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Closing Time: Dallas Keuchel enters the Circle of Trust

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Minute Maid miracle (USAT)

Are we past the "can't beat him, so join him" stage with Dallas Keuchel? Perhaps we should be. He's been a rock in Houston, but not all fantasy owners have accepted him yet.

Keuchel recorded his third consecutive victory Monday, stopping the Angels over 8.2 terrific innings (5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K). He's carrying a 2.92 ERA and 1.05 WHIP through 61.2 innings, and ranks No. 14 on the Yahoo starting pitcher leaderboard. Have a look at the latest scouting video, see what you make of it.

It's a shame Keuchel never gets to face his weak-hitting Houston Astro teammates, but his tidy 2014 opening hasn't been padded by a cream-puff schedule. He's drawn the Angels (third in the AL in runs) on two occasions, and the A's (first) and Blue Jays (fourth) once each. There have been easier draws as well, but it hashes out to something respectable – the average scoring rank of his opponents is around six and a half.

The spreadsheet offers plenty of reason to believe in Keuchel. He's striking out eight men per nine innings, walking just 1.75/9. His ground-ball rate is silly for this year (67.7 percent) and groovy for his career (56.8 percent). Even if you knew nothing more about Keuchel, those three stats would push you to his case. The ERA estimators support the 2.92 front-door number: FIP says 2.81, SIERA has 2.49, and tERA lists 2.54. Even if you want to get xFIP on the case (I don't), it suggests 2.68.

So what if his average fastball clocks at less than 90 mph? Velocity isn't everything. The sinker is sinking, and he's missing more than enough bats.

Keuchel remains unclaimed freight (it's great) in around 60 percent of Yahoo leagues, just in time for Saturday's start in Seattle (at Safeco and against Brandon Maurer, yes please). After that, the Orioles and Angels come calling. So what if Keuchel is tied to the AL's worst ballclub? This is a lefty worth believing in.

You should know the White Sox story by now: fun offense, nightmare pitching staff. Chicago is third in the majors in runs, last in ERA. The starting rotation is driving that latter stat (the bullpen has a respectable 3.71 ERA, ranking 14th), but this hasn't been a fun save chase, just the same.

And now Matt Lindstrom is dinged up, just to make things more difficult.

Lindstrom was on for a save chance Monday at Kansas City but hobbled off like Fred G. Sanford, dealing with a foot or ankle injury. Daniel Webb probably wasn't available (he pitched Saturday and Sunday) so Robin Ventura went with a mish-mash: specialist Scott Downs recorded one out, Jake Petricka got the last two. Hey hey hey, goodbye.

Ventura is one of the least direct managers with respect to mapping out bullpen plans. If you wanted to ignore the South Side bullpen completely, I would not argue with you. Petricka's ratios are snappy, but his K/BB rate isn't good (18 whiffs, 12 free passes). Webb also has a live arm but he's walking almost as many as he strikes out. Recycled Ronald Belisario has been good lately. Journeyman Frank Francisco is around. Can Bobby Thigpen still make the mitt pop?

Lindstrom isn't the biggest injury on this roster: Chicago fans pine for ace Chris Sale and slugger Jose Abreu, and emerging outfielder Avisail Garcia was a major loss. But a semi-reliable name at the end of the bullpen, even if it's someone like Lindstrom, would be most appreciated. 

It was curious to see Washington lose a 15-inning marathon against the Reds, given that the Nationals have the best bullpen in baseball through the opening quarter (2.08 ERA). Alas, Matt Williams didn't want to tax his best relievers past one inning, and at some point you have to sink-or-swim with the weaker options. Thanks for coming, Ross Detwiler.

Rafael Soriano is the unquestioned DC closer and his job is not in any kind of jeopardy. But if quality innings can help you and you're not tied to the save chase, look at the other interesting options: Tyler Clippard, Aaron Barrett and Drew Storen all have excellent ERAs and strikeout rates. Working against a heavy batch of NL opponents (and NL East opponents) doesn't hurt, either. Widely available Nats, add as needed.

And while we're on the topic of electric non-closing relievers, let's (finally) have a word for Wade Davis. He's turned into this year's Luke Hochevar story in KC, the struggling starter who puts it all together in the bullpen. A 16.76 K/9 is just ludicrous, and it allows him to get away with too many walks (4.20/9). A 1.86 ERA, a WHIP below one, all those strikeouts, sounds good to me. The reinvented righty is free to grab in 90 percent of Yahoo leagues. 

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