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Yankees miss out on Dallas Keuchel, left-hander to sign with Braves

Keuchel won’t be pitching for the Yankees this year.

MLB: Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ search for starting pitching will have to continue, as Dallas Keuchel has agreed to terms with the Atlanta Braves. David O’Brien reports that it’s possibly a one-year deal, too. For weeks rumors connected the Yankees to the left-hander, but Jon Heyman noted that the two sides were “thought apart” on finances as early as Sunday.

Keuchel, 31, pitched to a 3.74 ERA (3.69 FIP) over 204.2 innings in 2018. His groundball rate dropped to 53.7%, but he still led the league in GB%+. In fact, over the last three seasons, few pitchers have a done a better job of pitching to contact as Keuchel. Consider some of these rankings among 116 qualified pitchers from 2016-2018:

GB%+: 134 (second)
Soft%: 22.8% (fourth)
Hard%: 27.8% (sixth)
IP: 518.1 (24th)

He’s essentially been a more reliable version of late-career CC Sabathia, an expert at generating weak contact and getting groundball outs. Some may wonder how that pitching profile translates in a game dominated by the three true outcomes. As it turns out, he does a fine enough job.

HR/9: 0.92 (19th)
BB/9: 2.66 (40th)
K/9: 7.33 (83rd)

Keuchel keeps the ball in the park and doesn’t issue an egregious amount of walks. He won’t ring up the strikeouts, a hallmark of today’s game, but what he lacks in whiffs he makes up in grounders.

The left-hander signing with the Yankees never seemed likely because of his repertoire. He’s a sinker/slider pitcher who began to integrate a cutter into the mix. His fastballs sit in the high-80s to low-90s and have a remarkably low spin rate—19th percentile!

The low spin rate isn’t a bad thing. In fact, that’s what drives his ability to generate groundballs. It just would have made him an outlier on a Yankees pitching staff composed of high velocity, high spin rate hurlers.

The elephant in the room, of course, has to do with Keuchel not having pitched in the big leagues to date this year. Would the long layoff affect his pitching? A few notable arms signed during the middle of the season in recent history, and they performed to mixed results.

Roger Clemens to the Yankees, 2007: 17 GS, 99 IP, 4.18 ERA, 4.14 FIP
Pedro Martinez to the Phillies, 2009: 9 GS, 44.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 4.28 FIP
Roy Oswalt to the Rangers, 2012: 9 GS (17 G), 59 IP, 5.80 ERA, 4.23 FIP

Martinez latched on to the Phillies down the stretch in 2009, so that doesn’t make for a perfection comparison. Clemens was a flamethrower, so it’s hard to compare him to a finesse pitching left-hander. He did, however, pitch better than he gets credits for with an ERA- of 92. That might be the most realistic positive outcome. Oswalt, meanwhile, proved a total clunker. He signed on May 29, roughly analogous to Keuchel, but struggled so badly that he landed in the bullpen.

With Keuchel heading to the Braves, the Yankees still need to address their starting pitching. According to Andy Martino, the team will engage the trade market—and the Blue Jays might be the starting place. It would have been cool to land Keuchel, but he just didn’t fit the profile of the Yankees’ ideal starter.

Update 10:05 PM: The Braves landed Keuchel on a one-year deal worth $13 million, reports Tim Brown. The Yankees held firm at the prorated portion of the qualifying offer, or $11.5 million. Imagine the Yankees getting outbid by less than $2 million. What a world.