Dallas Keuchel is The One Who Shouldn’t Have Gotten Away

After shutting down the Phillies on Wednesday night, Braves starter Dallas Keuchel had some words for the Phillies front office about their interest, or lack there of, in him this past winter.

And he is correct. Matt Klentak and the Phillies front office made a major mistake in not pursuing Keuchel.

Keuchel is 8-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 16 starts with the Braves since singing a one year contract on June 7th. He is also 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA against the Phillies. Keuchel’s ERA would be the best on the Phillies. Yes, even better than Aaron Nola (3.70.)

Of course, he hasn’t had a full season’s worth of starts like most other starters. So in fairness, let’s compare Keuchel to the Phillies’ starters since June 7th, the day Keuchel signed.

Since that date, Phillies starters have a combined 4.79 ERA. That would be 15th in baseball over that span and 11th in the National League. The individual numbers are even worse. Nick Pivetta has a 5.45 ERA as a starter. Zach Eflin checks in at 5.47. Vince Velasquez at 5.48. Jake Arrieta was at 5.14 before being shut down. 

Are these your alternatives?

Instead of signing Keuchel, Matt Klentak decided to go a much cheaper route and look for alternatives to fix the rotation. Ultimately, the Phillies decided on signing Drew Smyly and trading for Jason Vargas. 

The hypocrisy in these moves cannot be overlooked. Many teams, including the Phillies, were concerned about Keuchel’s velocity in an era where most pitchers throw 95 and up. Keuchel is averaging just 89.3 MPH on his four seam fastball and 88.1 MPH on his sinker, his most used pitch. 

The Phillies under Klentak and Andy MacPhail prefer to prioritize pitchers with high velocity that miss bats rather than pitchers who work to limit contact. Therefore, why did they acquire two similar yet not as effective versions of Keuchel in Vargas and Smyly?

Vargas averages 84.2 MPH on his fastball, which is 5 MPH less than what Keuchel is this season. Vargas also has a lower strikeout percentage (18.4) than Keuchel (19.8), meaning he misses even fewer bats. Since being acquired by the Phillies on July 29th, Vargas is 0-2 with a 5.01 ERA in 8 starts. Keuchel is 5-2 with a 3.23 ERA over that span.

Smyly has been a pleasant surprise with the Phillies after being pounded for an ERA over 8 with the Rangers earlier this year. In 9 starts with the Phillies, Smyly is 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA. Smyly throws harder than the other two aforementioned lefties, averaging 91.1 MPH on his fastball. Smyly has pitched some great games for the Phillies, but in others he looks closer to the guy he was in Texas. 

However, Smyly is 2-1 with a 5.06 ERA over his last 7 starts. For comparison, Keuchel is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA. The Phillies really don’t know for certain which Smyly will show up on any given day, while Keuchel has been lights out for the Braves.

Glaring Mistake

Now, it was understandable to not be heavy on Keuchel when the offseason started. There were better options available, and Keuchel was also attached to draft pick compensation due to rejecting a qualifying offer from the Astros. It is perfectly logical that Keuchel was not at the top of the wishlist at the beginning of the winter. 

But, as the other names went to cities not named Philadelphia, Klentak and Co. still remained steadfast in their desire to run it back with a rotation that had a 4.73 ERA in the second half (20th in MLB) and a 5.92 ERA in September during their epic collapse. Something needed to be done over the winter, but it wasn’t.

Second Chance

Luckily for the Phillies, this past offseason was one of the strangest in recent memory. Multiple players waited until the dawn of Spring Training to sign their contracts. Many of them were dissatisfied with the offers they were given and waited for better to materialize. 

Keuchel was one of those players. The former Cy Young winner and World Series champion went unsigned as Opening Day arrived. Months went by with Keuchel still at home. Eventually, June came around and the draft pick compensation attached to Keuchel was removed, meaning he could be signed for just money. Keuchel was even willing to accept a one year contract at that point. He also could have been the left handed starter the Phillies so desperately craved. 

But the Phillies never even went to watch him pitch. What they watched was Keuchel sign with the division rival they were chasing in the standings. 

Reality Check

The Phillies and Braves are two teams headed in different directions. The Braves are riding the excellent stretch of starts that Keuchel has provided, along with a potent offense, in a chase for the NL’s best record. The Phillies are desperately clinging to a shot at the second Wild Card with a struggling pitching staff whose mid-season reinforcements have made little to no real effect.

Matt Klentak, Andy MacPhail, and the rest of the Phillies brain trust must face a harsh reality sooner rather than later. That fact is that they have utterly failed at putting together a stable rotation since coming into power. Not only have they failed, they have arrogantly balked at relatively low risk opportunities to make a real positive impact. Their one big move to improve the rotation in signing Jake Arrieta has been a disaster. 

Not even seriously pursuing Keuchel is looking like sheer malpractice at this point. You can add Keuchel to the growing list of easily obtainable starting pitching improvements that the Phillies front office have watched go elsewhere. That list includes Charlie Morton, Wade Miley, and Cole Hamels. All of these players would have helped the Phillies rotation and went elsewhere for very little either via trade or free agency. 

Klentak and MacPhail will have to drastically change the way they evaluate starting pitching, or owner John Middleton will have to change front office staff.