Dallas Keuchel turned in a Solid bounce back campaign in 2017 after a down year in 2016. The 2015 Cy Young Award Winner did miss some time last year (two DL stints for a neck issue) but came back strong to finish with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 145.2 innings. The overall Ks were not great at 125 but that was offset by 14 wins. Unfortunately wins are the most difficult category to predict but luck is on your side when you have the offense of the Astros behind you.
Let’s talk about why Dallas will be overrated in 2018. His surface numbers look much closer to his 2015 Cy Young season numbers but I’d argue he’s closer to the guy he was in 2016. First, his K rate is nearly identical, 7.71 in 2016 and 7.72 in 2017 and his BB rate actually went up in 2017 to 2.90 from 2.57. Let’s look at BABIP which was a career low at .256 in 2017, his previous low was in 2015 at .269. Now, to be fair you can’t just say well a pitcher’s BABIP against is below the league average of .300, so he’s going to suppress because Keuchel does induce a lot of weak contact. So while I think he’s similar to Kyle Hendricks in this regard, I think a BABIP around .280 seems more comfortable. Along with the weak contact I love that he leads the league in ground ball rate at 66% and in turn limits home runs in an era where everyone and their great aunt Clare is hitting balls 425 feet. Wait, is this a LOVE post or a bust post, I’m getting confused.
Take a look at the graph showing ERA, FIP, and BABIP. BABIP and ERA basically are in line with each other with the exception of 2012 (partial year). And his FIP had improved every year from 2012 – 2015 but in 2016 and 2017 it’s leveled off in the high 3s. The ERA stayed low and the BABIP stayed with it. As mentioned earlier, I expect that BABIP to bounce back up and the ERA will go with it. Also look at HR/FB which shot up in 2017 and now his margin for error is minimal with Keuchel, a few less GB and a few more HR with a rising BB rate = 4+ ERA and limited K upside.
I can’t deny that Keuchel is a good major league pitcher but I’m looking at his numbers regressing and I haven’t even mentioned his LOB % of nearly 80%! I do think his Ks will go up near 8.0/9 due to the fact that he does have a very good sinker/slider combo and mixes his pitchers very well. However, another issue arises when I look at his zone% which was only 37% and while he does get hitters to chase those pitches out of the zone over 32% of the time, I think hitters are going to start to be a little more patient with Keuchel and you’ve already seen some that with the increased walk rate. So I don’t expect a decrease in walk rate back to his career numbers.
Typically the margin for error with a pitcher that doesn’t have overpowering stuff (90 mph on his fastball) is so slim (Shady) a slight adjustment takes Keuchel from a 3.00 ERA guy to a 4.00 ERA guy. So to recap, Keuchel needs to do the following perfect to be successful: locate all pitches, get ahead in the count, get hitters to chase, suppress HRs, and get weak contact/ground balls. I don’t doubt he has the ability to perform on some of those tasks, but I’m betting he under performs on his projections especially since he’s had trouble staying healthy (he’averaged under 157 IP the last two seasons).
Projections for 2018: 170 IP, 13 Wins, 3.82 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 154 Ks
His early ADPs are around 64 overall, going as the 17th SP off the board. I’d rather have Aaron Nola, Jose Quintana, and Masahiro Tanaka among others.