clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The late signing of Dallas Keuchel brings high risk with a chance of high reward

New, 100 comments

Dallas Keuchel is going to be pitching for the Atlanta Braves this season. If it works, this will be huge for the Braves. If it doesn’t, their chances of success will take a big hit.

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to let Ron Burgundy sum up what’s happened in the past few hours when it came to the rumor mill.

In case you may have missed it, the Braves went from being the “frontrunners” for Dallas Keuchel to having David O’Brien of The Athletic breaking the news that the Braves had indeed won the Dallas Keuchel sweepstakes and have added a good arm to their rotation in order to help fortify the pitching staff for the rest of this season.

I’m going to get the negatives out of the way first since there’s a few, but they’re big. For starters, it’s June. We all figured that every team in baseball was going to wait until the deadline of the MLB Draft in order to sign either Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, and that ended up being fully justified when the Cubs signed Kimbrel a couple of days ago. The thing is that any team that signed these players was doing so knowing that there’s going to be a bit of a wait before we actually see them on the mound.

With Kimbrel, the wait would have been shorter. Joe Maddon is reportedly thinking that it’ll only take three weeks for Kimbrel to start coming out of Chicago’s bullpen. When it comes to Keuchel, we’re probably not going to see him until early July. If all goes well, he could make his first start before the All-Star break, but they’d probably just wait to debut him until after the All-Star break just to stay safe.

Also, there’s a decent chance that Keuchel could come out of the gates looking rusty and the Braves won’t get the help that they immediately needed. So needless to say, we’re probably going to have to be patient when it comes to Keuchel for the early stages of his season.

MLB: Game Two-Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

What the Braves are clearly banking on is that if Dallas Keuchel can round into form, then he will provide some much-needed stability and pitching ability to the rotation. Mike Soroka and Max Fried have been the two best pitchers in the rotation and while its nice to see the young players developing and producing so early, it’s probably not a good idea to be depending on a pair of young and raw pitchers to carry you through what’s supposed to be a serious attempt at defending a divisional title.

Also, the under-performance of the veterans in the rotation so far has probably forced Atlanta’s hand in this situation. Kevin Gausman has been alarmingly bad over his past two starts, Mike Foltynewicz has struggled mightily to start this season, and the Braves are in a position where they really can’t afford to have two of their five starters getting hit hard on a regular basis. The Dallas Keuchel signing has basically turned it into a trial-by-fire. One of those five spots is going to go to Keuchel, which means that one of these guys is going to the bullpen. Julio Teheran just might be safe because he’s been surprisingly steady (if unspectacular), but Folty and Gausman could be on their way to the pen soon, and it’ll probably be Gausman if this keeps up.

With that being said, this is what signing a potential big-impact free agent will do for your team: Just like signing Josh Donaldson allowed the Braves to improve their bench by simply moving Johan Camargo to the bench, adding Dallas Keuchel to the rotation will make the bullpen better since one of the starters will turn into a reliever. Sean Newcomb and Touki Toussaint have both done a good job of adapting to the bullpen, and maybe the same could be said of whichever starter could get bumped to the bullpen soon.

The main thing here is that signing Dallas Keuchel could potentially make the entire pitching staff better, which is something that the Braves desperately need — whether it’s from a reliever or a starter. Keuchel already has three seasons of 200 or more innings pitched, and he’s more than just your everyday innings-eater.

If we get the version of Keuchel who pitched last year, then he’ll be one of the top arms in the rotation before the season is over. His 3.74 ERA and 3.69 FIP for a 3.3 fWAR isn’t going to get him back into Cy Young consideration, but the Braves could absolutely use that type of production from one of their starters. At his best, he won’t walk the park (he has a career average walk rate of 7.0 percent), he’ll keep the ball on the ground for the most part (his career average ground ball percentage is at nearly sixty percent) and you aren’t going to see batters take him out of the park on a regular basis. His HR/9 rate of 0.79 in 2018 would have placed him solidly at the top of the rotation if he was pitching for the Braves last season.

When it comes to the clubhouse, if you place any sort of weight on team chemistry then it seems like Keuchel will be a good fit for the Braves as well. He reportedly has a great reputation when it comes to the clubhouse, and the Braves have had an almost ideal situation when it comes to their team chemistry. If Brian McCann can help Keuchel settle in, then that’ll only help the process for Atlanta’s new pitcher.

Simply put, this is a high risk/high reward deal and that’s saying a lot when you consider that it’s still a relatively safe one-year contract. If he can’t manage to get comfortable and give the Braves some of what he gave the Astros for so many seasons, then the Braves could still be in a fair bit of trouble when it comes to their pitching. If he can find his rythm and soon, then the entire team will benefit from this and Keuchel himself will benefit from waiting all of this time to bet on himself with a one-year deal.

It’s a real shame that it took this long for a team to finally sign a starting pitcher of Dallas Keuchel’s quality, and it’s a testament to how broken MLB’s free agency system is at the moment. Still, I’m glad that the team that did eventually sign Keuchel was the Braves, and I’m excited to see where this goes for Atlanta and Keuchel as the season progresses.