There is always a risk in a headline like this. By the time this is posted one or both of these Astro free agents, Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez, could be signed. So a good alternate headline is why are Keuchel and Marwin still unsigned on Feb. 12th at 6:52 AM?
One of the things that can get players like this in trouble is a false comparison which can lead to a false expectation. In Marwin’s case the name of fellow Swiss Army knife Ben Zobrist gets bandied about. For Dallas his agent rolled out Hall of Famer Tom Glavine as a comp. To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen in a VP debate, after Dan Quayle compared himself at his age to JFK, “I know Ben Zobrist and Tom Glavine and you sirs are no Zobrist or Glavine”. (By the way Quayle probably should have said, yes I’m no JFK – I go home to my own wife every night). Both players non-coincidentally have new representation with agent Scott Boras, who was the source of the Glavine comparison to DK and who undoubtedly has been planting the seed that a lucky team will be signing the next Zobrist in Marwin G.
First of all, despite mumblings and grumblings about both players at times during their stay in Houston, they are both Astro heroes, who played a big part in the team’s resurgence and eventual World Championship.
Keuchel’s 2015 Cy Young year (20-8, 2.48 ERA) carried the team to its first playoff spot in a decade and within a few outs of a berth in the ALCS. He also pitched excellently before facing an injury in the 2017 WS run (14-5, 2.90 ERA). His post season exploits (like many pitchers) was up and down, but his brilliant start to eliminate the Yanks in the 2015 Wild Card play-in game along with some strong starts against the Royals, Yanks and Red Sox in the 2015, 2017 and 2018 playoffs will be best remembered.
Marwin Gonzalez has been one of the most flexible players on the club both as a switch hitter and also filling in all around the infield and as a semi-regular in left field. His career year was the 2017 World Series year as he led a terrific lineup with 90 RBIs while putting up a very good .303 BA/.377 OBP/ .907 OPS slash line. He was terrible in the playoffs that season (much better in the 2018 playoffs) but hit a critical game tying HR in the 9th inning of the Game 2 WS classic against the Dodgers that helped the Astros bring home their first win in a WS game ever.
But enough with heroics, let’s look at why each of these guys are having problems selling themselves as the next Zobrist or Glavine.
MarGo vs. Ben Z
The case for Marwin includes the fact that he is 5 years younger than Ben was when he signed a 4 year $56 million contract. His 2017 was a better year than any year Zobrist has ever put up (except for a decade ago 2009 season).
Both players are switch hitters. Both players play both the infield and outfield solidly, though Zobrist has played both RF and LF, while Gonzalez has been almost exclusively in LF.
But getting back to the 2017 season, while it is a season that Ben has not matched since his younger days, it is also a year that Marwin has never come close to matching. In fact, outside of that 2017 season, all of Gonzalez’s other seasons have been basically less than Zobrist’s 13 year (162 game) average of 87 runs/17 HRs/76 RBIs / .266 /.357/.785. One of the biggest differences between the players comes in the area of plate discipline. For his career, Zobrist has 809 walks vs 970 Ks, while Gonzalez has 179 walks vs. 541 Ks. In his last 4 seasons, Zobrist has exactly the same amount of walks as Ks and in two of those seasons had more walks than Ks. Marwin’s best season in this area was 2017 and even then he had only 49 walks vs 99 Ks. In 5 of his last 8 seasons, Zobrist has had an OPS over .800, while Gonzalez has only the 2017 season above the .800 mark.
Bottom line – if Marwin and his agent are looking for a Zobrist payout, they need to find someone who can’t look at basic stats. He still is a valuable player due to age and flexibility, but it looks like he should get something more in the range of 3 yrs – $36 million.
The Beard vs The Brave
The case for Dallas Keuchel includes a Cy Young under his belt, the fact that he is a lefty, the fact that he has been under 3.00 ERA three of his last five seasons and the big time fact that after Patrick Corbin signed he was really the top pitcher available out there in the free agent market. He has won some huge games for the Astros and is definitely a pitcher not a thrower.
Similar to Tom Glavine he is a guy who throws to contact (they are both just under 9 hits per ball game for their careers) and not a K guy – Keuchel has struck out 7.4 per game, while Glavine in a very different strikeout adverse era only struck out 5.3 per game.
So how does Keuchel, heading into his year 31 season compare to Glavine at the same age?
Glavine at that age had also won a Cy Young, but had been in the top 3 four times, while DK only had votes once. Glavine made 4 AS teams (Keuchel made two) and had ERAs of between 2.55 and 3.20 in 5 of his 6 seasons, with a 3.97 in his one outlier. Keuchel had the injury he suppressed during 2016 (4.55 ERA) and a 3.74 ERA last season along with 3 sub- 3.00 ERA seasons. Glavine had picked up MVP votes in 3 seasons, while Keuchel did in 2015 only. Glavine had at least 29 starts in 8 of his 9 seasons before turning 31 (the other season was a strike season) and Keuchel missed significant time in both 2016 and 2017. Wins/losses are not always a telling feature on pitchers, but Keuchel in his last five seasons is 67-45 while Glavine in his five seasons leading to age 31 was 86-40. Keuchel is an excellent athlete and has been 4 time Gold Glove at pitcher, while Glavine’s hitting was recognized as he had been a 3 time Silver Slugger through age 30.
Remember that after reaching age 30, Glavine played 12 more seasons , won another Cy Young and came in second once, made 6 more All Star teams and won 176 more games out of his career total of 305.
Bottom line: Dallas Keuchel is a good pitcher who at times is a very good pitcher. He also is a very hittable pitcher (gave up the most hits in the AL last season), who may struggle as his 91 mph fast ball drops to 89.5. He will work hard for his next team and may bring value for 3 or 4 years, but not 6 or 7 years if that is what he wants. Best guess….he signs for 4 years/$84 million with an opt out along the way.