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Dallas Keuchel (pronounced Kik-ill) stands 6'3”, weighs about 210 lbs, throws left-handed and was a 7th round selection out of the University of Arkansas. Now 26 years old, he had two brutal season for the Astros in 2012 and 2013 before exploding on the scene in 2014. If you just look at Keuchel's 2014 numbers you will be impressed. There’s no disputing that. The question that we must address in this Player Profile is whether or not he' going to be able to keep this up over the course of 30 starts in 2014? Let's take a look at his minor league development before moving to the big league numbers as we try to explain the quantum leap his production has taken in year three.
During five minor league seasons, spanning 81 starts and 83 total outings, Dallas was very unimpressive. Dallas was under .500 at 26-29. His ERA was 3.74. His WHIP was 1.23. He allowed more hits than innings (503 in 493). He failed to strike out six batters per nine. He did a good job walking less than two per nine but, honestly, about his only outstanding trait was his ability to limit the free pass. That's it.
As a rookie Keuchel went 3-8 with a 5.27 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 4.01 K/9 mark and a ghastly 0.97 K/BB ratio over 85.1 innings. He was a mess.
In his second season, 2013, well, he was still a mess. Dallas went 6-10 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. He did up his K/9 rate to 7.20 while cutting the walks leading to a slightly better than average 2.37 K/BB ratio.
Here are the numbers through two seasons and 239 innings pitched. They are ugly.
9-18, 5.20 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 6.06 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 1.77 K/BB, 10.43 H/9
Nothing redeeming there, at all. Not even close.
2014 stats: 5-2, 2.92 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.03 K/9, 1.75 BB/9, 4.58 K/BB
He has a 20.2 scoreless innings streak which is the longest Astros starter since Roy Oswalt in 2008 (32.1 innings).
He's worked 8-straight games of at least six innings and seven of those outings have been “quality” starts.
He's a completely new man. And that's part of the problem.
Keuchel was a decent minor league performer who kept the ball on the ground and didn't walk anyone. His first two season in the bigs he was an impressive ground ball arm but he walked too many and the results were disastrous. In year three he's a pitcher he's never been before.
Remember when I noted that Dallas had a bad K/9 mark? His minor league career that number was 5.9. In his first two seasons with the Astros that number was 6.06. That's literally 130 professional outings with a mark of six per nine. Do you really think the 8.03 mark he's posted in nine starts this year is who he is? I don't.
Could he maintain a sub 2.00 BB/9 mark? While it's dangerous to expect any hurler to do that, the fact is that he did during his minor league career so it's more likely this level continues than the K-rate.
A 54 percent ground ball arm his first two years in Houston, an elite mark by the way (Justin Masterson led baseball last year at 58 percent), Keuchel currently has a 67.7 percent rate. That's simply unsustainable. Period. No analysis is needed. It would be a shock if he finished the year above 60 percent. This, even for him, extreme level of grounders has also helped him to cut his 1.28 HR/9 mark his first two seasons by more than half down to 0.58. Is it likely he maintains his current pace? Possible but not likely.
After allowing a line drive rate of about 19.5 percent his first two seasons (a league average level) the mark has dropped to 12.6 percent this year. Again, a totally unsustainable rate (Stephen Strasburg led all starters last season at 17.5 percent).
It's also rather unlikely that after batters made contact on about 84 percent of all their swings that last two years that he's going to be able to maintain his current 75 percent mark.
Dallas Keuchel has been a fantasy star to this point. As a waiver-wire pickup in 99 percent of leagues, if he were to tank in his next start you've already gotten your money's worth.
The problems with Keuchel are many.
He wasn't an elite prospect.
His minor league numbers are in no way indicative of the level of production we are seeing.
His current major league numbers are in no way indicative of the level of production we witnessed in his first two years in the bigs.
He's never shown the ability to strike batters out like he currently is.
Batters will most likely begin to make more contact soon
It's debatable whether or not his walk rate will rise a bit.
There's no way his ground ball rate will remain so high.
There's no way his line drive rate will remain so low.
It's unlikely that his HR/9 stays so low.
Short-term you ride Keuchel for all he's worth – he's one hot tamale right now. Long term he profiles way more like Tim Hudson than Felix Hernandez, so don't get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.