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TCB Astros Pitcher of the First Half: King Keuchel Reigns Supreme

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The best pitcher on the Astros' staff so far may be the best in the AL.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Since this week has only had four games (and two innings of the All-Star Game), we decided this would be an appropriate time to name the best Astros pitcher of the first half, (including the past four games). Here is a breakdown of the awards thus far:

Name Hon. Mention Winner
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Reliever of the Half-Season

Will Harris

Where do I start? The 0.83 ERA in 43.1 innings? The .148 OBP-against in high-leverage situations? The fact that he's allowed five baserunners while runners were in scoring position (.132 OBP)? Should I mention that he strikes out 32.6% of right-handed opponents? The otherworldly 98.5 LOB%? His GB% has jumped nearly 17% from last year, did you know that? He's allowed four earned runs all season, and every single one of those was a solo home run (he has also given up two unearned runs). Thank you, Jeff Luhnow. I think he's a keeper.

Now, the finalists:

Honorable Mention

Lance McCullers, Jr.

The top Honorable Mention slot easily goes to the best rookie pitcher in the game right now (sorry, Mets fans). McCullers has easily exceeded any and all expectations for him. At the beginning of the year, I doubt more than a handful of Astros fans believed he could make the team before September at the earliest, let alone have the best walk rate of his career in the major leagues after skipping Triple-A. He is also continuing to strike out players at an exceptional rate, #whiffing 9.93 per 9 innings, and has tallied 1.9 fWAR. He has struck out at least ten batters twice this year and went the distance in one of those, a four-hit, one-run affair against Baltimore.

He also threw a five-inning no-hitter against Seattle, but he was pulled due to 90 pitches thrown and four walks allowed. He has struggled with his pitch count, which is made clear by the fact that he averages 96.64 pitches per start (he's pitched 5.85 innings on average). Of course, he's only 11 games into what we hope ends up as a wonderful, illustrious career, and he's 21 freakin' years old. He probably will regress and allow more home runs, but with every one of his pitches engineered to induce ground balls...you never know.

Collin McHugh/Vincent Velasquez (Debate)

This one was difficult. Of course, I could go the easy way out and declare them both honorable mentions, but arguments are what makes blogging fun: you get to express your opinions. A case for Velasquez: He's got an ERA of 4.03 while McHugh's is 4.35. A case for McHugh: Toss out that Seattle start (8 ER in 3 innings) and his ERA is 3.85. Of course, VV's never allowed more than 5 ER. McHugh: He averages 15.88 pitches per inning versus VV's 17.29, and he pitches 0.9 more innings per game. Yet Velasquez has been limited due to his rookie status. But Velasquez has only pitched in 7 games versus McHugh's 19! Yes, but Velasquez has been arguably more effective in those games.

Now, onto the advanced stats: They have similar BABIPs (0.07 apart, both above .300). They're both unlucky when it comes to LOB% (between 70-75%). Velasquez has a lower FIP, but McHugh has a lower xFIP. Velasquez has a much better K/9 (9.00 vs. 7.13), but McHugh's K/BB beats VV's (3.39 vs. 2.71). McHugh easily wins in GB% (over 20% better), but Velasquez's LD% is only 3.5% higher and their differences in soft%/med%/hard% are negligible. If I had to choose, I'd give McHugh the nod, but I'll leave a poll for you to vote on the pitcher you'd choose, and the comments are there for extended discusion.

Pitcher of the Half-Season

Dallas Keuchel

This is the moment you've all been waiting for, and what do you expect? Dallas has won this award five times and it's already his to lose next week. His 2.12 ERA is the best in the AL. He has had three games with at least eleven strikeouts. Every single start of his has gone at least six innings, and he's only allowed more than three runs four times. Meanwhile, he's allowed no runs in seven games, three of which were complete-game shutouts. His highest walk number in a game is four (that happened once), and he's issued zero walks four times.

You want peripherals? 3.74 K/BB, 2.64 FIP, 2.57 xFIP, 2.61 SIERA, 25.4% soft% (second-best in baseball) versus 20.7% hard% (easily the best in baseball), 64.0% GB%...does that do it for you? He's the best fielding pitcher in baseball, which plays right into his hands as a groundball machine. Check out this Fangraphs chart of his batted balls:


Source: FanGraphs

With the Astros' use of the shift (and elite defensive SS Carlos Correa) and Keuchel's own fielding prowess, this is a perfect example of the right player in the right situation. The best pitcher in the AL deserves this award, hands-down.