Yes it’s middle of September and the Astros are basically guaranteed a playoff spot and have the best odds to win the World Series. If the Astros had signed Keuchel for the same deal that the Braves did, they would not have had to swing a Zack Greinke trade. The butterfly effect of this move is huge from a prospects, salary, and even performance perspective. Greinke has a fairly large salary which most would conclude will take us out of the running in re-signing Cole.
Keuchel on the other hand, signed a 1-year deal at a fairly low rate. He’s currently pitching to a 3.35 ERA (3.88 xFIP) on the season after a recent hot stretch of 6 games where he has thrown 37 IP of 0.97 ERA ball. Fangraphs wrote an article profiling the difference in his arsenal which has put a reinforced focus on the Sinker. The Astros are notorious for eliminating the sinker from a pitchers arsenal but Keuchel continued to pitch roughly 50% sinkers across the course of his tenure with us, although 2018 was his lowest percentage at 41.1%.
Admittedly, I’ve learned a lot from Fangraphs and they’re one of the resources I truly rely on but I was fairly disappointed by their analysis on the topic. Their overall review was in regards to Keuchel being worth the investment, and focused on a re-invigorated approach to utilizing his Sinker, how he could continue to improve, and ultimately deciding he was worth the investment. It’s tough to argue the conclusion, as it would take less than 1 WAR to be worth the ~$8 Million dollar investment given $/WAR industry standards.
While Dallas is currently sporting a 3.35 ERA, his peripherals don’t seem to support it. With a FIP and SIERA over 4, the worst xwOBA of his career (.325), second lowest K%, second highest BB%, highest ever Hard Hit %, etc don’t seem to point to a run of continued success. And while Keuchel is a unique pitcher, his career ERA vs FIP is 0.12 different, 0.15 on xFIP, and 0.03 off his SIERA which doesn’t indicate he normally outperforms these metrics by significant margin.
To me there’s a further concern that Fangraphs did not touch on, which is Keuchel’s velocity which has continued to decline. In 2019, Keuchel’s sinker is averaging 88.2 mph (the lowest of his career) and essentially a full mph slower (0.9) than last year. And it’s not just his sinker, all of his pitches have lost a bit from an arsenal that did not have much velocity to spare.
For evaluating if the non-signing was a mistake, I do want to point out that Greinke has clearly outperformed Keuchel, at the time of this writing his ERA in Houston (3.10) and for the year (2.95) are both noted improvements and the advanced stats indicate a stronger chance of continued performance.
From an innings contribution standpoint, both pitchers are workhorses, but Greinke has a clear advantage from this front with him averaging exactly 200 IP per season over the past 11 seasons (and this one isn’t finished yet).
If you’re talking performance, I think it’s clear to say that Greinke is an upgrade over Keuchel. With that said, that’s not where the evaluation should end.
The Astros gave up 4 serious prospects (Corbin Martin, JB Bukauskas, Seth Beer, and Josh Rojas) in the deal which will have a lasting impact on the organization. If you subscribe to Fangraphs methodology of valuating prospects on FV (imperfect but gives us a non-biased way to put a dollar figure), the Astros gave up $60 Mil + in value (although it’s tough to say what the impact injuries had on these valuations).
Where it gets really difficult to evaluate is the salary impact. Despite the $24 Million dollar salary off-set, the Astros still took on a large chunk of salary which all but eliminates their chances of staying under the competitive tax threshold and it’s associated penalties. The 20% tax implication is a notable one going forward.
Assuming nothing drastic (Astros re-trading Greinke or something), the biggest impact would be on future signings. I struggled to see how the Astros would be able to pony up for Gerrit Cole even prior to this deal, but unless something shifts, you would have to assume that adding Greinke all but eliminates our ability to pursue a top of the line starter unless Crane gives the order to all but ignore the Competitive Tax Threshold.
The title is probably misleading as the Astros did make multiple offers and a lot of this evaluation would have to be based on the Astros being able to sign Keuchel to a similar deal. If you take that component out of the equation, I think it becomes a legitimate question.
Keuchel would have provided less but a similar value to Greinke if acquired at the same point. His cost of acquisition would have just been the cash and since it is a 1-year deal, it would not have an impact on the future. Greinke on the other hand solidifies our rotation for 2 additional seasons at a premium and with the associated age related risks.
The saying hindsight is 20/20 is generally a true statement, although I feel like it’s a bit murkier in this scenario and my gut feeling is most people will fall into one of the two categories based on if they believe a team should go “all in” when the window is open or if they believe in longer term sustainable success.
At the end of the day, there’s very little you can complain about from the Astros front office. Plus how cool is it to have Verlander and Greinke in the same rotation. Both are near locks for the Hall of Fame, not a bad group to lead up a rotation.
Was not signing Keuchel a mistake?
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