MLB Free Agents: Top 5 available players and best fits

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 04: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after an RBI single off Jack Flaherty #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning in game two of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 04: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after an RBI single off Jack Flaherty #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning in game two of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /
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Top 5 MLB Free Agents: Dallas Keuchel, LHP

31-years-old — 3 years, $45 million

The holdout worked rather well for Keuchel last year, as he wound up in Atlanta in June and posted a strong 2019 season as a stabilizer in the Braves’ starting rotation. In 19 starts, the lefty didn’t exactly flash his best stuff this past season, but there’s no doubt Braves Country appreciated his four months of service.

Like always, Keuchel fed opposing batters a healthy dose of two-seam fastballs and cutters (those two offerings made up 74.1% of his pitch mix in 2019), leading to yet another 60%+ ground ball rate this past season; that makes four such seasons in his 8-year career.

However, within his four-pitch repertoire (fastball, cutter, changeup and slider), only his changeup finished the year with a positive Pitch Value (2.0), as Keuchel allowed a 36.8% hard-hit rate — an eight-percent jump compared to his 2018 campaign. In the end, his 3.75/4.72 ERA-FIP combo illustrated that the veteran lefty obviously had lost a touch (his highest ERA since 2016), though it’s rather understandable considering he missed all of Spring Training plus the first 2 months of the regular season.

Still, the Braves were in need of an innings-eater and that’s exactly what Keuchel provided, making his start every fifth day and accruing 112.2 innings (19 starts) in his shortened season with the team.

Keuchel, a former Cy Young (2015) winner, is much like Ryu in that he’s not exactly a strikeout artist. Keuchel’s has earned his living by consistently generating ground balls and weak contact, shown by his sub-20% career strikeout rate (19.1%). Teams with strong infield defense will be the one’s set up to benefit the most from Keuchel’s services, as his 58.9% career ground ball rate will certainly keep the field busy.

FanGraphs has yet to release the Braves 2020 ZiPS projections, meaning all we have on Keuchel at the moment is Steamer and Baseball-Reference projections. The two systems see a vastly different pitcher in 2020:

  •  Steamer: 188 IP, 4.20 ERA, 6.87 K/9, 2.94 BB/9
  • BR: 137 IP, 3.88 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

One system sees Keuchel as a back-of-the-rotation starter, though a solid one; while the other sees him as a starter near the top of a staff, but one that will allow nearly 0.5 more runs per nine innings relative to 2019.

With this being Keuchel’s age-32 season and the fact that he showed evident signs of regression this past season, it’s reasonable to expect his 2020 numbers to fall somewhere in between the two projection systems, which would peg Keuchel as a 1.0-1.5 WAR pitcher. At $15 million per season, there are several teams that could use that kind of production in it’s starting rotation.

Best fits: Angels, Twins, Padres, Cardinals