Dallas Keuchel Is the Cy Young-Winning Free Agent No One Will Sign

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2019

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Dallas Keuchel #60 of the Houston Astros walks to the dugout after getting the last out of the fourth inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 24, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Dallas Keuchel won the American League Cy Young Award in 2015. He's earned four Gold Gloves and made a pair of All-Star appearances. He eclipsed 200 innings for the third time in his seven-year MLB career in 2018. 

In head-scratchingly related news, he's unemployed as of this writing.

How is that possible? Let's begin with Scott Boras.

The infamous super-agent who represents Keuchel recently landed a different high-profile client by the name of Bryce Harper a record-breaking 13-year, $330 million pact. He's in the business of waiting out reluctant executives and scoring his clients (and himself) maximum dollars.

As he awaits an acceptable offer, Keuchel is facing hitters at the Southern California-based Boras Sports Training Institute, per MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi

"He's going through a full spring training, just like [Kyle] Lohse did," Boras said, via Morosi. On March 25, 2013, Lohse signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. 

With Opening Day (March 28) fast approaching, it's time to start wondering why Keuchel hasn't signed an MLB contract of any size.

The southpaw battled neck issues in 2017 and was limited to a full-season career-low 145.2 innings. He assuaged those concerns with a healthy 2018.

He's never been a velocity guy, but his average fastball sat at 90.2 mph in 2018 compared to a career average of 90 mph. 

All of that checks out and should equal a lucrative deal from a pitching-hungry contender...which is to say virtually every contender.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08:  Dallas Keuchel #60 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The up-and-coming Atlanta Braves need help in their rotation with Mike Foltynewicz battling elbow issues. The Philadelphia Phillies could use an arm to join Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta atop the starting five after spending stupid money on Harper. The Los Angeles Angels need to convince Mike Trout they're interested in more than middling contention.

New York Yankees ace Luis Severino won't be back until May "at the earliest" because of rotator cuff inflammation, as general manager Brian Cashman told reporters

The Houston Astros, the team that drafted Keuchel in the seventh round in 2009 and nurtured him to his Cy Young apex, need pitching after losing Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to Tommy John surgery. The list goes on.

Yet, the Braves, Phillies, Angels and Yankees have apparently held back and the Astros have low-balled Keuchel with one- and two-year offers, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. 

So we return to the modern game's velocity obsession. In a world where the radar gun rules, Keuchel seems like a soft-tossing relic. 

Then again, as FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe pointed out:

"[Keuchel's 2018] 17.5% K rate was the majors’ fourth-lowest among 57 qualifiers, and even with a fairly stingy walk rate (6.6%), his 10.9% K-BB% was still the ninth-lowest among that set. Meanwhile, he was first among that group in groundball rate (53.7%) and 15th out of 47 qualifiers (500 batted ball events) in average exit velocity (87.0 mph). Over the past five seasons, he’s second in groundball rate among pitchers with at least 500 innings (60.0%) and, for the four years of the Statcast era, 22nd out of 149 (1000 PA minimum) in average exit velo (86.2 mph)."

In hitters' yards like Yankee Stadium and Houston's Minute Maid Park, Keuchel's ability to induce ground balls and soft contact should be especially enticing. 

Granted, he's tied to draft-pick compensation after refusing the qualifying offer. He's 31 years old.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Counterpoint: As a control artist who relies on finesse over triple-digit heaters, he's more likely to age gracefully.

In 2015, Jeff Zimmerman of the Hardball Times analyzed pitchers who averaged 96 mph or more. The result? They had a 27.7 percent chance of landing on the disabled list the following season, compared to a 15.2 percent chance for pitchers who averaged between 90 and 93 mph. 

Obviously, Keuchel could fall off. Clearly, teams are wary of a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 who doesn't singe the strike zone and depends on command and sink. 

He might wind up inking a short-term "show-me" contract, Boras machinations aside.

For now, with Opening Day barreling toward us, he's the Cy Young winner no one seems to want...at least not badly enough.

   

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs

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