The Yankees have a long history of coveting arms that pitched well against them. A.J. Burnett, Randy Johnson, and David Wells jump to mind. You can even count Cliff Lee among that group, as the team tried its hardest to land the southpaw. By that logic, one would expect Dallas Keuchel to draw interest from the Bombers. In eight starts against them, he owns a 2.22 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 rate. With an open spot in the rotation after the Patrick Corbin non-signing, wouldn’t Keuchel make sense for the Yankees? Maybe not so fast.
Keuchel, 30, logged 204.2 innings in 2018. He pitched to a 3.74 ERA with okay peripherals. His 3.69 FIP looked fine, but his 6.73 K/9 rate sat below his career norms. He also registered his lowest groundball percentage (53.7%) since breaking into the big leagues in 2012. Keuchel’s 3.6 fWAR represented his best value-added total since his Cy Young campaign in 2015, but he exhibited some serious signs of decline.
While never one to miss bats, Keuchel thrived instead by inducing groundballs and limiting hard contact. His ability to successfully do that, however, has decreased over the last few years.
In that chart, a pitcher wants the two points for a given year to stay far away from each other. The closer they are, the worse he likely performed. Keuchel saw a precipitous drop in groundball percentage last year, which calls for red flag number one. His steady, albeit less pronounced, increase in hard contact should also raise some eyebrows. Package these two factors together and one can see a pitcher staring down a decline phase.
Keuchel’s other calling card is his pinpoint precision. He established a reputation for having masterful command. His ability to locate, however, has dropped from elite to league average over the last few seasons.
Given the quality of his stuff, Keuchel has a razor-thin margin for error. He needs to live on the edges of the zone to be successful. If he’s forced to throw strikes down the middle, batters might tee off. It could get ugly.
The good news for the Yankees, however, is that they won’t need Keuchel to pitch at the top of the rotation. Luis Severino and James Paxton can share that role. Instead of leading a staff, Keuchel can settle in as a mid-rotation arm, like his position in Houston last season.
So how much will Keuchel cost? MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $82 million deal for the southpaw. FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing came close to that, projecting a four-year pact worth $79 million. Would the Yankees pay that much for a pitcher with so many decline-related red flags after passing on Corbin? That remains to be seen.
As things stand, Keuchel is a good, but not great, pitcher. He shook off some injury concerns last year to have a strong season, but the warning signs are there. They exist below the surface level and can pop up at any moment. He’s not a bad idea for a mid-rotation type, but anyone expecting ace-level production like the 2015 run will be disappointed.