Chad Kuhl could the biggest wild card for the 2018 Pirates

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 07: Starting pitcher Chad Kuhl
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 07: Starting pitcher Chad Kuhl /

There may not be a bigger wild card for the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates than starting pitcher Chad Kuhl

2017 was an up and down season for right-handed starting pitcher Chad Kuhl. The 25-year-old Kuhl saw an uptick in his stuff as his fastball became a power pitch. At the same time, his control began to suffer and his results varied.

When the 2017 season was all said and done, Chad Kuhl had pitched 157 1/3 innings in 31 starts in his first full Major League season. Despite watching his strikeout rate spike from 6.75 K/9 in 2016 to 8.12 K/9 in 2017, his walk rate also spiked from 2.55 BB/9 to 4.12 BB/9. This led to Kuhl owning a 4.35 ERA and a 4.24 FIP in 2017.

Chad Kuhl’s velocity increase was the biggest difference between his 2016 and 2017 season. After averaging 93.2 miles per hour with his fastball in 2016, this spiked to 95.5 miles per hour in 2017. His average slider velocity also increased from 86.7 miles per hour to 88.5 miles per hour.

Despite this, two months into the season Kuhl found himself struggling. Through his first 12 starts of the season Kuhl owned a 5.63 ERA, 4.17 FIP, and was averaging just 4.53 innings per start.

However, during the month of June Chad Kuhl made a change. In order to be more efficient against left-handed hitters who had previously crushed him, he began to throw a curveball. And this change for Kuhl would work.

In the first 26 starts of his Major League career, left-handed hitters crushed Kuhl to the tune of a .385 on-base percentage, .568 slugging percentage, and a .396 wOBA. After Kuhl introduces his curveball he still struggled against left-handed hitters, but there was noted improvement. In his final 19 starts of 2017 left-handed hitters owned a .364 on-base percentage, .427 slugging percentage, and a .342 wOBA against Kuhl. Dropping the opposing slugging percentage against left-handed hitters by over 120 points was a substantial improvement.

Once Chad Kuhl began using a curveball, he threw it 6.3 percent. With the addition of a curveball, Kuhl watched his strikeout rate spike from 7.29 K/9 in his first 12 starts to 8.50 K/9 in his final 19 starts. As Dave broke down here earlier in the offseason, Kuhl’s curveball became an out pitch for him starting in June.

In Kuhl’s final 19 starts of 2017 he also began to go deeper into games. He averaged 5.42 innings per start in his final 19 starts. Undoubtedly adding a the curveball to his repertoire helped him work his way back through a lineup after the first time through aiding him in his efforts to go deeper into games.

As the 2018 regular season approaches, Chad Kuhl is a huge wild card for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His pure stuff is as good as any starting pitcher they have not named Tyler Glasnow. But much like Glasnow Kuhl has control issues, his issues just are not nearly as severe as Glasnow’s are.

To reference back to Dave’s article, Kuhl can also pair his curveball and slider together. This is something that can be a recipe for success for Kuhl in 2018, and something that could help Kuhl take the next step in his development as a starting pitcher.

Last season opposing hitters slugged just .226 off of his curveball and .257 off of his slider. He generated 6.1 percent swing-and-miss rate with his curveball and 4.6 percent with his slider. It would behoove Kuhl to lean a bit more on these pitches in 2018.

Next: Pirates 9, Twins 3

If Chad Kuhl can take the next step in his development in 2018, the entire Pirate starting rotation changes. Currently, the Pirate rotation is Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, and pray like hell. Therefore, Kuhl taking the next step for the Pirates vital.

If Chad Kuhl can maintain his improve strikeout rate and work against left-handed hitters from 2017, while his control more closely resembles that of his 2016 season then the Pirates have a third reliable starting pitcher behind Taillon and Williams. If Kuhl can take this step, it puts the 2018 Pirates one step closer to competing for a National League Wild Card spot. This makes Chad Kuhl a big wild card for the 2018 Pirates.