Pittsburgh Pirates: Chad Kuhl Appears to be Turning a Corner
By Noah Wright
After being a fairly average starting pitcher from 2016 to 2018, Chad Kuhl appears to be turning a corner for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020.
Chad Kuhl served as one of the primary starting pitchers for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2016 to 2018. But the results in those three seasons were fairly average.
Through the first 313 innings of his career, Kuhl had a 4.37 ERA, 4.30 FIP and 1.42 WHIP. Overall, his ERA and FIP were slightly below the league average with a 106 ERA- and 104 FIP-. He only recorded a 20.4% strikeout rate, 9.2% walk rate and 1.1 HR/9. In terms of ERA estimators, he only had a 4.52 xFIP, and 4.61 SIERA.
However, across all three seasons, Kuhl did show some promise and potential. Kuhl’s fastball averaged out at an impressive 96.2 MPH. He also consistently put above average horizontal and vertical movement on the pitch. Especially horizontal break as he usually sat with 50% above the average amount of break. His curveball also looked like it could be a really good pitch. According to Baseball Savant, it had 2901 RPM in 2019, and 2875 RPM in 2018.
What Kuhl really struggled with was getting batters to chase. Kuhl had a 26.5% out of zone swing percentage from 2016 to 2018. Just for comparison, the league average out of zone swing percentage in 2019 was 32%. Overall he got batters to swing just 44.4% of the time when the 2019 league average was 47%. A pitcher with the power fastball he has, combined with well above average movement with their curveball and slider should be getting more swings and tricking more batters than Kuhl was.
After missing all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Kuhl has returned, and he’s looked better than ever thus far for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kuhl has been relying on his slider way more than before. So far, he’s thrown it 37% of the time compared to 19.8% in 2018. The upped usage of his slider has seen the usage of his fastball dip down to just 2.3% compared to over 20% in 2018 and over 30% in 2017.
But his curveball has seen an uptick in usage as well. He’s thrown it 19.6% of the time. Overall, it roughly has the same amount of movement compared to previous years, and he’s gotten players to swing and miss at it 47.1% of the time so far compared to 33.8% of the time in 2018.
Overall, Kuhl has gotten a lot more batters to go chasing outside of the zone. His out of zone swing percentage has risen to 32.6% of the time. They’re also making a lot less contact with out of zone pitches now, with a 51.1%% out of zone contact rate. His swinging strike percentage now sits at 12.8% compared to 9.3% in 2016-2018.
Now, sure, it is a small sample size. He’s only pitched 14 innings. But the results are extremely promising. While he has seen a small decrease in pitch speeds, that’s nothing new for a guy who’s coming off Tommy John surgery. But he’s still sitting in the 94 -95 MPH range with his sinker. But Kuhl has shown he’s getting a lot more strikes. He’s deceiving more batters, and is throwing his better pitches more often. If he can keep doing that, Kuhl could be a solid pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, whether that be in a starting pitching role, or a long relief role.