Right after Collin McHugh gave up eight runs in only three innings pitched, Astros fans across Twitter scream for Dallas Keuchel. “Why hasn’t he signed already?” “The Astros need to give him whatever he wants; we need McHugh and Brad Peacock out of the rotation.” Despite a growing need for another starting pitcher, don’t look for the Astros to pursue Keuchel for what he is asking for. With all the deals the Astros reportedly offered Keuchel, I couldn’t imagine them being near what he is asking for.
According to Roster Resources, the Astros starters have the 10th best ERA in the MLB with the second-best WHIP. They are near the top in fewest hits allowed in second place but are 21st in homers allowed on the season. The Astros starters are not allowing a lot of hits, but those hits they allow are mostly homers. That’s not what the rotation was all about last year. Adding to the weirdness of the rotation, they have allowed the third fewest walks and are sixth in strikeouts by their starters.
The front office emphasizes spin rate with their pitchers, meaning they will throw more breaking pitches. These breaking pitches will sometimes hang up in the strike zone for a batter to crush. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole throw the ball so hard that they will give up their fair share of homers, it’s what they do. But they do a good job of keeping runners off the bases in front of the home runs. Although Wade Miley is a groundball pitcher, he does give up some homers as well.
Not a good fit in Houston.
Do the Astros want to add a pitcher who doesn’t fit in their power and spin rate type of pitcher? Keuchel was a good pitcher in 2015, but the league has passed him by. Unless you are very successful doing it, more teams are preaching swings and misses versus pitching to contact for groundballs. Since 2015, Keuchel’s strikeout per nine innings pitched has decreased from 8.4 to 6.7 in 2018. 2015 was more of an outlier with his career 7.2 k/9 rate. He wants to be paid for his career year, four years ago.
With the Astros being near the luxury tax threshold, there is not too much wiggle room to sign Keuchel. According to Roster Resources, the Astros estimated luxury tax payroll is $188 million, only short $18 million of the $206 million luxury tax threshold. So while they could add Keuchel for less than $18 million, it would limit their ability to add at the trade deadline. Whatever a team signs him for the 2019 season, it will be prorated with his time missed but would still affect the luxury tax total.
Is it Keuchel or Boras?
Keuchel is believed to be waiting until after the June draft to sign or after the All-Star break. If Keuchel is signed after the draft, the signing team would not have to give the Astros a draft pick. Around the All-Star break, as the trading deadline nears, teams may be more willing to meet his demands. Many people attribute Keuchel’s agent Scott Boras as the person holding out for the most money. However, in an interview with Yahoo, Keuchel attempted to set the record straight.
“I lead the ship,” he said. “Scott will give me information in general. He gives me necessary information for me to make a knowledgeable decision on my future. … And if it were up to him I would probably be signed at this point.”
In the article, Keuchel said that Boras presented him with a few offers that he told him he should consider. But, it wasn’t what Keuchel wanted. He is willing to wait for the right deal. It’s May 8th, and if he doesn’t watch out, he could be sitting out the whole season. Keuchel admitted that the analytics are being used by teams to show why their offers are reasonable.
He will not settle on allowing a draft pick or how late in the year it is to dictate how much he is worth. Teams are looking at hitters having a career-high 4.2-degree average launch angle in 2018 as well as career-low strikeout rate with 17.5% via Baseball Savant. His spin rate was also down in 2018 versus 2017. Just looked up his SIERA from last year and it was 4.18 which is average, close to being below average.
Is he worth what he is looking for?
Keuchel is not willing to lower what he thinks is his value just to get back to pitching again. Some team will be desperate enough to sign him later in the year instead of trading for a pitcher. Keuchel had an okay season last year with a 12-11 record and a 3.74 ERA while striking out 153 batters in 204 2/3 innings pitched via Fangraphs. Keuchel may have a point with a broken free agency system, but he is also not adjusting to the current market.
While he could still sign with the Astros, I think he would have already if the two sides were close. He is reportedly looking for a one year deal for more than what he could have gotten with the qualifying offer ($17.9 million) he turned down. Or, he is looking for a two year deal for more AAV. The Astros offer for both him and Charlie Morton were probably low-ball offers, so I don’t see them finding a match. The Astros do have some question marks in the rotation, and Forrest Whitley’s struggles in Triple-A are not helping.
While Keuchel does have an impressive resume, it’s not worth the $24-$25 million AAV for up to five years. He is a 31-year-old dying breed of groundball pitcher, and the Astros got a cheaper version in Miley. Keuchel could sign somewhere and have success if he has kept himself conditioned. Principle or not, the game tends to move on from you if you don’t perform. Still, on the free agent markets are Craig Kimbrel and Evan Gattis.
We will discuss this and more on Talking Stros on Sunday night from 6-8pm on KTXF through the TuneIn App.