The hot stove rages on. As I am sure you remember, Dallas Keuchel had to wait until after the draft in June to land with a team, and even then, it was just for a half-season, $13 million deal. The White Sox saw how wrong teams were to not sign him sooner and to a bigger deal, so they snatched him up on a three-year deal worth $55.5 million. It also includes a fourth year option at $18.5 million that will vest if he clears an inings threshold, which is far from certain given that he will be 34 years old in the third year of the deal.
The fact that it took until June for someone to sign Keuchel is absurd, but we can’t pretend that there were not some red flags. Here is what I wrote when he signed with the Braves:
“[Keuchel] lack[s]... velocity and spin rate, to say nothing of the fact that he is on the wrong side of thirty... He has very good command, which is critical for someone to get by with his lack of velocity, but as you are probably well aware, his strikeout rates have always been subpar. Last year that dropped all the way to 17.5 percent. It was the fourth-worst rate among qualified pitchers last year, and if we drop the innings limit to 150, he is still the eighth worst.”
Despite those red flags, the Braves exposed the foolishness of other competitive teams that were hesitant to pull the trigger on Keuchel. He made 19 starts and had a 3.99 RA9 over 112 2⁄3 IP, as well as a 4.25 DRA. Moreover, his 2.1 WAR in roughly two-thirds of a season means that he probably would have been a one or two-win upgrade over another team’s back of the rotation. Would, say, the Brewers have won the division had they signed Keuchel to a full season? They only lost the NL Central by two games. Would the Indians have gotten a Wild Card had the Dolans actually opened up their wallets?
All that being said, the red flags associated with Keuchel are still there. He is entering his age-32 season, his strikeout rate was less than 19 percent last season, and he has trouble cracking 90 mph. He relies heavily on his sinker, a pitch that teams have devalued in recent years, and one that back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom has more or less done away with. He continues to make it work, though, as hitters had a 71 GB% against the pitch this past season, per Brooks Baseball.
Speaking of which, Keuchel is a strong groundball pitcher, coming off a season with a 60.1 GB%. That means that he is heavily reliant on the quality of the infield defense, which could be a problem with this White Sox team, because Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, and José Abreu are not very good fielders. According to Roster Resource, Danny Mendick from the the great city of Rochester, NY (where I did my graduate and undergraduate work) is slated at the starting second baseman, but there is not much out there on how he is defensively. He can play all infield positions, I am just not clear on how well. (He does have a great story, though.)
The White Sox infield is a pretty big step down from the infields Keuchel played in front of in Houston and Atlanta. He is easily worth what he is being paid, but I am concerned that he might not be a great fit in the south side of Chicago.
All of that is not to say that this is a bad signing by any means. Aggressive positioning can mitigate range issues in the infield, and I believe that Keuchel is the definition of a crafty lefty, so I am cautiously optimistic that he can make it work. It is a good signing to add at least one or two wins to a White Sox team ready to compete in a division that might be wide open in 2020.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.