CHAD KUHL, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: September 10, 1992
Drafted: 9th Round, 269th Overall, 2013
How Acquired: Draft
College: University of Delaware
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|When drafted, Kuhl relied mainly on a low-90s sinker that sometimes got up to 94-95. He’s a strong groundball pitcher who also throws a curve and a change, but his secondary pitches were considered fringy. Baseball America ranked him the best prospect in the 2012 Valley League and the 365th best in the draft. His ceiling is probably 5th starter or long reliever, and he may see improvement with a good infield, which he didn’t have at Delaware. He signed right after the draft for the slot amount. By 2015 he was throwing a slider rather than a curve and his change had improved. In 2015, his velocity improved markedly. By 2018 he was throwing the standard four pitches and his fastball was averaging about 96 mph.
The Pirates put Kuhl in the Jamestown rotation and he had a good debut. He walked very few, although he also struck out very few. Most importantly, he didn’t allow a single HR, in spite of the fact that he didn’t have a high groundball rate. He had no real platoon split. According to Baseball America, his fastball reached 95-96, although it sits more in the low-90s.
The Pirates appear to be impressed with Kuhl and moved him up to Bradenton for 2014. He stayed in the rotation all season and tied for the league lead in wins. He had a strong groundball tendency and was consistent throughout the year, except that for some reason he allowed five of his nine gopher balls on the season in May, which led to his highest monthly ERA of 4.79. His second highest was 3.31. Kuhl had only a very small platoon split. His control faltered a little late in the year — he had a BB/9 of 1.7 in April through June and 3.5 in July and August — so he may have tired a little. Obviously, his K rate remained very low.
Kuhl spent the year in the Altoona rotation and had a breakout season. He was spectacular in the second half of the season, going 6-1, 1.38 with an 0.97 WHIP from July 1 on. In part, the improvement may have resulted from increased velocity, as he started hitting 96-97 regularly while sitting at 94. More importantly, he was locating the pitch exceptionally well, working both sides of the plate to right-handed and left-handed hitters. He had no real platoon split and held hitters to a line of 236/291/337.
Kuhl missed the start of the season, as he fell behind a little in spring training due to some minor soreness. Once he joined the Indianapolis rotation, he got off to a great start, with a 1.24 ERA through his first ten starts. He hit a four-start rough patch in which he had a 6.75 ERA, but the Pirates called him up for four starts beginning in late June. He had one rough outing but otherwise pitched well, throwing six, one-hit, shutout innings against the Nationals in his fourth start. The Pirates then sent him back to Indianapolis for two more games, then he rejoined the Pirates and pitched out of the rotation for the rest of the season. He made 14 major league starts in all. Kuhl was solid without dominating in most of his starts, allowing opponents a line of 267/324/432. He had trouble with left-handed hitters, allowing them to bat 301/358/496. Right-handed hitters batted 240/296/380 against him. Kuhl had a good groundball rate of 44.3%. His fastball sat around 93 mph, and his slider and change were fairly effective.
Like most of the Pirates’ starters, Kuhl had distinctly different stretches in his season. After struggling through much of the first half, he was probably the team’s best starter in the second half. In 15 starts through the end of June, he had a 5.53 ERA and .864 opponents’ OPS. In 16 starts after that, he had a 3.38 ERA and .732 opponents’ OPS. Some of that may have been coincidence, though, as his xFIP was only a little lower in the second half. His tendencies as a pitcher changed, too, as he became more of a strikeout pitcher in the second half and also struggled with his control a good deal. He went from walking 9.0% and striking out 19.0% to walking 11.9% and striking out 22.4%. Another thing that changed was that he started throwing a curve midway through the season. His velocity increased, as he went from sitting at 93 or so to 96-97, occasionally reaching 100 mph. Like many pitchers on the team, he had an extreme platoon split, as useful changeups seem to be in short supply in the Pirates’ organization. Left-handed hitters had an OPS of .893 against Kuhl, compared to .698 for right-handed hitters.
Kuhl had a rough year. He had a 4.55 ERA in April, then seemed to be turning it around, with a 3.44 mark in May. In June, though, he had a 6.17 ERA. He went on the disabled list at the end of the month with a forearm strain. Kuhl tried to rehab the injury, but had a setback and ended up having Tommy John surgery in September. Before he went out, he struggled with left-handed hitters and gopher balls. Lefties batted a robust 265/347/519 against him and he allowed a longball every six innings. A lot of the trouble may have been the Pirates’ obsession with sinkers. The sinker was easily his least-effective pitch. Opponents slugged .563 against it, compared to .291 against his slider and .188 against his curve, yet until June he was throwing the sinker over half the time. He cut its usage sharply in June. Overall, he improved his control a little and had a good K rate. His groundball rate dropped to 36%.
Kuhl missed all of the season.
Kuhl was healthy by the time the abbreviated season started and opened the season with the Pirates. He pitched twice in relief and then, with the team short of healthy starters, joined the rotation. His fastball velocity was down, from 96 mph to 94 on average. He also sharply increased his slider usage, while his fastball usage dropped from over 59% to 44%. The end results were odd. His ERA was a little better than average, which is good for a pitcher just coming off Tommy John, with no minor league rehab. Even then, the ERA was inflated by one horrendous outing when he couldn’t throw a strike and Derek Shelton left him in to give up nine earned runs in two and a third innings. His ERA was 2.66 without that start. On the other hand, Kuhl had significant control problems and benefited from an unsustainable .235 BABIP, which accounts for a 4.98 xFIP. He had gopher ball problems, allowing better than one every six innings. Kuhl’s fastball remained very hittable, with opponents slugging .600 against it, but his breaking stuff was very effective, producing a lot of swings and misses.
Kuhl was the opening day starter, but in the end had a disappointing season. He had a 6.32 ERA through his first four starts, then went on the injured list with a sore shoulder. He returned at the end of May and struggled for three more starts, then got on a good stretch, with a 2.84 ERA over seven starts before going on the COVID injured list. When he came back in late August, the Pirates moved him to the bullpen. That didn’t go well at all; in 14 appearances, he had a 6.75 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. Overall, Kuhl’s four-seam fastball continued to get hammered, while his slider, which he used very heavily, was more effective. Left-handed hitters put up an .857 OPS against him, right-handed batters .753.
Kuhl has been a puzzle. Despite good velocity, his fastball isn’t an effective pitch, but his breaking balls are. It’s not clear whether the Pirates moved him to the bullpen late in the 2021 season to reduce his workload or because they thought he’d be more effective that way, but the move certainly didn’t work. He may or may not contend for a rotation spot in 2022.
|Signing Bonus: $145,200
MiLB Debut: 2013
MLB Debut: 6/26/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2022
Rule 5 Eligible: Protected
Added to 40-Man: 6/26/2016
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 5.078
|June 7, 2013: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 9th round, 269th overall pick; signed on June 12.
June 26, 2016: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.