This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series, reviewing the major components of the 2015 season. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here.
Acquired: Selected in the 7th Round, 2009 Draft
Age: 27; Keuchel will be 28 on January 1.
Contract Status: 1st Year of Arbitration, won't be a free agent until 2019. MLBTR is projecting $6.4m for Keuchel's 2016 salary.
I never had the balls to publicly say that I had a feeling about Dallas Keuchel, even when he was struggling in 2012 and 2013, but rest assured that I did. Of course, it's easy to say that seeing as how Dallas Keuchel is the greatest home-grown pitcher by the Astros since Roy Oswalt. Things started out pretty well for Keuchel as a 21-year old in the NYPL in 2009. In 56.2IP, Keuchel allowed 52H/17ER, 44K:9BB. Between Lancaster and Corpus in 2010, he was 7-14 with a 3.77 ERA/1.29 WHIP, and a 3.69 K:BB ratio. In 2011, Keuchel saw his K:BB ratio drop yet again, to 2.33, and a 4.12 ERA between Corpus and Oklahoma City.
In 2012, though, Keuchel allowed 92H/40ER, 50K:20BB in 92.1IP, earning a call-up to the Astros on June 17 at Arlington, after Bud Norris went on the DL, where he held the Rangers to 4H/1ER, 2K:4BB in 5IP. His next outing saw him get his first win - a complete game against the Indians, where the only run he allowed was a solo homer. Another one-run outing in his 3rd start for the Astros, against the Padres, followed - so he had allowed three earned runs in his first 20IP, with 14 hits, eight strikeouts and nine walks. A series of disasters followed - 22ER in his next four starts (19IP). There were flashes of effectiveness, but overall 2012 was now what we would call a learning year, even if he was just a warm body, taking the mound as scheduled throughout the season, and walking more batters (39) than he struck out (38).
2013 saw Keuchel pitch out of the bullpen more than in 2012 - his first six appearances came in relief, including an April 20 outing in which he allowed 7H/7R (3ER), 3K:2BB in 2.2IP where he came in to relieve Phil Humber, who had allowed 8ER in 0.1IP. It was a rough year. He allowed 184 hits in 153.2IP, and his 5.15 ERA was worse than his 4.25 FIP would indicate (though that number ranked 76th among 95 pitchers who threw at least 150IP. Incidentally, the worst FIP in baseball in 2013 belonged to none other than Lucas Harrell - at 5.42). Moreover, his xFIP in 2013 was 3.58 - a full run and a half per nine innings worse than his ERA.
2014 marked a turning point for Keuchel. Keuchel dropped an ineffective curveball for a good slider. He went 12-9 with a league-leading five complete games. He threw 200IP, allowed 187H/65ER, 146K:48BB. To make a comparison, his strikeout numbers dropped from 2013 (7.2) to 2014 (6.6), but so did his walks and his HR/9. He 2.93 ERA was better than his 3.21 FIP/3.20 xFIP, but things were looking up. His 63.5% groundball rate was the best in baseball among qualified starters - 6.5% better than Tyson Ross, who was 2nd in baseball in 2014. While Keuchel had generated grounders before (52.1% in 2012; 55.8% in 2013), Keuchel turned himself into an extreme groundball machine, and he was given enough of an opportunity - mainly because the Astros were so terrible those first two seasons of his career - to put it together. The focus on defensive shifting no doubt help an extreme groundball pitcher.
2015 was the culmination of everything he had worked towards. You already know about the Cy Young Award, the perfect 15-0 record at home. The overall badassery. Keuchel led the league in wins (20), IP (232IP), batters faced (911), ERA+ (162), WHIP (1.02). His strikeouts jumped from 6.6 per 9inn in 2014 to 8.4 in 2015.
He made 33 starts in 2015 and allowed three or fewer earned runs in 27 of them. There were some notable exceptions - the 11H/9ER against the Rangers as the division slipped away on September 16, for instance - but in ten of his 33 starts he allowed zero earned runs. Sixteen of those starts saw him give up zero or one earned run, and he allowed two runs or fewer in 22 of his 33 starts. He was just dominant. The Astros were 23-10 when Keuchel started the game, 25-10 when you count the playoffs. We will not speak of Game 5.
Yeah, there are none. I mean, if we're looking strictly at 2015, who would challenge him? Kershaw? Price? Greinke? For every pitcher that gets $200m+, I get stressed because Keuchel's price just goes up. Of course, it's not my money, but Keuchel will be 28 next season. He won't be a free agent until he's 31, and so he will want to get paid, as is his right. I only care about payroll in how it affects the overall structure of the club. Bills will come due.
*Keuchel's 6.1 fWAR in 2015 is 9th-best in franchise history.
*Keuchel's 1.017 WHIP in 2015 is 8th-best in franchise history.
*Keuchel became the 7th pitcher in franchise history to win 20 games.
*Keuchel owns the two highest GB% in franchise history.
*For seasons in which there is data available, Keuchel's 2.75 xFIP is the best in franchise history.
*Keuchel's 79.4% LOB% is 5th-highest in franchise history.
*The Nature of Dallas Keuchel's Contact (FanGraphs - Nov 2015)
*Dallas Keuchel and the Heart (FanGraphs - Oct 2015)
*The One Where Lloyd McClendon Calls Dallas Keuchel an "Average Pitcher" (May 2014)
*What Even Is Dallas Keuchel (Astros County - May 2014)
*Dallas Keuchel's New Slider Still Looks Good (FanGraphs - April 2014)
*Dallas Keuchel and Adjustments (Astros County - August 2012)
*Artist In Residence (MiLB.com - May 2011)
*With the 221st pick... (Astros County - June 2009)