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).

We hoped you liked reading Dallas Keuchel, Further Reviewed by Brad Johnson!

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Terence
Member
Member
Terence

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.

Emcee Peepants
Guest
Emcee Peepants

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”.

Rhyno
Guest
Rhyno

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.

Rhyno
Guest
Rhyno

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

Rhyno
Guest
Rhyno

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.

Rhyno
Guest
Rhyno

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”.