BOSTON - Want to know why Dallas Keuchel is a bad fit for the Red Sox? Alex Cora's answer to a totally unrelated question tells the story.
Speaking to reporters before the game Wednesday vs. the Tigers, the Red Sox manager was asked about the evolution of baseball to a swing-and-miss league, with more strikeouts than hits across the game for the first time ever last year.
"I honestly feel that the stuff we see on a nightly basis...is better than any other moment in the history of the game," Cora said. "You have guys throwing 95, cutting the ball, spinning the ball, they used to be sinkerball pitchers and now they throw cutters and there's so much stuff that goes on to shape pitches and so much information about hitters. I think the pitching side of it, analytics-wise is ahead of the hitting side of it. Now there's no 88 [mph], sinker, and a slider, now a guy pitching the fifth inning or sixth inning is throwing 97, 98, so I think that has a lot to do with what's going on."
How does this relate to Keuchel? The free agent left-hander remains unsigned, joining a purgatory that includes ex-Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. With Nathan Eovaldi out for one month and possibly two following elbow surgery, the Red Sox could be in a market for a starter, which has led some to identify Keuchel as a ready-made option, even though signing him before June would cost the team a draft pick.
Think again. Keuchel is basically the antithesis of the hard thrower Cora described above, and the Red Sox put a premium on pure stuff, not just in terms of velocity, but spin rate, too.
With the launch angle craze turning low-ball hitters into home run hitters, pitching up in the zone has become a must. It's turning sinkerballers like Keuchel into dinosaurs, which is why Red Sox starter Rick Porcello has remade himself from a Derek Lowe clone into someone who attacks the upper part of the zone with a four-seam fastball.
Keuchel checks none of those boxes. He has spent his career pecking away at the knees in the 89-90 mph range. Per CBS Sports,https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/why-are-teams-still-staying-away-from-dallas-keuchel-here-are-three-reasons-including-the-leftys-pitching-style/ 93 percent of pitchers threw harder fastballs last year, and 81 percent featured better spin rates. Keuchel also ranked 254th out of 268 pitchers in average pitch height, which means he's staying low when everyone else is going high.
Does this sound like someone the Red Sox would value for the $18 million he still hopes to command annually? Consider Cora's answer when asked what pitching metrics he values.
"Weak contact in the strike zone," Cora said. "That's very important. I think there's guys that when they stay within the zone, they get mashed. There's others that can induce the opposition to weak contact. I think we've got one of those with Eduardo [Rodriguez]. Eduardo is that way, I think. Also swings and misses. We live in an era that pitching to contact is -- we like swings and misses and pop-ups. We avoid contact, especially in certain situations. So that's something very important."
That's not Keuchel. His lifetime slugging percentage allowed on pitches in the strike zone is .520. That's higher than every member of the Red Sox rotation, from Chris Sale (.448) to David Price (.455) to Eovaldi (.464) to E-Rod (.512). Even Porcello, who spent more than half his career throwing sinkers, is at .507.
Cora spent a year with Keuchel in Houston and knows what the former Cy Young Award winner (2015) can do. Unfortunately, his skills don't fit Boston's model.
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