Chad Kuhl will make his 2017 debut against the Atlanta Braves tonight
2016 was the year of the rookie for the Pittsburgh Pirates. During the 2016 season, 13 different players made their Major League debut as members of the Pirates. One of these players was right-handed starting pitcher Chad Kuhl.
Chad Kuhl made his Major League debut on June 26th. After this start, he quickly became a fixture in the Pirates’ starting rotation. This led to him starting the 2017 season in the Pirate rotation.
During the 2016 season, Chad Kuhl pitched 70 2/3 innings in 14 starts. He averaged 6.75 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, he allowed just seven home runs, and he generated a 44.3 percent ground ball rate. All of this led to Kuhl posting a 3.95 FIP, 4.53 xFIP, and a 0.9 WAR in 2016.
As the 2017 season starts to rev up, the Pirates will rely heavily upon Chad Kuhl. He will make his season debut tonight and the Pirates need to Kuhl to play a large role in their 2017 rotation if they are going to return to the postseason. So, how can Kuhl improve in 2017?
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Well, first off, he needs to develop a third pitch. Last season, Kuhl threw his sinker 56.7 percent of the time and his slider 27.4 percent of the time. His third most used pitch was his two-seamed fastball, which he went to just 10.1 percent of the time. His changeup checked in with a measly use rate of just 5.6 percent.
This spring, Kuhl was putting an emphasis on throwing his changeup more often. This led to success for Kuhl this spring. Hopefully, he will continue to use it more in the regular season.
To be a successful Major League starting pitcher, one must possess at least three Major League quality pitches. Right now, Chad Kuhl does not. And this is a big reason why left-handed hitters feasted on him in 2016.
Speaking of left-handed hitters, that’s another way he can improve in 2017. This season, Kuhl must be better against left-handed hitters. During his rookie campaign, left-handed hitters slugged .496 off of Kuhl to go along with a .363 wOBA.
Furthermore, left-handed hitters owned a 37 percent hard contact rate and a 23.8 percent line drive rate off of Kuhl. Both of these numbers are entirely too high. If Chad Kuhl is going to be the middle of the rotation starting pitcher the Pirates are hoping for, he must improve against left-handed pitchers in 2017.
His need for a third pitch and to improve against left-handed hitters go hand in hand. A big reason Kuhl struggled so much against left-handed hitters in 2016 was a lack of a putaway pitch against them. Hopefully, his changeup can become that pitch in 2017.
Chad Kuhl also needs to use his two-seamed fastball more often in 2017. In the minor leagues, he relied heavily on ground balls. This trait, however, did not translate to the Major Leagues. A big reason for this was the lack of two-seamed fastball usage.
Throwing his two-seamed fastball more often can help him improve against left-handed hitters, too. If Kuhl can bust left-handed hitters inside with it, or hit his spot on the outside corner of the plate with it, he should be able to induce more weak contact and more ground ball from left-handed hitters.
The two-seamed fastball has more spin rate than a regular four-seamed fastball. This makes the two-seamer a more deadly weapon and helps it to induce more weak contact and more ground balls than a four-seamed fastball.
In the minor leagues, Chad Kuhl was a ground ball pitcher. The Pittsburgh Pirates are an organization that preaches the importance of ground balls. For these reasons, it would seemingly be a no-brainer to see Kuhl go to his two-seamed fastball more often in 2107.
If Chad Kuhl is going to stick in the Major Leagues, he must improve in 2017. This improvement begins with him developing a third pitch, and/or throwing his two-seamed fastball more often. By doing this, he will improve against left-handed hitters and can be a successful middle of the rotation arm in the Major Leagues. If not, he will have pitchers like Steven Brault and Nick Kingham licking their chops at Triple-A.