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Dallas Keuchel - A Brave New World


Once a certain point was reached, we all knew that it could happen at any given second. Once draft compensation was no longer tied to the two biggest remaining free agents in the MLB, the bidding war began, and it didn't take long for the results to shake out (and that's even with a few bumps in the road). Craig Kimbrel penned a long-term deal to take over closer duties for the Chicago Cubs on June 5 and barely 24 hours later, Dallas Keuchel signed on the dotted line with the Atlanta Braves to the tune of one year at a cool $13 million.

It was coming down to the wire for teams contending for Keuchel, with the Yankees, Cardinals, and mega-surprise Minnesota Twins all finding themselves in the eye of the storm. Now that he is making his way to the 33-28 (second place) Braves who have had a tricky time this year with injuries, performance, and role-definition with their pitching staff as a whole, it goes without saying that Brian Snitker may have some rearranging to do.

This isn't just a huge acquisition for an organization hoping to find itself in the postseason once more, this is a starting pitcher with unique characteristics being injected into a young rotation in June, and we don't even have to worry about lingering health concerns like most mid-season returnees. With that, let's take a closer look at the implications of Dallas Keuchel moving to Atlanta, and the ripple effects that follow.

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Dallas Leaves Houston to Join Austin

For the first time in seven years, Dallas Keuchel is putting on a uniform other than that of the Houston Astros, and he will be taking the first step soon with a start at Triple-A Gwinnett. The pedigree is vast for the 31-year old southpaw: as a four-time Gold Glove winner, two-time All-Star, 2015 Cy Young Award winner, and 2017 World Series Champion, it's safe to assume that the Braves have high expectations for what Keuchel could bring to the already talented club and will be immediately putting him in position to make maximum contributions.

Last season, Keuchel followed up his stellar showing of 2017 by showcasing his hallmark strengths and improving upon several aspects of his performance. In 204.2 IP across a marathon 34 starts (that's a hard working 6.0 IP per start, which is by no means a given in 2019) he produced a 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, yet ended up with a slightly lopsided 12-11 record. His peripherals continue to speak volumes about his skill set on the mound, as he mustered a meager 2.6 BB/9 last year in conjunction with a HR/9 of 0.8 (his lowest mark since 2015) that ultimately culminate in a FIP of 3.69.

That would suggest a conservatively over-inflated ERA in 2018 for the former Arkansas Razorback. One drawback that remains is his perennially-modest K/9, which at 6.7 last year was his lowest measure in that category since 2014. However, this should not sour you to Keuchel, only make your expectations realistic. With his working-man mentality on the mound, his volume of batters-faced helps to make up for his strikeout rate not matching that of other MLB aces.

So what was up with that unusually high WHIP of 1.31 spurred on by a H/9 figure of 9.3 (Keuchel's worst mark since 2013)? The good news is that, given the isolated metrics in his usual areas of high performance, Keuchel appears to have been a bit unlucky in the way the ball bounced last year. Even when allowing just 28.1% hard contact and forcing 22.4% soft contact on a dirt-heavy 2.20 GB/FB ratio for opposing batters, they still came away from the plate holding a BABIP of .300 against him for the season.

Keuchel's repertoire was looking robust as well in 2018, once again reaching an average of 90.2 MPH with his fastball which he tossed at 11.7% frequency, 89.5 MPH on his sinker which he threw at a 41.2% clip, and 80.0 MPH on his changeup which he deployed 12.8% of the time. While there was a 5.8% uptick in his overall allowed contact, he still forced an O-Swing rate of 33%, and his transition out of Minute Maid Park could be a big assist in further limiting the volume of home runs he allows. Minute gaps in his game or variations in peripherals from year to year shouldn't hamper excitement about the start of Dallas Keuchel's stint in the National League. With that combination of grounders forced and scarce hard contact allowed, he could be just what the doctor ordered in SunTrust Park.

 

Caught in the Wake

As it stands right now, the Atlanta Braves rotation ranks 17th in the majors with a starting pitcher ERA of 4.38. The group was formerly composed of: Julio Teheran (3.28 ERA), Max Fried (3.68 ERA), Kevin Gausman (6.15 ERA), Mike Soroka (1.41 ERA), and Mike Foltynewicz (6.10 ERA). With Dallas Keuchel on his way, a spot will open up in the rotation like the parting of the Red Sea one way or another, and it will have effects of a collateral nature. The Braves have already moved Sean Newcomb from the rotation to the bullpen and have mostly found relief to be the best place for highly-touted Touki Toussaint as well. With Keuchel as a starter, Atlanta could opt to send Gausman and Foltynewicz to the bullpen (or demote one) while letting the 21-year old Soroka and 25-year old Fried continue to learn the ropes (and fanning at that).

Even with the phenomenal performances of the two highly-anticipated pitchers, there could also be another course of action. The Braves may let Soroka and Fried pitch at this current pace for a little bit longer, then slowly limit the young guns' IP while transitioning the talented pair to the bullpen at some point while banking on a recuperation by Gausman and Foltynewicz.

Of course, it will likely be a hybrid situation that will play out. There are bound to be a few more injuries, slumps, surges, and monkey wrenches (complications, for the layman) that will be thrown into the mix, meaning any number of moves could occur. Those are long-term issues though; safety exists at this point in June if you are pitching well, and the club will likely relegate a struggling arm to the bullpen in the immediate future.

Aside from members of the Braves big league staff that will be impacted by the arrival of Dallas Keuchel, there are other ways in which this signing will catch players in its wake. First, while Atlanta has found a pitcher, it came at the expense of the Yankees, Twins, and Cardinals. That could mean that these clubs are still keeping their eyes peeled for a new starting pitcher in time for a run at the playoffs, and that they will now have to resort to swapping assets of their own to get what they want.

Second, it means that unless there are a disastrous amount of injuries for the Braves moving forward, it is going to be extremely difficult for another Atlanta pitching prospect to get the MLB call-up for work of any significance. That speaks a lot to the line forming for the major league bullpen and rotation, since the upper-tiers of the Braves farm system are saturated with pitchers. A big-time mid-season signing like this is rare (and fun). By understanding the context and probable chain of events, you can come out on the right side of it with big rewards in fantasy.

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