If the 2015 season was a breakout, then what will the 2016 edition be for Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel?
After all, it will be tough for the bearded left-hander to top a season where he won a Cy Young award. Those type of seasons doesn’t happen every year for pitchers. And the Houston Astros know that. However, this reasoning doesn’t mean an encore performance won’t happen. It just may not be the exact level of his 2015 season.
Dallas Keuchel managed to set new career-best marks in numerous categories, such as wins (20), ERA (2.48), FIP (2.91), strikeouts (216), and WAR (6.1). He bamboozled opposing lineups on a regular basis, especially the New York Yankees. And his beard game was always on point.
A major part of Keuchel’s success in his Cy Young campaign stems from the improved ability to produce strikeouts and maintain one of the highest ground ball percentages in baseball. He also continued to utilize a slider at least 20% of total pitches thrown that pairs nicely with his four seam fastball. And having a .269 BABIP against opposing hitters definitely didn’t hurt his cause. Keuchel may not throw harder than the low nineties, but he knows how to use every ounce of his abilities. So much for a pitcher with “average” stuff, huh?
2016 is hopefully more of the same for the 28-year old pitcher. He enters this upcoming season with a nice raise that pushes his annual salary up to $7.2 million. That is still a bargain for one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Consider this: based on his 2015 results, Keuchel was worth $48.7 million. No, he won’t ever get paid even close to that outrageous amount in one season. The figure is actually based on WAR converted to dollars and that is what the Astros would have needed to spend in free agency last year to match Keuchel’s productivity if the team foresaw his productivity.
Now time for the actual projections!
Fangraphs ZiPS projections have Keuchel regressing in 2016. Per ZiPS, the Astros ace is projected to go 15-9 with a 3.29 ERA/3.34 FIP in roughly 200 innings. That would be his worst statistical season as a starter since 2013 when he went 6-10 with a 5.15 ERA/4.25 FIP in 22 games started (31 games total). One reason for the regression is the unlikely probability that he would replicate his .269 BABIP in 2016. In fact, ZiPS projects his BABIP to increase to .298, which is more in line with his 2014’s result. But don’t forget that his 2014 season was still really, really good.
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The 2016 season may go a long way in determining Keuchel’s future value to the Astros. While there have been rumors of a contract extension this offseason, there hasn’t been much traction one way or another in getting a deal done. However, that shouldn’t stop the bearded pitcher from continuing his role as the Astros ace pitcher. Here are my 2016 projections for the rotation’s lone left-hander:
I don’t expect Keuchel to match his win or WAR total from last season. Regression is likely in the cards, but that is due to his Cy Young campaign from the year before. I can’t emphasize enough how good and rare that type of season is for any starting pitcher. I would like to argue, however, that his 2016 season should still be fantastic.
The Astros will only go as far as their pitching takes them, and that starts with the rotation. Keuchel will be the undisputed ace and will be looked upon to lead the charge for a contending Houston squad. And as long as he remains healthy and continues to utilize his pitches like he did last season, the Astros must feel good about their chances to win anytime he takes the mound in 2016.
**Statistics provided by FanGraphs**