The Pittsburgh Pirates entered 2019 with a starting staff that promised to carry the club. What transpired was nothing short of a 180 degree turn. The staff needs new blood and Chad Kuhl could very well provide the injection the club needs.
As fans, it’s easy to name free agents that would fill the void the Pirates have in their rotation. We spend a whole lot of time talking about who we like, who we think they would pay for, who we think would be available in a trade, but one thing we often don’t discuss is the potential for a very interesting internal option that is scheduled to return this spring: Chad Kuhl.
Before Chad felt that nagging twinge in his pitching arm back in 2018, he was making progress as a starter. He is the only pitcher in the system as we speak with the ability to hit triple digits on the gun and make a hitter buckle at the knees with a biting curveball or slider. The Pirates have had 3 starters in recent history with this kind of stuff: Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl.
Yeah, there’s no guarantee that Kuhl will step right back in where he was, but the upside is there, and we’ve seen what he can bring to the table in the past.
Take a look at these numbers from Brooks Baseball.
That’s five pitches, all quality with huge changes in speed and the ability to throw any of them any time for a strike. His change up was the last one added and it still was getting hit more than the rest, so he compensated by tossing more curves to offset the speed. His arm speed doesn’t change from pitch-to-pitch, and that makes him a dangerous pitcher. Take a look at his whiff rates especially down in the zone and up in the zone.
Now take a look at Gerrit Cole.
That shows deceptive stuff and his biggest downfall was facing left-handed batters and that seemingly started to enter the solved category as 2018 got into full swing.
In no way am I saying Chad Kuhl has the same skill set as Gerrit, nor am I saying they have the same ceiling. I am saying there are similarities there that should provide some optimism about what we could expect from Kuhl if he comes back full strength. It’s a window into just how dominant Kuhl can be when he is putting his pitches where he wants.
If the Pirates make no additions or subtractions to the stable of starting pitchers entering 2020, they are likely to start with Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Mitch Keller, and Steven Brault. If Chad Kuhl indeed shows that his stuff has returned with his health who would you remove from the rotation? Maybe the Pirates are thinking the same thing and that explains why they haven’t so much as been rumored to be in talks with a free agent pitcher.
There is more promise in this rotation than last season led us to believe and adding back in a talent like Kuhl will only enhance that level of talent. If nothing else Chad could and probably should cause a shorter than normal leash for members of the rotation to find their footing. Perhaps he makes dealing Archer at the deadline less about dumping and more about making room.
I could see Mr. Kuhl starting in the bullpen if only to build arm strength, but don’t be surprised if he ends up pushing for a spot in the rotation as early as spring. These are new eyes looking at these pitchers and decisions will be made in that light. What I mean to say is, nobody should feel their spot is safe, nobody should be untouchable, and four of those guys had ample opportunity to show last season what they had to offer. Injury hindered many, but 2020 should be about what they bring to the table this season, not last. Spring Training will be a very competitive landscape for the rotation.
If optimism has a name for me in 2020 it might very well be Chad Kuhl, because the stuff he possesses is arguably more value than any free agent pitcher available outside of the top 5 options.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007