For all this talk about signing Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg in free agency, what if the New York Yankees opted for Dallas Keuchel instead?
How quickly we’ve forgotten Dallas Keuchel.
It really isn’t a surprise. After all, this new era of analytics means free agency runs slower than normal, and Keuchel didn’t sign a new contract until June of this past season. Who’s to say the days leading up to (and even into) 2020 won’t see him follow the same path?
One way or another, the New York Yankees should have Keuchel on their radar. Sure, most fans would prefer general manager Brian Cashman to sign Houston Astros ace righty Gerrit Cole in free agency. Others may prefer reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg.
But Keuchel is a horse of a different color. He would be an unconventional signing, especially for the AL East-residing Yankees. Moreover, the starting rotation’s picture is pretty crowded now. Even though the Yankees need pitching, signing one off the market may not be the answer.
Still, if the market is the road the Yankees travel, Dallas Keuchel could be the latest of Cashman’s diamonds in the rough.
Cy Young pedigree
Mind you, Yankees fans, it wasn’t long ago Dallas Keuchel was a tremendous thorn in the Bronx Bombers’ side. The 31-year-old lefty spent seven years with the Houston Astros and is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA in eight career starts against the Yankees.
Keuchel also overcame a rough start in the majors (5.20 ERA in his first two seasons) to become a dominant ace. He won 20 games in 2015 and posted a 2.48 ERA with 216 strikeouts en route to the AL Cy Young Award. On top of it all, his ERA since 2014 is a respectable 3.33.
What made Dallas Keuchel unique during his dominant run in Houston, however, wasn’t a blazing fastball. In fact, the man has never been one for velocity at all. Per Fangraphs, his fastball has averaged 89.1 miles per hour (mph) for his career.
Paired with the fastball are a sinker and slider. The sinker accounts for Keuchel’s career groundball rate (GB%) of 58.9%. The slider, meanwhile, complements his lack of velocity perfectly. It only moves at an average of 79 mph, often looking like a knee-buckling curveball and induces plenty of strikeouts and groundballs.
Keuchel yielded similar results in Atlanta in 2019, posting a GB% of 60.8 while going 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts.
Why New York?
Now with Dallas Keuchel’s pitching profile out in the open, consider him as a New York Yankee. The Bronx Bombers play in the absolute meatgrinder which is the AL East. Every team from the pesky Tampa Bay Rays to the lowly Baltimore Orioles has at least one power threat in the lineup.
And the power isn’t going away anytime soon. Major league hitters slugged a record 6,776 home runs in 2019, up from a mere 5,585 the year before. The analytics guys are pushing launch angle, so expect lots of home runs for the foreseeable future.
Now, consider signing Keuchel from the Yankees’ perspective, specifically from lefty J.A. Happ’s production. Happ struggled with the longball all year in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, allowing a career-worst 34 on the year of which 18 were at home.
Keuchel, for lack of a better word, is the Bizarro to Happ’s Superman. He too is a tall and lanky lefty, but who relies on offspeed pitches rather than Happ’s perceived fastball velocity. The only difference is unlike Bizarro, Keuchel probably isn’t a supervillain despite his intimidating beard.
And the Yankees would surely be grateful to have Dallas Keuchel in their rotation. He has allowed 21.4% soft contact for his career compared to a hard contact rate of just 26.3%. Granted, his hard contact mark in 2019 was a career-high 36.8%, but Keuchel also didn’t have Spring Training to get warmed up.
The point is in Yankee Stadium, where it isn’t hard to put a ball in the stands, Keuchel is a boon.
Keuchel is also an excellent fielder, having taken home four Gold Gloves. He owns a career defensive runs saved (DRS) of 50, and the analytical Yankees highly value defense.
Oh, and did I mention he owns a 3.47 ERA in the playoffs?
Naturally, the only thing potentially keeping the Yankees and Dallas Keuchel from signing a deal together is money. He played on a $13 million deal for Atlanta last year and will absolutely want a raise.
The good news for Cashman and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is Keuchel won’t cost over $30 million a year like Cole and, potentially, Strasburg. He may ask for $20 million, but Cashman is a shrewd negotiator. If there’s anyone who can get Keuchel to meet in the middle somewhere, it’s him.
And even though adding Keuchel means trading another pitcher, he’s worth it. Pitching is everything in the playoffs and Keuchel’s repertoire fills the void left by CC Sabathia.
Thus, if the Yankees can add him on a three-year, $54 million deal with a fourth-year option, they will have indeed added a solid starter.