Dallas Keuchel had a late start to the 2019 MLB season. Left unsigned as the season started, the Atlanta Braves made the move and brought in the veteran lefty and former Cy Young Award winner on June 7. By June 10, he was pitching in Rome on his way back to the big leagues.
There were certainly ups and downs, but overall it was a positive signing for the Braves. Keuchel pitched to a .500 record with a 3.75 ERA and a bit higher 472 FIP, striking out 91 and walking 39 over 112.2 innings pitched.
Let’s take a look back at Keuchel’s year that was.
What went right for Dallas Keuchel in 2019
Keuchel made his Braves debut in Rome on June 10 and it was definitely one of the highlights of his season.
Sure, it was Low-A, but Keuchel was sharp, striking out nine, walking one and allowing one hit while filling the strike zone with strikes (55 of his 77 pitches). He then made another seven-inning stop in Mississippi which was another pretty good outing before heading to Atlanta.
Keuchel was gelling in a six-start run from Aug. 14 to Sept. 11. He allowed just four runs over 37 innings, going no fewer than six in any start. He struck out 35, a bit uncharacteristic as Keuchel’s never been one to miss a lot of bats. That’s when Keuchel was at his best, leading the MLB with an absurd 67-percent ground ball rate (he finished with a 60 percent rate stranding 80 percent of his base runners) and limiting the home runs, something which ailed him at other points in the season.
The 31-year-old southpaw earned the Game 1 start for the NLDS and pitched well, albeit a short outing. He was lifted after 4.2 innings, and just 74 pitches allowing five hits and one run on three walks without striking out any. His next start just four days later wasn’t as sharp but could have been worse. He got roughed up for two early runs in the first, but was able to settle down and minimize the damage further before he exited early.
What went wrong for Keuchel with the Braves in 2019?
This was clearly not Keuchel’s best season, but when you consider he had no spring training and cost $13 million, the signing was a win for the Braves. Were there down times? Sure, but overall, it was worth it in the long run.
One of the biggest concerns was Keuchel’s walk and home run rates. As we mentioned, Keuchel has never been one of baseball’s premier strikeout artists, so he’s relied on command and limiting the long ball through out his career. Both of those eluded him at points in 2019, with his highest walk rate (3.12 per nine) since 2012 and a career-high home run rate of 1.28 per nine.
Keuchel was more reliant on his cutter in 2019 than any other point in his career, throwing it 20.2 percent of the time, five percent more than any other season. His slider was thrown at a career low 11.4 percent of the time, almost seven percent less than any other season in his career. With diminishing velocity, some felt the loss of his slider command made him more hittable in 2018 and perhaps that carried over to 2019, judging by the lack of its use.
He had a forgettable stretch to close out the season, likely ending his tenure in Atlanta. Still, Braves fans can’t be too upset about his time spent here.
What can you expect from Keuchel in 2020?
Keuchel signed a one-year, $13-million deal for 2019. With the Braves already rumored to be willing to break the bank on Josh Donaldson and other free agents on the market (and the possibility of a Mookie Betts deal sure to be discussed all winter), we can guess where the Braves money will be spent. While Keuchel was a nice investment on the one-year deal, he will likely seek multiple years and pitched well enough to drive up the price, probably removing him from the Braves future plans.
He wasn’t at his best this season, and looked more fresh earlier than later, but Keuchel should have plenty left in the tank. There are certainly question marks — the waning velocity, the slider, and being hit seemingly harder the past few seasons — but Keuchel should have plenty left in the tank. Will it be with the Braves? We’ll have to wait and see.