St. Louis Cardinals: Slow down on calling for Dallas Keuchel
By Matt Graves
Adam Wainwright’s first start for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 was shaky. However, fans calling for him to be replaced by a certain free agent might want to relax.
The St. Louis Cardinals did not have a great trip around the first time through the order of starting pitchers. If you add in Wacha’s good start and Adam Wainwright’s start Monday, the starting rotation has an ERA of 6.46 averaging 4.6 IP per start. While this is nowhere near what the Cardinals expect and or need from their starters, it is still early and there is time for improvement.
That being said, specifically during Adam Wainwright’s start on Monday in Pittsburgh, many fans were tweeting and saying the Cardinals need to go out and sign free agent lefty, Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has been great in his career at times but I want to caution fans to slow down and consider that while Waino’s tenure in the rotation should not be very long, Keuchel very well may be a dangerous option to replace him for multiple reasons.
On the surface, Keuchel is attractive because one, he is a lefty starter and for some reason, every fan has their heart deadset on the team having at least one lefty in the rotation. Two, when you look at his general stats in the last few years, a Cy Young award and a couple of years with an ERA under 3.00 looks good. When you dig deeper and think about it more, an uglier truth comes out.
First off, there is a fact of any unsigned pitcher at this point in the season that I believe should make the Cardinals stay away. This fact is that Keuchel, as much as he has probably been throwing, has not been through a Spring Training. That means that from the day you sign him, he likely wouldn’t be ready within a month. Even then, he may not be effective when he says he is good to go at the Major League level.
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For an example of this, look no further than a deal the Cardinals gave to Greg Holland last year. Signing him to a year-long deal right before the season started, Holland took under two weeks to be ‘game ready.’ Now it’s true that a reliever can likely go through a pseudo-Spring quicker than a starter, but it doesn’t change the fact that Holland did not look ready at all when he appeared in his first game with the Cardinals on April 9th.
From April 9th, Holland pitched in 32 games with a 7.92 ERA giving up an awful 7.9 BB/9 until he was mercifully released on July 21st. Now Holland went on to pitch fine for the Nationals during the second half of the season, but his improvement was likely because he finally got into shape and a groove at the majors again.
After he was brought up too early here, Holland likely never had a chance to really hit his stride and instead just slid down the slope getting more and more behind. The Cardinals would have to erase recent memory of bad contracts to make the Keuchel move, something they very rarely do.
The other reason why Keuchel is a name to avoid is because of a decline in a couple of his deeper pitching stats, namely strikeouts per 9 and groundball percentage. For his career, Keuchel has never been an exceptional strikeout pitcher. For his career, he has had one year where his K/9 was above 8, which means that the way he gets people out is probably with groundballs.
Looking at his career numbers, our guess is correct. For three of Keuchel’s four best years, his groundball rate was above 60%. That is an elite groundball pitcher. The problem is, in 2018, Keuchel’s K/9 was the lowest it’s been in three years, and his GB% was the second worst of his career. What does this mean? His ability to do the thing he does best is declining. If he can’t strike batters out, and he can’t get grounders consistently, the only option left is a liner or a fly ball.
These trends are not what you want to see in a player who, according to Jon Heyman, is still requesting four or five years and over $100M on the open market. If I were the Cardinals, I wouldn’t touch Keuchel with a 10-foot pole.
Keuchel has been a stud for the majority of his career with the Astros and earned every bit of his Cy Young Award. Even still, he is not a good fit for the St. Louis Cardinals. Adam Wainwright may be done as a starter, but don’t go calling for Keuchel, or the Cardinals could end up with a situation worse than Waino’s as Keuchel is on the wrong side of 30.