Dallas Keuchel: Can We Trust Him in 2015?
In a year full of surprising breakout pitchers, Dallas Keuchel was perhaps the biggest surprise of all. After all, Keuchel had thrown 239 major league innings prior to 2014 and his results were dismal — 5.20 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and a 9-18 career record. Nobody and I mean nobody predicted the 26 year old’s rapid climb up the charts. In hindsight, perhaps we should have noticed that he wasn’t as bad as he seemed. There were some subtle signs that being an average major league pitcher was within the realm of possibility. He had been quite unlucky in terms of BABIP (.340) and strand rate (68%). His 3.58 xFIP and 3.68 SIERA showed that he was actually pretty decent in 2013 and should have been on the radar of deep league team owners. He nearly doubled his strikeout rate from 2012 to 2013. His groundball rate was climbing. His walk rate was dropping. But even if we had noticed all that we still would not have predicted stardom for the former 7th round pick. His fastball velocity of 89 mph is only average and there was nothing in his southpaw repertoire that screamed future star.
So how did Keuchel end up with a 2.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 12-9 record and 146 strikeouts in exactly 200 innings in 2014? Good question. Those stats are light-years better than his 2013 line. For the season, Keuchel finished as the 35th-best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball 5×5 leagues. He was the 258th-best starting pitcher in 2013. That is a huge jump in fantasy value.
Keuchel’s 63.5% ground ball rate is by far the highest in the majors. That is the biggest reason why his 0.50 HR/9 was the 6th-best rate in baseball. If you don’t walk people (2.16 BB/9) and you don’t give up home runs it is going to be awfully hard for batters to put runs on the board. Keuchel’s 3.21 FIP, 3.20 xFIP and 3.11 SIERA prove that his 2.93 ERA was legitimate. His .295 BABIP was league average so you can’t say he was just lucky. There is every reason to believe that Keuchel will continue to be a very good pitcher.
The only downside to Keuchel as a fantasy player is the low strikeout rate. We need our pitchers to not only provide good ERAs, we also need lots of strikeouts. Keuchel’s 6.57 K/9 is on the low side. He threw 200 innings this year (33rd-most in baseball) yet he only struck out 146 batters (57th-most). If your league has an innings limit Keuchel can hurt you in the strikeouts category. If your league allows unlimited innings his negative impact isn’t as bad because he does throw a lot of innings. He reached the 200 inning mark despite pitching only 29 games. That’s nearly 7 innings per start on average, meaning if he plays the full season next year and gets 33 starts he should exceed 225 innings. With his stellar ratios he could deliver quite a boost to your team’s ERA and WHIP in 225+ innings.
Wins are another slight concern. The Astros are not a very good team and they don’t score many runs. Keuchel goes deep enough into games to where he should get the decision most times out. But if his teammates don’t score, those decisions are all too likely to be losses. As the next couple seasons unfold the young Astros are expected to get better, so maybe Keuchel will be able to snare 15+ wins most seasons. The same concern holds true for Keuchel’s Houston teammate Collin McHugh, who has very similar peripheral stats such as xFIP and SIERA. But McHugh has the advantage of striking out more than a batter per inning. McHugh in fact struck out 11 more batters than Keuchel despite throwing nearly 50 fewer innings. For that reason McHugh is a better fantasy asset than Keuchel.
Moving forward to next season and beyond, I expect Dallas Keuchel to remain a top 40 pitcher in fantasy baseball. He is not the kind of guy who will pick up your team and carry it to a championship, but he is a strong component of a winning fantasy rotation. There are a lot of fantasy owners out there who are still not sold on Keuchel. They are still wondering whether he is a mediocre pitcher who had one flukey-good season only to fade back into oblivion. Due to that I think he can often be obtained at a discount because his perceived value lags behind his true value. You can roster Keuchel and use him with confidence in early 2015. Since Keuchel does not strike out a lot of batters he will be more susceptible to the random ebbs and flows of BABIP and strand rate than most stud pitchers, which means he may end up being fairly inconsistent from month to month. As the ace of your rotation Keuchel is far from ideal, but as a complementary piece of your rotation Keuchel is ideal. If you have him on your dynasty team you should keep him rather than trade him. If you do not have him yet you should try to get him if the price is right, but don’t break the bank.
What are your thoughts on Keuchel? Are you buying or selling? Are there any other players you are wondering about? Let me know in the comments below!
To get a leg up on your competition you can improve your fantasy pitching staff by reading these recent columns as well: