At some point, Dallas Keuchel will wear an Atlanta uniform. Everything from reporters is saying that he’ll be here in a month, but like I said in the comments, it would also be smart for them to under-promise, over-deliver. I fail to see how Keuchel would need much more than 3 starts. If he’s up to throwing 90 pitches on his own, then that’s typically the last start of a starting pitcher’s Spring Training. So mark these words: I think Keuchel makes his first start somewhere between the 21st and 24th of this month.
It doesn’t seem like the Braves are interested in a 6-man rotation, so that means that someone has to go. Gabe Burns speculates that it’ll be Kevin Gausman, which probably makes sense. In his last 7 starts, Gaus has a 7.50 ERA across 30 innings. So right off the bat, just putting a competent SP in the rotation will give us more than the 4 innings per start Gausman has been able to give for the last month and a half, which will undoubtedly allow the pen to relax a little. And he’s just been getting tagged: .895 OPS against in those starts, and hitters are hitting a Cobbian .398 on balls in play. He ain’t fooling anybody.
So the big advantage Keuchel gives you is obviously another starter in the rotation that is a true proven commodity. Keuchel has never, ever had a stretch as bad as Gausman’s in his career. And from a roster construction standpoint, avoiding stretches where a starting pitcher is just completely useless really allows the manager and GM to control their bullpen much better. So we’ll see an obvious benefit to replacing Gausman with Keuchel.
But now you get another benefit. You can put Gausman in a bullpen that has actually been pretty good in the last couple weeks. I had been planning on a post specifically about the bullpen, but I’ll just you a quick rundown of how the pen has evolved from neanderthal to almost homo sapien:
March/April: 104 IP, 5.63 BB/9, .303 BIP, 4.41 ERA, 5.06 FIP
May 1-21: 70.2 IP, 3.69 BB/9, .340 BABIP, 4.84 ERA, 4.66 FIP
May 22 – June 7: 54.2 IP, 3.29 BB/9, .262 BABIP, 3.79 ERA, 4.54 FIP
I included those starts to show that obviously the bullpen had been putrid, and it’s now not bad. They made a big adjustment in May in cutting down walks, and that led to more hard-hit balls, but they’ve been able to improve both of them in the last 2 1/2 weeks, limiting hard contact while also limiting walks. FIP doesn’t like them as much since they’ve been a little unlucky with the home run ball. But since May 21st, the Braves have the 5th-best bullpen ERA in all of baseball. Weird.
So adding Keuchel means you just get to throw another quality arm into the pen. People more analytical than I can tell you exactly why Gausman has been terrible, but it’s hard to disagree with the idea that Gausman will probably be more effective if he can come in and air it out in the bullpen. It seems to have worked for the majority of our starters that have moved to the pen.
And if Gausman can right the ship in the pen, Keuchel’s addition also gives us even more flexibility to either trade Julio Teheran, cover an injury, or allow one of our young pitchers to control their innings. I still think the team is short an elite reliever or two, but adding Keuchel at least gets you another guy in the pen for now that can help.