Dallas Keuchel might be the AL’s best pitcher. He’s certainly a slam-dunk All-Star.
Astros manager Bo Porter used his post-game news conference on Wednesday to lobby for his ace left-hander, Dallas Keuchel, to be part of the American League All-Star team.
Come on, Bo, give us something harder. Challenge us, Bo. How about asking for hot summers and big mosquitos in Houston? Hey, that’s a good one, Bo. Good barbecue in Austin? There you go, Bo.
Or how about asking Keuchel to show us how he can still call the Hogs five years after he pitched his last game for the University of Arkansas? Here’s betting he can still do it.
That’s because Dallas Keuchel is about as close to a slam dunk as the American League All-Stars will have this summer. There’s just no way Red Sox manager John Farrell can draw up his roster without inviting Keuchel.
And that would be a kick in the pants on so many levels.
One of the best things about baseball’s Mid-Summer Classic are the stories like this. Guys who’ve had to fight and claw for everything they’ve gotten. Guys who’ve dealt with some failure and who simply kept working and kept figuring things out. Guys who believed in themselves when plenty of others had to be a bit shaky.
That’s Dallas Keuchel.
First, he may be the American League’s best starting pitcher in 2014. At the very least, he’s on the short list.
He’s No. 1 in Wins Above Replacement among AL pitchers, according to BaseballReference.com. His WHIP is a dazzling 0.99, third-best in the AL, behind only Masahiro Tanaka (0.94) and Scott Kazmir (0.98).
His name is dotted across the leader board in other places as well: fifth in ERA (2.38), fifth in batting average (.220), eighth in innings (90 2/3).
He has been a huge part of the renaissance of the Astros. George Springer and Jon Singleton are the faces of the franchise because they represent the beginning of a new era for the club.
But the Astros are being led by their starting pitching. They’ve been really good lately, winning 13 of 18.
But they’ve been competitive for awhile. Since April 21–and this is no small sample size–they’re 25-23. In that time, their rotation is 20-17 with a 3.66 ERA. Only the A’s and Angels have gotten better starting pitching int his stretch.
So it’s not just Keuchel. It’s Collin McHugh and Jarred Cosart and Scott Feldman and others. Slowly, methodically, the Astros are getting it right.
Back to Keuchel.
He began this season having started 38 big league games. He had a 9-18 record, a 5.20 ERA and a 1.540 WHIP.
Keuchel, 26, probably is going to look back and see those 38 starts, especially the 22 he got last season, as huge in his development.
Because the Astros didn’t have better alternatives, they kept running him out there. And like a lot of other guys, he gradually began to figure things out.
He’s exactly the kind of guy Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow hoped to find as he rebuilt the franchise. In constantly shuffling the roster, Luhnow got a good look at all the talent in the organization–and plenty from outside the organization.
As Porter would say, “We give guys a shot. If it doesn’t work out, we move on to the next guy.”
The Astros were not burdened by contracts or expectations. They simply ran what amounted to a tryout camp.
With this freedom, Keuchel figured himself out. He dropped a bad curveball and added what has become a very good slider.
He polished his change-up and got better command of his fastball. As he had more success–as the slider began to get swings and misses–his change-up became better, too.
Suddenly, he was taking a very impressive arsenal to the mound. In keeping the ball down, he’s getting a ton of ground balls. He’s missing bats and throwing strikes. In short, he’s the real deal.
When he allowed the Diamondbacks one run in eight innings on Wednesday, they paid him the ultimate compliment. They said he was no longer a surprise. They said they knew what to expect, but that he simply had executed his game plan, never giving them a chance.
Keuchel is a reminder for all of us that young players require patience, that they don’t all advance at the same speed and that, in the end, they don’t all figure it out. Keuchel has figured it out dramatically and emphatically.
Only Mark Buehrle and Tanaka have more quality starts this season. The Astros are 9-4 in Keuchel’s 13 starts. His is a victory for tenacity and confidence. His is also a victory for an entire organization, for all the people who worked with him and encouraged him since he was the 221st player taken in the 2009 draft.
He’s the kind of guy that could use the All-Star Game’s stage to tell his story, to talk of perseverance and hard work. Isn’t that what the All-Star Game is all about? He’s also deserving of the honor. Slam-dunk deserving.