Astros: Trading or demoting Dallas Keuchel is a counterproductive notion
By Cody Poage
The Astros should not entertain any drastic notion involving a well-known bearded southpaw.
Primarily due to a few bad pitches from Dallas Keuchel and subpar defense early on, the Astros lost to the Mariners on Tuesday night by the score of 7-1. Ouch.
Thanks to a sudden rash of recency bias, there has been fan chatter across various online forums suggesting that the Astros do something with Keuchel. Like, trade him to another franchise or demote him to the bullpen.
Why do the Astros need to trade Keuchel? A 37-25 team with the best run differential in baseball? The defending World Series champions, who have a chance at repeating?
Sure, the team has a 3-7 record in the past ten games and Keuchel has experienced a fair share of ups and downs in his first 13 starts. The Astros, and Keuchel, could play better, no doubt.
But a team doesn’t usually get rid of one of their best veterans due to a few poor games by early June. Keuchel has been a part of this team’s success since 2015. He made his name during the rebuild years. Give the man a chance to right the ship.
Plus, a move of this magnitude would send a negative message to the other players on the active roster and down through the minors. Essentially, everyone, including the veterans, are playing on a short leash. Um, yeah, try telling that to Justin Verlander or Jose Altuve. Let me know how that conversation goes.
Even if the Astros entertained a trade for Keuchel, would Houston’s front office be able recoup the same value on the trade market? Would Jeff Luhnow be able to convince a team to part ways with a prospect who holds similar value to a compensatory draft pick if Keuchel rejects a qualifying offer? Probably not as Keuchel would be a rental, and the only teams interested in Keuchel would be a fellow contender. Why should the Astros help out their competition? Not to mention the damage to the Astros’ reputation among future free-agents and their own future free-agents.
Some may counter with a demotion to the bullpen as he could fulfill the left-hand relief role. Like the trade route, this is counterproductive notion. For one, Keuchel is a starting pitcher. He has made his name by being a starting pitcher. A quality one more times than not. Do you think he would agree to such a move in his contract season? Absolutely not. You risk drawing the unnecessary ire of the players.
And who would replace Keuchel in the rotation? As much as I enjoy watching Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh pitch, they are conditioned currently as relievers. Sure, they can throw multiple innings at a time, but they would, in theory, need a few starts to extend their arms. And Keuchel isn’t conditioned as a reliever. And a spot appearance or two in relief during the postseason is different than being a reliever for multiple weeks or months. Plus, the starting rotation would suddenly be out a left-hander.
In all fairness though, Keuchel has not had a terrific 2018 season.
In 80.2 innings across 13 starts, the 2015 AL Cy Young winner has posted a 4.13 ERA and 4.30 FIP. His groundball rate is down 11.6% compared to last season and 4.4% for his career. Per Baseball Savant, Keuchel’s average exit velocity is 4.2 MPH higher than 2017. And his strikeout rate has dropped by 2.8%. Not terrible numbers, but Keuchel has clearly struggled at times.
That said, Keuchel’s walk rate has also dropped by 1.6% compared to 2017 and slightly below his career average. Home runs per fly balls of 19% is down 2.1% from last season’s figure, but still higher than his career average. And his .270 BABIP is actually not too shabby. So, there are encouraging peripherals, including his velocity. Not to mention that the Astros’ offense has been spotty in some of his starts.
Run Support Breakdown By Starting Pitcher
Justin Verlander – 3.8 RS
Dallas Keuchel – 4.5 RS
Charlie Morton – 5.4 RS
Gerrit Cole – 5.6 RS
Lance McCullers – 6.0 RS
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So, Keuchel has experienced both good and bad regression thus far in the 2018 season. But any struggles up to this point do not warrant a trade from Houston or a demotion to the bullpen. If Keuchel does continue to struggle, the team will look into the issue. Injuries have a main part of his narrative the past few seasons, so it remains something to watch over the course of a full season. At this point though, the fans should give Keuchel a chance to sort himself out. He has earned that much.
**Statistics and information courtesy of FanGraphs, FOX Sports, and Baseball Savant**