Pittsburgh Pirates: 2021 a Vital Season for Chad Kuhl

The 2021 season will be an important one for many Pittsburgh Pirates players, but this is especially true for pitcher Chad Kuhl

Following a strange 2020 MLB season, hopefully, the 2021 season will have a bit more normalcy to it. Whenever the 2021 season does begin it will be a vital one for multiple players on the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of these players is pitcher Chad Kuhl.

After missing the entire 2019 season, Kuhl returned from Tommy John surgery in 2020. During the 2020 season Kuhl pitched in 11 games, with nine of them being starts. In these 11 games Kuhl logged 46.1 innings.

What was most important for Kuhl in 2020 was that he took a MLB mound. After missing all of 2019 what was most important for Kuhl in 2020 was to pitch as often as possible while remaining healthy, and Kuhl did just that.

In his 46.1 innings of work Kuhl struck out a career high 22.3% of batters faced. However, his 14.2% walk rate was also a career high, as well as being entirely too high. Kuhl also struggled with the long ball allowing home runs at a career worst 1.55 HR/9 clip. All of this resulted in Kuhl posting a 4.27 ERA, 5.48 FIP and a 5.10 DRA.

Adding to the concerning results for Kuhl in 2020 was the contact he allowed. Opponents had an average exit velocity of 89.5 MPH off of Kuhl, a 39.3% hard hit rate and a 13.1% barrel rate, all of these were above league average.

Despite the red flags around Kuhl’s results in 2020, he still appears to be a safe bet to start the 2021 season in the Pirate starting rotation. And, again, what was most important for Kuhl in 2020 was just remaining healthy and logging innings, two things he did.

Kuhl continues to have a high ceiling due to his slider and curveball combination. While you want that pitcher to work out in the starting rotation, that may not be where Kuhl’s future is. While he cna be a good starting pitcher, Kuhl could be a dominant reliever.

Out of the bullpen Kuhl could pitch in multiple roles, too. He could be a shutdown single inning high leverage reliever, while also being able to pitch multiple innings when need be. Kuhl could continue to pitch as a starter, too, working as a swing man ala Jeanmar Gomez in 2013.

Figuring out what his future holds is what makes 2021 a vital season for Kuhl. As we said above, odds are, Kuhl will start the season pitching out of the starting rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates. If he falters, a move to the bullpen seems likely.

Another reason that Kuhl’s move to the bullpen would appear like a possibility are his struggles following the first time through a line up. Last season, opposing batters hit for a .155/.259/.324 slash line off Kuhl the first time through the line up, the second time through these numbers jumped to .267/.380/.500. The third time through the batting average fell back down to .200, but the opposing on-base percentage was .429 and slugging was .343.

This was also a problem for Kuhl in 2018. During the 2018 season opposing batters slashed .293/.353/.447 off Kuhl the second time through the line up, and the third time through the opposing slash line was .289/.353/.500. All of that screams reliever.

Out of the bullpen Kuhl could be a dominant pitcher. Determining if his long term role is in the starting rotation or out of the bullpen will likely happen for Kuhl during the 2021 season, making it a vital season for the Pirate righty.