He pitches for the lowly Houston Astros so there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Dallas Keuchel. Well, allow me to introduce you to him. His first name is Dallas — we see what you did there, Houston Astros. He hails from the University of Arkansas and he made his Major League debut on June 17, 2012 against the Texas Rangers (more Texas jokes!).
He got pretty well knocked around during his first two seasons, to the tune of a 1.54 WHIP and 5.20 ERA across 239 innings pitched. He certainly wasn’t a lock to make the Astros starting rotation out of Spring Training this year, but the team didn’t exactly expect to contend so they gave him another shot.
Yet, here we are nearly two full months into the 2014 season and Dallas Keuchel has quietly been one of the feel-good stories in baseball. Through nine starts his ERA is 2.92 and he owns a 5-2 record on a team that has scored the fewest runs in the American League. His 1.05 WHIP is good for fifth in the AL among qualifying pitchers. It’s a fairly small, nine start sample size, but still the equivalent to about one-third of a season.
And the contrast between his numbers from 2013 to 2014 is pretty baffling. His H/9 (7.7 compared to 10.8 last year), BB/9 (1.8, 3.0) and HR/9 (0.6, 1.2) are all down while his strikeout rate has inflated from 7.2 to 8.0.
I will admit I knew next to nothing about Dallas Keuchel until I stumbled upon his last start against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this past Monday night, courtesy of MLB.TV. He pretty much shut the Angels lineup down, nearly going the distance but was pulled with two outs in the ninth after the Angels plated two runs in the inning.
Until that point he had been pitching a shutout — I’m told those two runs he allowed snapped a 21 1/3 inning scoreless streak — while striking out eight in the game. Man, I was pulling for him to go the distance. Mostly because it would have been his second straight complete game, as he shut out the Rangers on seven hits and seven K’s in his previous start.
As the All-Star fan voting heats up in June and July it will be interesting to see if Keuchel gets any love. The Astros are a club to which casual baseball fans probably don’t give a second thought in these, their “rebuilding” years. They seem to me the type of team that gets one player voted to the All-Star game because of the silly rule that every team has to have one representative.
The dilemma, then, is that Jose Altuve is pretty much a lock to make the All-Star game. He’s hitting over .300 as I write this, and has been well-known for some time as really the only exciting hitter in the perennially last place Astros lineup. Your Average Joe baseball fan prefers to watch offense over pitching, and Dallas Keuchel doesn’t have the sexy flair of a Jose Fernandez or a Matt Harvey to aid him.
It will be interesting to see if the 26 year-old gets talked about more as the Midsummer Classic looms closer. Right now he has a lower ERA than Felix Hernandez, a lower WHIP than Yu Darvish, and more strikeouts than Justin Verlander. And it’s highly likely that all three of them will be suited up at Target Field for the All-Star game — I’m just saying.
Hopefully Dallas Keuchel can keep it going and earn himself a trip to Minnesota.