I try to stay open-minded as a fantasy player and a fantasy analyst. And I’ll openly admit, I love unicorns. Lamar Jackson’s MVP season was a blast. Ichiro Suzuki, sui generis. When Tim Anderson won a batting title despite 15 piddly walks, I thought it was awesome. You do you, Timmy.
But it’s easy to remember the outlier approaches that succeed. Sometimes outlier approaches fail miserably, or at least tax and torment us.
Transition to today’s problem: what the heck do we do with Dallas Keuchel?
I’ve been a Keuchel sympathizer for years, willing to cut him a break for modest strikeout rates and stuff that has never been jaw-dropping. He does so many little things well, after all. Look at all the weak contact he induces. Look at how well he fields his position. Look at how he stops the running game. I even liked that ZZ Top beard he rocked in Houston. (If you love a fat bass line, pump that old ZZ Top into your veins, surge into bliss.)
So when draft season rolled along, as much as I wanted the strikeout-behemoth starting pitchers that everyone else wants, I had somewhat of an open mind to the Kyle Hendricks, Zack Greinke, Keuchel tier — pitchers who succeed despite ordinary velocity or strikeout totals.
Of course, I realized it would have been a mistake to roster these pitchers in tandem, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Greinke has been around projection (but mediocre in three straight starts), and Hendricks currently has an ERA over six. I’ll unpack them on a different day; today is Keuchel day.
Keuchel picked up his second win of the year Wednesday, lasting long enough in Chicago’s 13-8 win over Minnesota. Keuchel was touched for eight hits, six runs. To be fair, his bullpen let him down, pushed some inherited runners to the plate. But Keuchel also worked to contact all day, like usual, and the Twins got their licks. Keuchel walked one, struck out one.
I went into the year knowing Keuchel would be a bat-finding pitcher. But things are getting ridiculous. He has a scant 3.71 K/9, unheard of in today’s game. And his pristine control has been an eyelash disappointing, slipping over 3/9. His 4.53 ERA is in line with the ERA estimators, though FIP and SIERA would push it slightly higher.
Keuchel’s 33. His fastball velocity is 87.9, about what you’d expect. He’s never made it into the 90s, on average.
Some of the Keuchel takeaways are obvious. You probably can’t roster him in leagues where starts or innings are capped; those leagues turn the strikeout column into K/9 for all practical purposes, and Keuchel simply can’t fill that column anymore.
But even in formats where K/9 isn’t an obvious requirement, I think it’s time to step away. Yes, I still like the White Sox as a team (though I weep for some of the injuries the’ve suffered). On paper, anyway, this is a bullpen I trust. If Minnesota doesn’t win the AL Central, surely the White Sox will. Looks like a fun race to come.
But I’m going to be proactive on this one. Let’s be a year early, not a year late — if I’m not already too late. I don’t need all of my pitchers to be strikeout beasts, and sometimes the strikeouts come with their own stress — think of the Robbie Ray we’ve dealt with in recent seasons, though he looks pretty good right now. But I’m worried Keuchel’s margin for error is getting razor-thin, and when this type of pitcher eventually crashes, your ratios take the scar.
There’s rarely universal advice with these things. You know your format, you know your league, you know the play in your league. I still have a Keuchel share in two deeper mixers, but I’m steering away from him in the Friends & Family — I might altogether drop him, since I’m not looking to use him — and I dropped him in one especially aggressive head-to-head league.
Keuchel gets Minnesota next week, and then the Yankees, a very poor draw. I won't be using him in these spots. Heck, I might be streaming against him.
Picking through team splits against lefties
Sticking with the White Sox for a second, I still think this team is a blast. I posited before the year that they had the most fun roster in the majors, and although my soul was crushed when Eloy Jimenez got hurt (same for Luis Robert), it’s still a team of joy, a team that can mash, a team you want to watch every night.
I was poking around some team split stats, and noted that Chicago once again is the king team against lefties. They owned them last year, and they really crush them this year. Although the sample is small, just a month and a half in, the White Sox have a ridiculous 28-point edge over St. Louis if you examine wRC+ in this platoon split. (That’s just one way to get to the conclusion; any stat query you use will get you there).
The problem is the White Sox rarely see lefties. They’re only 27th in plate appearances against southpaws. Some of this could be timing, or fluke luck, but I also suspect teams know not to throw some mediocre southpaw at this wrecking crew.
Two other quirky but fun stats I found when I examined the versus-lefty team splits:
Houston, Texas, and Oakland are the runaway leaders in exposure to left-handed pitching. I hadn’t realized the AL West was the southpaw division. There it is.
The Royals have stolen 14 bases against lefties, the easy leader there. This suggests to me that Kansas City’s baserunners are well-skilled and well-coached, with some fun DGAF mixed in. My amateur baseball career is not in any way similar to professional ball, but I remember that I ran on pretty much every right-handed pitcher I faced. It was so easy, and I was never fast.
Lefties? I was afraid to take a lead. Stupid Brian Egan and his balk move; the Andy Pettitte of the 01824.
Takeaways from this lefty stuff? A heavy-side platoon bat probably helps you less in the AL West. And maybe we need to be sympathetic to some Royals who are being overlooked; Andrew Benintendi’s comeback (.268 average, 13 walks, three homers, five steals) is probably a little under the radar.
Imagine when Kid Mondesi comes back. The Royals might not be good — they’re on a 10-game losing bender right now — but they might be fun. At least they’re going to run, and even in a world where Three True Outcomes rule everything, I take joy from an aggressive running game.