Surprising no one, Dallas Keuchel has been named to the 2015 American League All Star Team by garnering 381 votes from his fellow players, tops among all pitchers...in either league. Below you will see a table showing relevant statistics comparing Keuchel to the other pitching candidates to start the All Star Game for the American League. What follows that is a unique look at how he got to this point - as well as an out-by-out testimonial as to why he deserves to be the starting pitcher for the American League this year.
|All Stats Up To Date As Of Start Of Play 7/6/15, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com|
A Story Of Eighteen Outs
July 6th, 2015. On a beautiful, 79 degree night, a 6'3" lanky left handed pitcher toed the rubber at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. As he stared in, a writer back home in Houston began compiling data to support a potential starting nomination in the All Star Game for the bearded Astros marvel. And as the first hitter of the game, fellow All Star teammate Jason Kipnis, stood in to test his .341 batting average against the budding master artist on the mound and promptly grounded out to Carlos Correa to start the game, it immediately threw into sharp relief a pillar of the argument in favor of his starting the game.
And the writer began typing:
In 2015, Dallas Keuchel has elevated his already vaunted ability to induce ground balls to near superhuman levels, posting a gaudy 64.5 GB% - second only to Brett Anderson of the Dodgers, who has a 68.4% mark to this point. Keuchel's ratio of ground balls to fly balls is 4.27 - easily the best in the Major Leagues, with Anderson a distant second at 3.61 for the season. Simply put, the ball leaves Keuchel's hand, and is promptly pounded into the ground almost two thirds of the time that hitters make contact.
While hot shot rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor dug in as the second batter of the game, Keuchel resumed his well-worn spot on the third base side of the rubber. He gazed over the top of his glove, all beard and leather and intensity. And then he wound and delivered, inducing a weak grounder to third baseman Marwin Gonzalez for the second out of the first inning.
Another facet of Keuchel's ground ball artistry centers around the fact that not only does he get a ton of contact on the ground - he is just about the best in baseball at inducing weak contact. Only Francisco Liriano of the Pirates has a higher percentage of weak contact, per fangraphs.com, and Keuchel's 25.7% soft contact rating coupled with the fact that he leads all of baseball with the lowest percentage of hard contact at 20.5%, is indicative of true mastery on his part. Working pitches in and out, commanding and expanding both sides of the plate, keeping hitters off balance and rarely able to squarely put the barrel of the bat on the ball...Keuchel has spent the vast majority of his 2015 season evoking memories of Hall Of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine at the height of their powers in the mid-1990s in Atlanta.
And then came Michael Brantley. And there went Michael Brantley, caught looking at a filthy slider for strike three.
Dallas Keuchel is clearly not a pitcher who will light up radar guns. He throws his four seam fastball 89.6 miles per hour on average. But his mastery of all of his own pitches, coupled with excellent offspeed offerings, allows him to post respectable strikeout numbers anyway - with occasional flashes of brilliance that have taken him into double digits in strikeouts on two different occasions this season. He throws his slider 16.9% of the time, and the pitch has taken a leap this season in wSL (Slider runs above average) to 11.6 from the -0.8 it was in 2014. It has become a truly devastating offspeed offering in his arsenal, and one he uses to great effect.
FOUR & FIVE
Ryan Raburn and Carlos Santana started the home half of the second inning as Keuchel's second and third consecutive strikeouts, following Brantley's. Raburn struck out on a cut fastball, and Santana struck out on a two seam fastball.
This throws into sharp relief Keuchel's virtuosic knowledge of pitching as an art form. As the master artist shapes his clay or mixes vibrant colors with deft brush strokes onto canvas, Keuchel plies his arsenal to pinpoint precision all around the strike zone. Despite not featuring high velocity or even dominant movement on his fastballs and cutters - his two seam fastballs average 89.5 miles per hour this season, his cutter averages 86.2 miles per hour - he is able to accrue strikeouts with alacrity on the pitches because of his incredible precision, deft management of the strike zone, and his ability to throw any of his pitches in any count to keep hitters off balance.
After a Yan Gomes double to right field, Keuchel shifted from his windup to the stretch and showed yet another facet of his overall excellence - the slide step.
Truly an art which has mostly gone out of vogue in Major League Baseball, Keuchel employs this quick delivery to the plate out of the stretch in an effort to slow down the opposing team's running game. Of course credit must be given to the Astros catchers here too, but the fact that Keuchel has only allowed two stolen bases all season - good for a tie with several other players for the third best mark in the Major Leagues - begins with his quick delivery to the plate, giving the catcher the best chance to throw out would-be base thieves.
SEVEN, EIGHT, & NINE
Giovanny Urshela led off the bottom of the third with a double to left field, Mike Aviles followed with a single to left field, and suddenly runners are on the corners with no outs, and who else at the plate but Jason Kipnis and his .341 batting average. Where other pitchers would begin to sweat, the artist simply pursed his lips and went back to work. Recognizing that his team has staked him to a 4-0 lead early in the game, Keuchel induced a sacrifice fly from the very dangerous Kipnis, trading a run for an out. Then, after one more single to right field off the bat of Francisco Lindor, Keuchel got Michael Brantley out on a routine fly ball out to center fielder Jake Marisnick and then another strikeout of Ryan Raburn to end the threat, escaping trouble.
Such is Keuchel's wizardry this season. He does, of course, give up runs - every pitcher does - but he is able to constrain the damage in most instances, very rarely suffering a loss of focus or the attendant big inning. In fact, Keuchel is 5th best in all of baseball at stranding runners - he is stranding runners at an 82.4% clip, which is better than Max Scherzer, Matt Harvey, Cole Hamels, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Michael Wacha, Madison Bumgarner, and every single one of his starting pitching counterparts on the AL All Star Team.
TEN, ELEVEN, & TWELVE
The fourth inning proved to be another test for Keuchel, with a single from Carlos Santana to lead off the inning, a strikeout of Yan Gomes on a cut fastball, and then an RBI triple down the right field line for Brandon Moss and a walk to Urshela - the only walk of the game that Keuchel would allow - setting the scene for a tense one out at bat with runners on the corners and number nine hitter Mike Aviles at the plate. As he had done so many times before, Keuchel was able to get Aviles to hit a ground ball near second to Correa, who stepped on the base and threw to first to complete the double play and end the inning.
Keuchel came into the game with a 2.03 ERA - the very best mark in the American League - but sporting a still-fantastic but noticeably lesser 2.90 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching on an ERA scale). What this really means, in Keuchel's case, is that he trusts the good defense behind him to make plays for him, and pitches in a manner to exploit the weak contact rate opposing hitters achieve against him.
THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN, & FIFTEEN
As the artist returned to the mound for the fifth inning, he immediately faced a daunting task in the person of Jason Kipnis to lead off the inning. Kipnis would lace a solid single to right field before promptly being erased on a double play ball off the bat of Francisco Lindor. Michael Brantley then followed with a ground ball which bounced off of first base, prompting an excellent barehanded grab from Chris Carter and a flip to Dallas Keuchel, who beat the fleet-footed Brantley to first base to record the third out of the inning.
Video courtesy of www.astros.com videos
The last and most profound of the artist's skills presents itself here. Dallas Keuchel won the 2014 American League Gold Glove award as the best fielder at his position in his league, and he has shown no signs of slowing down this season. Some have even gone so far as to heap another comparison to the legendary Greg Maddux on Keuchel's shoulders in regards to his defense - a huge compliment, as Maddux won 14 consecutive Gold Gloves in his Hall of Fame career. According to www.baseball-reference.com, Keuchel has the very best WAR (Wins Above Replacement) among all pitchers in the American League in 2015 coming into this start with a 4.6 mark, and is only narrowly (he trails by .2) behind Zack Greinke for the best WAR amongst all pitchers in baseball. WAR, if you're not familiar with it, measures the number of wins an individual player contributed to his team when compared to a replacement player. It is a cumulative stat which also factors in defensive production.
SIXTEEN, SEVENTEEN, & EIGHTEEN
In his final inning pitched of the game, the artist would surround a double and an RBI single by striking out the side and bringing his strikeout total for the night to eight.
Dallas Keuchel would finish his start with a stat line that read 6.0 IP, 3 earned runs, 1 walk, and 8 strikeouts. He allowed a season-high nine hits, but once again limited the damage and finished yet another quality start. It would go into the books as his 14th quality start in 2015, out of 18 total games started, for a 78% rate of quality starts on the year. He pitched at least six innings for 29th consecutive game, the longest active streak by a considerable margin. Over his last eight starts, he is averaging 9.5 K's per 9 innings.
Over the course of this one start - a start that saw him not even have his very best stuff - Dallas Keuchel exhibited all of the facets of his complete artistry on the mound that make the case all on their own for him to start the 2015 MLB All Star Game in Cincinnati on July 14th. The Astros legions can only hope that AL Manager Ned Yost agrees and selects as his starter our very own Keuchelangelo - the master ascending to the heights of Major League stardom.