With the discussion over Dallas Keuchel is a real ace or not, we've missed a point that old-school baseball curmudgeons like to debate: Can he win 20 games this season?
Well, after 3 starts he's currently on pace to go 22-0, with a 0.93 ERA and give up only 122 H and 0 HR and in 224 innings. So yes, case closed, article over, Dallas Keuchel can and will win 20 games this year.
.....Wait, what's that? Sorry my editor just said that this is way too short to be a blog post. *Sigh*, okay, Let's keep going.
So, of course Keuchel won't keep up the pace that he's at. He probably will surrender a home run at some point this season, and will likely give up way more than 122 hits. The good news is that while Keuchel's numbers might fall off a little bit, it doesn't seem like they will fall off that much. Simply put he has a skill set which is excellent at limiting hard contact; he doesn't give up a ton of hits, and when he does it's mostly ground balls. Combined with the fact that he doesn't walk many base runners and it becomes difficult for opposing hitters to chain successful at bats against him to score runs. There are no smoking guns in his numbers that would suggest what he's doing isn't sustainable.
Astros fans already know that Keuchel is the real deal, and the most encouraging bit about his start to this season is that he pretty much just started where he left off last season. So far, both he and staff mate Collin McHugh have relieved Astros fans of any worries of regression in their game, and have given a beleaguered fan base the most hope that this could be the first winning Astros season in a long time.
...But will either of them win 20 games? Loyal readers at TCB know that pitcher wins are overrated, which makes this sort of a silly question. There are simply too many variables outside of Keuchel's control that will determine whether he wins 20 games or not. The defense behind him being one, but the biggest factor is going to be whether his teammates can actually score any runs for him. Last year the Astros ranked 22nd out of the 30 major league teams in runs scored with a total of 629 runs. Yikes! The Astros do have a much improved offense this year, theoretically anyway, with the addition of Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus, and Evan Gattis. Assuming all the whiffs don't create an outfield vortex which sucks in all the fly balls the team should score more this season (although they currently rank 25th in league scoring).
Even if they do score more runs though, they have to do it while Keuchel is on the mound for him to get the win. When the Astros played the Rangers on the 12th Keuchel absolutely pitched well enough to win the game, going 7 quality innings and only giving up 2 runs. However, too many of the 6 runs the Astros wound up scoring that day crossed the plate after Keuchel had left the mound, thus robbing him of the win. There is a good reason why sabermetricians don't put too much stock into pitcher wins, there's just too much in that statistic that's left to chance.
Make no mistake though, if he gets enough support from his teammates and stays healthy, Dallas Keuchel is absolutely a 20 win pitcher. It just depends if he's going to get enough support from his team and be lucky enough to make it happen.