Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
The Official Site of the Los Angeles Dodgers
news

Dodgers News

NL Notebook: Could Keuchel tip division scales?

@matthewhleach
June 7, 2019

Welcome to the National League notebook, a weekly look at players, topics, and trends around the Senior Circuit. This week, we check in on an impact pitcher on the move, a rejuvenated star, and an unassuming speedster. Considering the pitching woes that most of the NL East contenders have faced

Welcome to the National League notebook, a weekly look at players, topics, and trends around the Senior Circuit. This week, we check in on an impact pitcher on the move, a rejuvenated star, and an unassuming speedster.

Considering the pitching woes that most of the NL East contenders have faced this year, it's been at most half-joking when observers have said, "Whichever of these teams signs Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel wins the division."

Well, Kimbrel is off the market, and now Keuchel is as well -- he has signed a one-year deal with the Braves. So ... will that one signing be what tilts the division?

The Braves just watched Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz struggle back to back again. That’s not to say that the Keuchel deal was a response to a difficult week, but those rough starts sure couldn’t have hurt the lefty’s cause.

Keuchel will report to Triple-A to prepare to join the Braves, and even once he’s available, almost nobody expects to see the Cy Young-caliber hurler of 2015. But he should stabilize an area of need for the Braves. And considering that Atlanta has also dealt with some bullpen issues this year, even bulk innings from Keuchel would be a boon.

At a minimum, Keuchel should provide that. Among pitchers who made at least 80 starts from 2016-18, Keuchel ranked seventh in innings per start -- behind only Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

That’s inherently valuable in an era of diminished innings from starters. But it’s not all that Keuchel offers. Here’s something you may not have known: Keuchel’s Fielding Independent Pitching has been remarkably consistent the past three years, coming in at 3.87, 3.79, and 3.69. His strikeout rate dipped last year, but so did his walk rate.

In Atlanta, he’ll set up in front of one of baseball’s best defenses. The Braves rank second in the Majors in Defensive Efficiency Ratio, which measures how many balls in play are turned into outs. That means they’re especially well-positioned to take advantage of Keuchel’s skill set.

The big question may be: Whose innings will Keuchel take? The easy answer is Gausman, who has struggled mightily, has experience in the bullpen and has become basically a two-pitch pitcher. The right-hander has averaged 5.0 innings per start with a 6.15 ERA, so even the 2016 version of Keuchel, the worst of his past five seasons, would be an upgrade. If he pitches like last year, it would be a massive improvement.

Over even 15 starts, a conservative estimate is that Keuchel would net 15 more innings and 10-12 fewer runs in those innings than who he'd likely be replacing. You could easily be talking about 20 runs saved, which by back-of-napkin calculations comes out to two wins. The Braves, right now, are two games back of the Phillies.

It’s a close race, and the Braves made a move that might just turn it.

Player of the week
You might not have noticed, because his overall numbers still aren’t eye-popping, but Corey Seager is back, and it’s a big part of the Dodgers’ surge.

Seager was up and down in April, but overall he never really found traction throughout the first quarter of the season. In the past 3 1/2 weeks, though, he’s come on strong. Since May 12, Seager carries a .304/.371/.633 line, with 14 extra-base hits in 21 games.

And, though the Dodgers weren’t exactly scuffling earlier, his breakout has coincided with his team’s best spell of the year. Over those 21 games, the Dodgers are 17-4. It’s easy to forget at this point, but a full-strength Seager is one of the game’s best players. He may be that again.

Stat of the week
In addition to everything else he does well, Christian Yelich is 13-for-14 in stolen bases on the year. Heading into play on Friday, Yelich's 13 steals lead the NL, one ahead of Jarrod Dyson. It’s unlikely he maintains that spot all year, but if he does, it will be historic. No reigning NL Most Valuable Player Award winner has led the league in steals the following season since Maury Wills in 1963.

Looking ahead: Series of the week
The NL East has been fun this year, though not quite the four-team free-for-all that some people hoped for. Still, it’s close and competitive at the top, and the two leaders meet next weekend. The Phillies visit North Georgia for three games at SunTrust Park, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., all in the summer heat… should be fun. The Braves could even have an extra pitcher in the organization by then.

Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.