless of how it performed in May. The players in it aren’t good relievers. None of them.

      The lineup has the ability to launch some home runs, but my impression is they’ve done their best work against some of the bad starters in their own division.

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      • Sean says:

        Are we only including people not on the DL? That’s a pretty outrageous and damning statement, even given how wildly variant relievers are. And I’d argue wrong.

        Qualls was damn good last year, Crain was good before he got injured, Albers started the year off well. They’ve dropped 3 relievers already and now Sipp seems to be doing very well in an exceedingly small sample size.

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      • Brad Johnson says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Well I’m not including Crain since it’s unclear how he’ll pitch upon returning. Qualls can be intermittently useful, but he’s far from reliable. Albers’ is a little harder to handicap given his weird results over the years.

        Maybe Sipp is a good reliever, but he’s thrown 258 innings in which he can at best be described as a sixth reliever.

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      oWAR is 15th and wOBA 15th, so I guess tepid is middle of the pack? What might be concerning for a pitcher with a Fangraphs-designated silly GB% of 66.5% is that the Astros defense by both dWAR and UZR/150 is dead last by margins that one might also call silly.

      The Astros starters lead the league in GB% and their staff is 4th overall, which is obviously influenced by Keuchel’s sky high rate, but Cosart is 10th and Feldman would be 22nd if he qualified, so it seems like a potential organizational focus. One wonders how much better they could be if their defense didn’t, as the French say, “suck the balls”.

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      • Brad Johnson says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Tepid – lukewarm or showing little enthusiasm. The Astros offense may be middle of the pack, but they’re a lot closer to the weak offenses (12 within 10 points of wRC+) than the good offenses (7 within 10 pts).

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      • Rhyno says:

        Their offense WAS “tepid”, but for the entirety of May is 7th in runs and 5th in OPS. This may have a bias toward Springer’s hot stretch, but it’s 29 games as opposed to the 24 April games were they were 28th and apparently so deeply ingrained themselves in your psyche.

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      • Rhyno says:

        Eh, math in the morning is hard… 28 games in April, 27 so far in May… I can count. Sometimes.

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      • Brad Johnson says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I’d rather look at the whole season than parts. Granted, they have slightly better personnel since Springer is in the lineup.

        In any case, maybe tepid is 80% descriptive of the situation rather than a perfect fit. It’s just a word, the point stands – the Astros offense is not a reliable source of run production.

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      • Rhyno says:

        Is it as great a concern as a below average defense (by most metrics, it seems like) with an “elite ground ball” pitcher? For some reason they seem to step it up for him, but that seems a logical long-term concern.

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      • Brad Johnson says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        The defense is definitely a concern. Though ground balls don’t often turn into more than one base, even when there’s an error, so I’m not TOO concerned about the D.

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      • Rhyno says:

        It’s a bit hard to grasp your approach toward their hitting (consider the track record as opposed to the recent trend) when you’re taking the exact opposite approach toward the pitcher in question. That may be more a matter of degree, though. Either way, things will play out and we’ll see. I, for a worthless one data point, find several reasons for “enthusiasm” in regard to their offensive potential. They’ve played a surprisingly good month of offensive baseball against a decent stretch of teams and pitchers (Detroit, LAA, Texas, Seattle, Baltimore, CWS — admittedly not a decent set of pitchers right now, and KC). As with most complicated forecasts, there are plenty of reasons to both doubt or trust various data as the “real story”.

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  2. ashtray says:

    The more I read about him the more I like.

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  3. If you average the zScores for ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-/SIERA, Keuchel ranks second best among starters, just behind Tanaka, and right ahead of Wainwright and Felix. Those four guys and Cueto are the only pitchers to be at least 1 standard deviation better than average by all four metrics.

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  4. Mike Wimmer says:

    I traded Yordano Ventura for Kuechel. Feeling pretty good about it, especially since Ventura seems to be a bad pitch away from being out a long time sadly.

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  5. David says:

    Offense actually ranked 13th in MLB in wRC+…. not as bad as most think

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    • Rhyno says:

      They were awful in April, but quite positive in May. Springer’s month has been silly, Chris Carter’s even been vaguely productive, and they’ve got pretty good speed. All in all, “they’re not as bad as most think” is a pretty good team mantra at this point.

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  6. Steinbrenner's Calzone says:

    Any swap stories on this guy? 6×6 Roto OPS/QS, I really can’t conceive a fair price, particularly for a hitter.

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    • srpst23 says:

      There probably isn’t a fair price for him. He is a pitcher most haven’t heard of on a bad team. Regardless of how well he does you probably won’t get anywhere near a fair return for him. It is similar in a way to the Scott Kazmir scenario, where it’s probably just best to hold him and ride it out. You could probably get a flawed 2 catagory player for him at best. I’ve been offered Pagan and Morse in separate deals for him in a 12-team 5×5 (avg/w) league.

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      • Brad Johnson says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Were I trying to acquire him, I might use a pitcher like Yordano Ventura or Ervin Santana for a challenge trade scenario. If I want to use a position player, someone like Daniel Murphy would be a reasonable offer.

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  7. BMB says:

    Also note the Astros employ the shift more than any other team in baseball. So a strong ground ball pitcher like Keuchel could statistically benefit from the shifting on BABIP vs other ground ball pitchers whose teams do not shift.

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