Pittsburgh Pirates: Chad Kuhl Feeling Healthy
One starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates made his return from Tommy John surgery last season. He is coming into this season feeling healthy.
Despite seeing his name come up in trade rumors all offseason, Chad Kuhl will again return to the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation in 2021. After missing half of 2018 and all of 2019 with Tommy John surgery, the former ninth round pick out of Delaware in 2013 made his return last season. While Kuhl originally came out of the bullpen and was originally a combo starter, because of injuries he eventually found himself in the rotation full time. The right-hander finished the season with a 4.27 ERA but subtracting the one blowout start and Kuhl’s line lowers to 3.48.
The biggest issue with Kuhl is the command, as he has a career 9.9 percent walk rate and it was worse last season, posting a 14.2 percent rate (a career high). In the blowup game, Kuhl walked six batters in 2.1 innings, again illustrating the problems with command and it not fully coming back post Tommy John.
Kuhl’s stuff remains good, ranking in the 62nd in velocity for the fastball and 80th percentile in spin on the curveball. His slider averaged 88 mph, much higher than the league average for the pitch and was his go to breaking ball in 2020. As a result, Kuhl posted a career high in strikeout rate (22.3 percent) and his strikeout rate has risen each year.
The good news is that Kuhl looks to be healthy in 2021 and could finally have that breakout year if the command comes together, though STEAMER currently projects a 4.85 ERA. How did the soreness impact the pitcher? Jake Crouse, the Pirates beat writer for mlb.com, wrote that,
"“It was tough just to brush my teeth,” he said. “It was just a struggle to get through that, and once I kind of broke through that … I kind of kept building.”"
There has been trade interest in Kuhl given the stuff and his biggest lacking being command. With how tough it was for Kuhl to brush his teeth and using that right arm in a day-to-day life, the command could return to the previous levels resulting in an uptick in that strikeout rate. A healthy 2021 for Kuhl could lead to that trade as he has two years of club control left (2021 and 2022), but he could also help the Pirates out this season in the starting rotation.