For Dallas Keuchel, the waiting was the hardest part. He went months without a team, forced to accept the new climate for free agents — and some questionable advice from his agent didn’t help.
Now the veteran lefty has a new home. Named after Dallas, groomed in Houston, Keuchel is set to pitch the rest of the year with Atlanta, agreeing to terms on a $13-million pillow contract. If all goes well, maybe he’ll try this free agent thing again next winter.
Can Keuchel still be a difference-maker in fantasy, finally into his age-31 season? It’s a cloudy forecast.
At peak, Keuchel was someone who did all sorts of little things well. He’d field his position flawlessly (four Gold Gloves), check the opponent’s running game, induce lots of soft contact. But Keuchel has always been a pitch-to-contact guy, with a career K/9 slightly over 7. Last year in Houston, it was 6.7/9.
Keuchel has plus control (2.61/9 for his career), though sometimes he gets some of those stubbornness walks, the refusal-to-give-in passes that Tom Glavine was known for. He’s not the type of pitcher who will beat himself very often.
But will NL batters find a way to beat Keuchel? As everyone now recognizes, it’s a home-run derby world and an MLB game where any contact is potentially bad contact. Chuck it and duck.
The context factors are all over the map here. Keuchel’s now tied to an Atlanta team that’s definitely a contender (33-29, two games back in the NL East), not that anyone throws a parade over a plus-7 run differential. The Braves might be great someday. Right now, it’s a solid, competitive team.
But we mentioned this is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, and Atlanta’s defense isn’t much help. The Braves rank 23rd in cumulative defensive WAR — even if you distrust defensive metrics, that leaderboard is a likely answer as to why some pitching staffs are overachieving and some are underachieving. BABIPs don’t always have to be vague mysteries — sometimes its a proxy for the quality of a defense. (Full disclosure, Atlanta’s staff BABIP of .289 is right around the league average.)
The division should be a plus. The Phillies are a disappointing 15th in runs (and just lost Andrew McCutchen), the Nations are 16th, the Mets are 18th. Florida has been frisky this week, but the Marlins are 29th in scoring. At least nothing looks jagged here.
SunTrust Park has been slightly hitter-favorable since it opened in 2017. Probably not a needle-mover in either direction.
I don’t have a lot of Keuchel shares — I started with two, traded one away. I’m generally not a stash-and-hope guy unless the payoff looks monumental. If Keuchel could pitch to his 2018 stats (3.69 ERA/1.31 WHIP), I’d be content. If I had my choice on landing spots, I would have preferred Houston — pitcher park, Astros special sauce, mix well. But maybe this Atlanta thing can work out.
Look for Keuchel to join the Braves in 2-3 weeks. He’s always been a well-conditioned athlete, but there’s no substitute for live pitching against top competition. If I were Shuffling pitchers at the moment, I’d have him in the $6-7 range — ownable, but with a modest leash.