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Should the Phillies be ignoring Dallas Keuchel on the free agent market?

With the need to improve the rotation high, should the team be looking at the lefty or moving on to better things?

Houston Astros v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

On one of his recent podcasts, John Stolnis mentioned that signing Dallas Keuchel was not something the Phillies should be pursuing. Even with the team’s need to improve its starting rotation, Keuchel was not a guy who “is a fit here” with the Phillies. That’s an interesting statement to make. With so few premier arms available to the highest bidder, to simply cast one of them aside simply because of the makeup of the current roster seems an odd choice to make entering a very important offseason. With position players, it’s a lot easier to make that kind of broad statement. If a team has an outfield full of above average players, chasing Bryce Harper would not be the most efficient way to spend available dollars. With pitching, it’s a little different. As the old saying goes, “you can never have enough starting pitching,” and with someone like Keuchel available, why would any team simply not consider him? It’s one thing if a team is operating under budget constraints, but if money is not an issue, is it wise to not consider someone of Keuchel’s quality? So, I decided to take a deeper dive at Keuchel’s numbers to see if perhaps maybe the Phillies should be going after the free agent southpaw.

Now, I am not operating under the illusion that Keuchel is the same pitcher he was several years ago. He has suffered some injuries since his Cy Young season in 2015. A season like he had then are seasons that come around only once in a while for pitchers in the non-Scherzer/Kershaw division. Since that magical year, he’s been steadily solid.

D. Keuchel 2015-18

2015 232 2.48 2.91 2.48 23.7% 5.6% 61.7% 0.7
2016 168 4.55 3.87 3.56 20.5% 6.9% 56.7% 1.1
2017 145.2 2.90 3.79 3.80 21.4% 8.1% 66.8% 0.9
2018 204.2 3.74 3.69 3.87 17.5% 6.6% 53.7% 0.8

His BABIP in 2018 was .302, so the fact that his ground ball percentage is so high means his defense has been helping him a lot. Scott Boras, his agent, mentioned lately that Keuchel is the “soft contact genius of his era”, and “the greatest ground ball pitcher in the game”. All of this is great, but you can’t talk about this without talking about how good the Astros’ defense has been. That makes the numbers look a lot better than they could potentially be. Even taking all that into account, there is nothing that causes alarms. He’s doing what he can to prevent batters from getting on base - not walking them and getting them to hit ball harmlessly on the ground.

The walk rate is incredible. He is one of 24 pitchers since 2015 who have thrown at least 600 innings and have a walk rate below 7% (6.6% to be exact). Since his Cy Young season, he has been known as a guy who will keep runners off base by not walking them. However, there is one thing that has me a little concerned when it does come to Keuchel.

Keuchel plate discipline

Year O-swing % Z-swing % Swing % O-contact % Z-contact % Contact %
Year O-swing % Z-swing % Swing % O-contact % Z-contact % Contact %
2015 33.3% 62.2% 44.1% 62.3% 89.3% 76.6%
2016 30.1% 63.0% 43.8% 62.7% 88.5% 78.2%
2017 32.6% 66.1% 45.0% 63.6% 86.0% 75.8%
2018 33.0% 65.4% 45.1% 72.6% 89.2% 81.8%

Most everything stays pretty stagnant here, but batters last year started to make more contact with pitches outside of the zone. Is that because Keuchel was putting his pitches that were destined for just on the edges of the zone a little too close for comfort? This is his heatmap from 2018:

This is his heatmap from 2017:

It seems that, ever so slightly, there were more hittable pitches in 2018 than there were in 2017, even if those pitches weren’t in the zone. I mean, we’re talking about tenths of a percentage, but those tenths all can add up. Enough to make a difference?

The other question to consider is one that Stolnis himself asked. Does he fit with the Phillies defense as it currently sits? With no moves having been made yet, we have to assume that the main players from last year’s putrid defense will remain the same. If that is the case, we could end up with an equation like this:

2018 Dallas Keuchel + 2018 Phillies defense = a lot worse pitching line for Keuchel

If we put all of it together, I’d have to agree with Stolnis here and suggest the team pass on signing Dallas Keuchel. While the money could be palatable (MLB Trade Rumors has him at 4 years/$82 million), there are just too many other things that could go wrong if he comes to Philadelphia. While we should never rule out a union of the two, especially if the price drops a lot, it’s best to focus those free agency dollars on the offense and look to upgrade the pitching staff by using their minor league system in a trade.