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
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.
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.
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.
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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