By: Brian Mangan
Thanks to fantasy baseball, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about a guy named Dallas Keuchel, starting pitcher for the Houston Astros.
This year, Keuchel has a ground ball rate (GB%) of 65.4%. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you; it didn’t really sound like a lot to me at first, either. It wasn’t until I realized that that GB% was one of the lowest on record (fangraphs goes back to 2002) thatI realized what he is doing this season is quietly historic. So I started digging.
(click to enlarge)
It turns out that Dallas Keuchel, relative unknown until this season, is basically Brandon Webb reincarnate.
You remember Brandon Webb, Cy Young award winner. Webb won the Cy Young in 2006, and placed second in both 2007 (after Peavy) and 2008 (after Lincecum). Overall, Brandon Webb had a six year run from 2003 to 2008 where he averaged 219 innings pitched (including his abbreviated rookie year of 180.2 ip) and an ERA of 3.24, good for an ERA+ of 143, which is spectacular. Over his three Cy Young award seasons, Webb averaged 233 innings per season, 185 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.13 (ERA+ of 150) whilst toiling in relative obscurity in Arizona. He was good, damn good.
Webb was a great pitcher, and he did it by posting good strikeout numbers (7K/9) along with historically high GB%. Webb’s GB% in that stretch was never lower than 61.8%, and most of the time was north of 64%. Webb has the highest career GB% of any starter in the fangraphs database, and by a large margin. The second highest GB% belongs to Derek Lowe, at 60.1%, followed by Jake Westbrook at 58.8%. League average is 45.5% this season.
This brings us back to Dallas Keuchel, who is pitching like Brandon Webb, Cy Young award winner. In fact, Dallas Keuchel is pitching just as good this season than Brandon Webb, Cy Young award winner, has ever pitched:
- Keuchel has a superior swinging strike rate to Webb (10.9% for Keuchel in 2014, 8.7% Webb 2006)
- Keuchel throws harder than Webb (89.3 mph fastball for Keuchel in 2014, 88.4 mph fastball Webb 2006)
- Keuchel gets hitters to chase more often than Webb (34.8% O-Swing%, 25.8% O-Swing%
Some of this can be explained away by the fact that the run environment is lower now than it was in 2006 for Webb in Arizona (which is why Webb’s ERA- of 66 is barely superior to Keuchel’s ERA- of 69) but ultimately, Dallas Keuchel is dealing.
A lot can change between now and the end of the season, but ground ball rates tend to stabilize after 150 batters. Keuchel is presently at 298 batters faced so far this year.
Most people are forecasting Keuchel, who has never been this good, to regress back to the mean – but I am not as convinced as they are. I think the peripherals are there for Keuchel to have a great, great season. Thanks to the great strikeout and walk rates (check the chart above) Keuchel compares only to Webb – not the still good, but inferior, Derek Lowe.
Keuchel’s 2.70 ERA lines up nicely with his 2.74 FIP and 2.78 xFIP, and his 65.4% ground ball rate puts him in a class almost by himself. I’m a fan, and would love to see him keep it up.