Right-handed pitcher Chad Kuhl has now made two Major League starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Pirates have won both of those games.
For much of the first two and a half months of the 2016 Major League Baseball season Pittsburgh Pirate fans were clamoring for right-handed pitchers Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, and Tyler Glasnow to be promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis. While Glasnow remains at Triple-A, Taillon and Kuhl have joined the Pirate rotation and both have produced good results. These two pitchers have made a combined seven starts and the Pirates have gone 5-2 in those games.
Since joining the Pirate rotation in early June Jameson Taillon has been the team’s best starting pitcher. Today, however, is about Chad Kuhl. In this article, I will be digging deeper into the first two starts of Kuhl’s Major League career while looking at possible trends moving forward.
Last night was Chad Kuhl’s second Major League start, and it was better than his strong debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday. Kuhl pitched six innings against the Oakland Athletics last night and he allowed just two runs on seven hits and zero walks. Even though Kuhl only recorded two strike outs, he did a very good job of pitching out of trouble when he needed to.
At Triple-A this season Chad Kuhl was phenomenal. He averaged 6.93 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, and 1.06 HR/9 in 76 2/3 innings pitched. This resulted in Kuhl posting a 2.58 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP for the Indianapolis Indians. Even though Kuhl has not been this good through his first two Major League starts, he has still pitched well.
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Through two starts Chad Kuhl has pitched 11 innings and has allowed five runs (4.09 ERA), eleven hits, one home run, and just four walks. All four of Kuhl’s walks came in his Major League debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with two being in the first inning. So over the course of his last ten innings pitched Chad Kuhl has walked just two batters.
It is very good to see the trend of Chad Kuhl throwing strikes continuing from Triple-A. In the 76 2/3 innings he pitched at Indianapolis this season Kuhl walked just 16 batters. This is a pleasant change from a Pirate staff that ranks 27th in Major League Baseball averaging 3.58 BB/9.
Another good trend from Chad Kuhl is how few home runs he allows. After allowing just nine at Triple-A this season, he has allowed just one in his first 11 Major League innings pitched. This is another pleasant change as the Pirates’ staff ranks 17th in the Majors allowing 1.18 HR/9.
Moving forward, the biggest reason for optimism and excitement for Chad Kuhl is the stuff he has shown in his first two Major League starts. While pitchers like Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow always got all the hype for having electric arms in the Minor Leagues, Kuhl has shown one through two Major League starts as well.
Chad Kuhl’s fastball has averaged 94.2 miles per hour through his first two starts. On top of this,Kuhl’s sinker has averaged 92.2 miles per hour giving him a power sinker. Even though Kuhl’s groundball rate is just 31.4 percent, as long as his power sinker continues he should start to generate more ground balls moving forward. Especially since generating groundballs was a trait of Chad Kuhl’s in the Minor Leagues.
What has been most impressive to me so far has been Chad Kuhl’s slider and change up. Coming through the Minor Leagues one of the knocks of Kuhl, and one of the reasons I believed he might be best suited for a reliever role in the Major Leagues, was a lack of a third pitch. However, he has shown three strong pitches so far in the Majors with his fastball/sinker combination and his slider and change up.
Through two starts opposing hitters are hitting just .214 off of Kuhl’s slider, and he has yet to allow a hit off of his change up. Opposing hitters have a wRC+ of 79 off of Kuhl’s slider, and a wRC+ of -100 off of his change up. Furthermore, hitters have swung and missed at 15 percent of the sliders that Chad Kuhl has thrown through his first two starts.
Chad Kuhl’s slider looks like it has the potential to develop into an out pitch for him. If so, that would go a long way toward allowing him to become a successful Major League starting pitcher for a long time. Five of the seven strikeouts Chad Kuhl has recorded through his first two starts have come from his slider which is an encouraging sign.
The development of his change up has been great to see as well. Even though Chad Kuhl has only thrown ten change ups so far, as I said above, he has yet to allow a base runner off of his change up. If this continues to develop into a plus pitch, it just becomes another weapon for Kuhl.
Now, obviously, all of this has been done in a very small sample size by Chad Kuhl. After all, he does have just 11 career Major League innings pitched. But through these 11 innings there have been a lot of encouraging signs from Chad Kuhl.
As I said above, the most encouraging sign to me has been the development of his slider into an out pitch. His plus change up is encouraging as well. If these two pitches continue to trend in this direction, then Chad Kuhl will have all the make up needed to be a quality Major League starting pitcher.
Through two Major League starts, Chad Kuhl looks like a starting pitcher that will be in the Pirate rotation for the long haul. He has shown a power sinker, a plus slider, and a strong change up. While I still think there is a chance that Kuhl winds up being best suited as a reliever at the Major League level, there are certainly lots of reasons for optimism and I am a lot more optimistic now than I was before he made his Major League debut.
*-All stats and pitch data courtesy of FanGraphs