Pittsburgh Pirates and Their Final Starting Rotation Spot


What should the Pittsburgh Pirates do with the fifth and final spot in their starting rotation?

Coronavirus permitting, the start of the 2020 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates is just 16 days away. With the start of the season just a tad over two weeks away, four of the five spots in the team’s starting rotation appears set. These four spots will go to Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller, and Derek Holland.

Well, a MLB starting rotation has five spots. So, what will the Pittsburgh Pirates do with the final spot in their starting rotation? Well, that is something new manager Derek Shelton and his staff will have to figure out in the next 16 days.

Meeting with the media on Tuesday, pitcher Steven Brault said the Pittsburgh Pirates may piggyback starts between him and Chad Kuhl. For those who are unaware, this would mean either Brualt of Kuhl starting the game and pitching the first 2-3 innings of the game, with the other then coming in to pitch the next 2-3 innings. With Kuhl working his way back from Tommy John Surgery, this would make sense. You do not want to overwork Kuhl and potentially set him back.

With Brault, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a good idea of what they have. Brault has made 35 starts in his MLB career to go with 89 games pitched. In 273 innings pitched, Brault owns a 4.88 ERA, 4.80 FIP, 11.3% walk rate, and a 18.8% strikeout rate.

During the 2019 season, however, Brault appeared to be turning a corner. During a 15 game – 13 start – stretch from May 18 through September 1, Brault owned a 2.97 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 9.5% walk rate, and a 18.4% strikeout rate in 78.2 innings of work. Brault would then finish the season in disastrous fashion, posting a 11.29 ERA, 7.41 FIP, 13.2% walk rate, and an abysmal 2.95 HR/9 in his final four starts, all games the Pittsburgh Pirates lost.

As for Kuhl, he missed all of 2019 recovering from his Tommy John Surgery. Despite this, his ceiling remains high as a starting pitcher.

In us MLB career, Kuhl has appeared 61 games with all of them being starts. He owns a 4.37 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 9.2% walk rate, and a 20.4% strikeout rate. This also includes a 3.7 fWAR.

These results, however, do not do Kuhl justice. Possessing a fastball that can touch 100+ MPH and curveball that was in the 96th percentile in the Majors in spin rate in 2018, Kuhl has the tools required to be an above average MLB starting pitcher.

Few pitchers will benefit more from Oscar Marin being the new pitching coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates than Kuhl will. Given the green light to throw his curveball more, Kuhl can take a big step froward as a starting pitcher. Now it’s time for Kuhl to take that step.

Even before the coronavirus shutdown Grapefruit League play, odds are, the Pirate brass hoped Kuhl would be in the starting rotation by the end of the season. This is due to the aforementioned ceiling he has. The delayed start to the season likely only adds to this, as he is now more likely to be prepared to handle a 3-4 inning work load in a game to start the season. With this work load increasing as the season goes on.

It remains possible that Brault holds the final spot in the Pirate starting rotation by himself when the season begins on July 24. Even if that’s the case, Kuhl could unseat him by the end of the shortened season.

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If the season begins with Brault and Kuhl piggybacking starts, then Kuhl becoming the full time guy may only be a question of when not if. Regardless, this will be an interesting battle to watch over the next two weeks.