It can be tough for Fantasy owners to buy into a surprise performance. Perhaps no pitcher this season has been a bigger surprise than Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel entered the year fighting for a spot on one of the worst teams in the majors. On top of that, he had shown little in his past that suggested he was ready to breakout. For those reasons, it was easy to dismiss his early dominance in 2014. But we've reached the point where Keuchel can't be ignored. He looks like he might be the real deal.
Like many Fantasy owners, pitching injuries forced me into scouring the waiver wire in recent weeks. Keuchel stood out for a lot of reasons. His peripherals were strong, and he kept the ball on the ground. While those factors suggested he was a solid choice, I find it helpful to sit down and watch these types of players in action. I can look at his repertoire, and his PITCHf/x data, but watching Keuchel can tell me a little about about the legitimacy of the performance, and provide context for the stats. So, I settled in and decided to watch Keuchel's start against the Angels Monday.
Not surprisingly, I came away impressed. Keuchel just pounds the lower half of the strike zone, which gives some evidence that he might continue posting his ridiculous ground ball rate. Keuchel's current 67.7 ground ball rate leads the league by a decent length. That's been his strategy all year. A look at his zone profile over at BrooksBaseball.net shows that Keuchel does a tremendous job staying away from the top of the zone. For a guy who relies on a sinker, this is key to his success.
Another major key to his success has been his slider. Keuchel actually didn't have a slider when he first came to the majors, according to Mike Petriello of FanGraphs. He relied on a curve initially, but adopted the slider after the curve wasn't working out. There's some debate over whether the pitch is a true slider, and it could be an altered grip on his old curve. Either way, the pitch works, and has been a big reason for his elevated strikeout rate.
Looking at his numbers, there is literally zero reason to think he'll suddenly experience a rapid decline. That's a pretty scary thing to say when dealing with a guy no one had heard of just two months ago. I'm not suggesting a 2.92 ERA is possible over the course of the year -- though both his FIP and xFIP are actually lower -- but I think it's important to give him credit for the amazing numbers he's put up thus far. The overall performance seems legitimate, and owners who picked up Keuchel may have found the next waiver-wire stud.