The Astros may actually have a front runner for the AL Cy Young this season in Dallas Keuchel. It is still early into the season, however, never too soon to make bold proclamations.
Dallas Keuchel has seemingly rebounded from a dreadful 2016 season. No worries, I will not rehash ancient history. Keuchel’s 2016 season, and the Astros team in general, has been discussed to no end. Let’s talk about how good Houston’s bearded southpaw has been in 2017.
Keuchel is arguably one of the top starting pitchers this season. His 1.84 ERA entering today was the third-best in baseball behind only Jason Vargas (1.01 ERA) and Ervin Santana (1.50 ERA). Sort of an unlikely trio, don’t you think? You are a bold face liar if you expected any of these three pitchers to lead the league in this category one-and-a-half months into the season.
Anyway, the Astros have obviously been the primary benefactors from Keuchel’s performance. Following yesterday’s brief, yet impressive, performance, Houston is now 8-1 in games that Keuchel starts. He happens to be doing it in convincing fashion, and not in some weird stroke of luck that certain pitchers win-loss record benefit from despite lackluster efforts.
For example, only one of his nine starts has he allowed more than two earned runs. The outlier? A May 5th game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in which he allowed five earned runs in eight innings of work. By the way, the Astros won that game 7-6. It just happens to be just one of his two no-decisions this year.
Will Keuchel keep up this type of performance all season long?
I guess it depends whom you ask. Honestly, it is rather difficult to envision that Keuchel maintains an 1.84 ERA or something similar for the entirety of 2017. If he does that then he is entering Clayton Kershaw territory, which is its own class. For one, Keuchel does have a propensity to give up home runs upon occasion. See his 19.4% HR/FB rate this season. This is the primary reason why his FIP at 3.26 is noticeably higher than his current ERA. If you replace his actual home run numbers with the appropriate estimations and league average rate, then his 2.86 xFIP makes sense. In fact, his HR/FB rate has risen every season since 2014. Now, if he could drop that to the 13-15% range then he could be in business, which is comparable to his 2015 Cy Young season.
One key to Keuchel’s success has been his ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone.
If you may recall, Keuchel had an issue with keeping the ball down in the zone last season. It appears that was a byproduct of his shoulder injury that ended his 2016 season prematurely.
Regardless, Keuchel has been simply awesome to watch in 2017. He has been the anchor of the starting rotation, which was the primary concern surrounding the Astros coming out of the gate. If he holds up like he did in 2015, then the Astros will be in good shape going forward.
**Statistics and graphics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant**