by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
That’s right, I’m saying it. If you have the opportunity you should grab the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel immediately. Skeptical? I know how crazy it sounds, but everything is slanting towards a potential total package.
He always brought two important parts to his game:
- Impressive Control
Both are important, especially pitching in Houston, and both have been there thus far in 2014. We can argue that he is not going to maintain his current 66.4% groundball rate, but he owns a 56.1% mark in the Majors and 54.9% mark since 2011 in the minors. There’s no questioning that asset.
He’s also hammered the strike zone, with a 2.25 BB/9. With a minor league career mark of 1.9, again this isn’t a surprise and should continue to help him as a solid WHIP option.
So if we knew all this heading into the season, exactly what has changed? The fact is that Keuchel is suddenly generating strikeouts, with an 8.18 K/9. It backs up last season’s 7.2, a mark we thought was unsustainable due to a 5.9 K/9 in the minors.
What appears to have changed is Keuchel did away with his curveball last season, instead throwing a slider (which he has now used nearly 20% of the time the past two seasons). It clearly has helped generate swings and misses, currently with a 10.9% SwStr% overall. The big thing is that opposing batters appear to be expanding the strike zone against him:
- O-Swing% – 32.5% vs. league average of 28.9%
- O-Contact% – 58.1% vs. league average of 64.3%
Maybe the league figures out how to lay off the pitch, but they’ve had nearly 200 innings the past two seasons to do so and haven’t yet. Even if you think he steps back to the 7.0-7.5 range, coupled with his groundball stuff and potentially elite control? You get a pitcher that is going to hold mixed league value in all formats.
He currently owns a respectable 3.68 ERA, but he’s pitched better than that. He hasn’t benefited from luck (.296 BABIP, 73.8% strand rate). In fact with a 12.8% line drive rate you could say he’s been unlucky, so as the line drive rate rises there is no guarantee that the BABIP implodes as you would normally expect.
Sure he pitches for the Astros and that may mean that wins are hard to come by, but we all have experienced the quirkiness of the category. While he’s hardly a must start option (for example, this week against the Rangers), he has all the makings of an under-the-radar pitcher who could help you win a fantasy title. Grab him now before the rest of your league catches on.
Sources – Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference