First Pitch: Chad Kuhl’s Not-So-Surprising Velocity

Between text messages, e-mails, and Twitter questions tonight, the most popular question I received was about Chad Kuhl’s velocity. There were questions wondering if it was a hot radar gun. There were questions wondering if he had always thrown with that much velocity, hitting 96 MPH frequently tonight. (The TV broadcast said 97 a few times, but MLB.com doesn’t have anything above 96. The gun might have been a little hot, but I’ve seen Kuhl hit 97 before, so I didn’t question it.) There were questions about whether I’ve ever seen that velocity from him.

It might have been surprising to see a former 9th round pick who gets lost behind Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon coming in and sitting 94-95 and touching 96 on six different pitches. But that’s only if you aren’t familiar with Chad Kuhl. I’d also say that no one who subscribes to this site should be surprised at these results, although Kuhl has flown under the radar a bit here as well.

Part of this is because Kuhl has improved so rapidly. I covered him a lot in Bradenton in 2014, and the report at the time was a 90-93 MPH sinker, a four-seam fastball that could touch 96, a changeup that was just starting to see some work, and a slider that needed improvements.

When I saw Kuhl at the start of the 2015 season in Altoona, the report was similar. But in the second half of the 2015 season, we started getting a lot of favorable reports. Two of our writers saw Kuhl hitting 96-97 MPH much more often, and working in the 92-95 range. I later found out from Kuhl that it was his sinker that was getting this velocity, rather than his previous situation where the sinker would sit in the low-90s and the four-seam would show up with the velocity. The slider and changeup still needed some work, but the fastball became a plus offering in the second half of 2015.

This year, the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that the slider is improving, and Kuhl can now use it better for strikeouts when he’s ahead, or for early strikes. It’s now an above-average pitch, pairing well with his sinker. The changeup is still lagging behind the other two pitches, but much better than what I saw the previous two years.

It’s pretty amazing the amount of progress Kuhl has made in the last year. He went from your typical sinkerball pitcher with one good pitch, looking like a future reliever, to a guy sitting 94-95 MPH with his sinker, and hitting 96-97, while showing much improved secondary stuff, and looking like a future starter.

When I look around at other outlets and see the reports on Kuhl, I notice a lot of outdated information. People have caught up that the velocity is improved, but the reports are still lacking. And yet when I talk with scouts who have seen Kuhl, I get a much different story, and that’s what is reflected on this site.

There’s a reason we’re so high on Chad Kuhl — or about as high as you can get for a future number four starter with a high floor. He’s made a ton of progress in the last year, but we’ve been there every step of the way to track that progress. It didn’t slip past us that he had a velocity increase, or an improved slider. It didn’t slip past the scouts we’ve talked to either. And there’s a bit of a shameless plug going on here, that our subscribers are getting better information here than anywhere else. But it also explains our stance on Kuhl, and why we seem higher on him than most.

I hope to see more of Kuhl, but wouldn’t be surprised if he gets sent down today, since the Pirates don’t need a fifth starter anytime soon, and could call up an extra bat for their AL road trip this week (I’m hoping for Josh Bell as the DH). After that, Gerrit Cole might be back to reclaim his spot. But Kuhl looked good tonight, all things considered, and it would be good to see him get his shot in the majors.

As with every Sunday First Pitch, we recap the biggest stories of the week. If you’re not a subscriber, you not only missed that Kuhl can hit 96-97 MPH, but you also missed all of this Pirates coverage. Subscribe today to get all of our daily articles.

10. Steven Brault wrapped up his rehab and returned to Indianapolis this week. Abigail Miskowiec covered Brault’s final rehab start in Morgantown, discussing the rehab process with him after the start. Brian Peloza covered his return start with Indianapolis on Saturday.

9. The new draft system has one big benefit: Players get signed very quickly. In the past, the tough negotiations would last into mid-August. Now? The toughest negotiations last until the end of June/early July. The Pirates got one of their prep pitchers signed this week, inking fourth round pick Braeden Ogle. They still have Nick Lodolo and Max Kranick that they need to sign.

8. Kevin Newman recently was promoted to Altoona, and has started off strong at the new level. Sean McCool talked with him about his rehab process from his orbital injury, and his promotion to Altoona.

7. Ke’Bryan Hayes had a great month of April, but struggled in May. Abigail Miskowiec wrote about why he has been struggling since his hot start, and what he can do to get back on track.

6. Mitch Keller is having a fantastic season this year, putting up some great numbers while also showing improvements with his mechanics and his stuff. Abigail Miskowiec wrote about how he’s starting to emerge as a potential future ace.

5. The Pirates miss Francisco Cervelli, which is very obvious. It’s also very clear that they miss his offense from the catcher’s position. But Ed Giles breaks down just how much they miss him behind the plate, looking at the advanced defensive metrics compared to his replacements.

4. Here is our preview and top 10 prospects for the Bristol Pirates, led by Adrian Valerio.

3. Here is our preview and top 10 prospects for the GCL Pirates, led by the 2016 prep pitchers.

2. Adam Frazier got called up this weekend, and it could be a long-term assignment to have him on the bench, especially if he continues hitting the way he has in his first few games. I wrote The Book on Adam Frazier, giving you everything you need to know about him. Alan Saunders talked with Frazier and wrote about how he’s trying to carry his success over to the big leagues.

1. Chad Kuhl made his pro debut tonight, leading the Pirates to a victory over the Dodgers. We wrote a lot about Kuhl this weekend. I had The Book on Chad Kuhl. Brian Peloza wrote about what was impacting him in Indianapolis during his most recent starts. Alan Saunders looked back at how Kuhl added the two-seam fastball that got him to the majors.

  • I think Kuhl is a potential #2 starter in the bigs. Always liked him more than the other pitching prospects. Although he was a little wild in his first big league start, he has control and command of his pitchers which makes for success.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 27, 2016 10:27 am

    Awesome first performance – it wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and he will need to get better in future starts, but he gave his team a chance to compete and win – that is what you need from a starting pitcher.
    What a thrill for him – to not only pitch his debut – but, on national TV, against the Dodgers, and against Clayton Kershaw – he had to be pretty wound up. Hopefully, a lot more to come for him.

  • I saw 98 a few times.

  • Kuhl touched 98 during the game at least once, and I’m pretty sure it was twice that I saw anyway. Very impressive. Can’t wait to see Glasnow next.

  • If Kuhl stays in the rotation and when Glasnow finally gets here, 4/5 of our rotation will be from drafted pitchers. And, don’t forget about Kingham, who NH said would’ve been in the rotation this year had he not gotten hurt.

    Will that finally quiet the “NH can’t draft” detractors?

    nahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. 🙂

  • While I was very happy with the victory (and for the young man), I agree with the assessment that he should be sent down. What I saw was a thrower with a limited tool set who got just a bit lucky (strike zone and getting out of the bases loaded jam). This may be chalked up to nerves but I think a little more seasoning would help.

    And it is a perfect time to fill in the bench and then give Glasnow his first shot.

  • Tim … During the broadcast, the insert box score flashed 97 on three of the first four pitches. Having read your articles on Kuhl, that just confirmed my expectations and I stopped paying attention to the speeds after that…

  • Daniel Oestreicher
    June 27, 2016 8:40 am

    It’s not the velo readings on Kuhl that make me think the stadium gun was hot, it’s the readings on Melancon. Mark sitting 94?!? That’s what I remember seeing on the ESPN broadcast. He’s been mostly 89-91, right?

  • 1 – Kuhl & Frazier call ups were good chess moves and have given a lethargic team some energy. Perhaps the Burnett void isn’t completely filled but I love what I see so far
    2 – we all know what Jeff Locke is. Inconsistency prevents minor leaguers from being called up, why should it be tolerated at the mlb level for so many years ?
    3 – Locke can absolutely help the bullpen and, with Hughes being unreliable this year, can team up with Nicasio to provide that 6th inning bridge to Feliz
    4 – therefore Neal, let’s not “wait til Locke has 3 more bad outings and then make a decision” which we know will happen anyway. Let’s simply pull the trigger: Kuhl to the rotation and Locke to the pen. Win-win

    • The problem with that is, overall Locke has been better than Niese and Liriano. That’s not saying a lot, other than the fact that Pirate pitching has stunk this year.

    • Locke is not the problem. You expect Locke to perform as a 5 and he’s done that, Liriano and Niese are the problem, both underperforming in their roles. And among starters who qualify, they are the bottom two in all of MLB.
      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2016&month=0&season1=2016&ind=0&page=4_30

    • StevePegues
      June 27, 2016 8:52 am

      Inconsistency prevents minor leaguers from being called up, why should it be tolerated at the mlb level for so many years ?
      _______________________________________________________
      Citation needed on that one. I can think of a lot of counter-example inconsistent pitchers who’ve been called up and lingered in MLB for quite some time.

    • Take away Locke’s 4 blowups (16.50 ERA) and his other 11 starts equate to a 2.35 ERA.

      I will take that in my rotation, thank you very much.

      • Translation: If you ignore that there is a tornado every third or fourth day, the weather here is perfectly beautiful!!

        • No, the real translation is that in spite of four tremendously horrible starts, he’s still been the best of the lefthanders and he’s the youngest of the three. I didn’t care for the Walker/Niese trade when they made it. I like it even less now. I would have rather seen Walker flipped for prospects and a free agent pitcher signed.

        • StevePegues
          June 27, 2016 9:30 am

          If you want nice, non-deadly weather everyday, then yeah a tornado is nothing to gloss over. And if you expect Locke to be the ace of the staff, his blowups are nothing to gloss over.

          Call him inconsistent; it’s a fair criticism. However, I’d rather have his kind of inconsistency than a consistent number 4/5 starter who gives up between 4-5 runs (on average) every single start. That kind of consistency is gonna win less ballgames than a pitcher like Locke who can hold the opposition to under 3 runs when he’s on but give up 10 or more when he’s not.

        • Translation: We’re getting a well pitched game 75% of the time and I will take that from my #5 starter.

    • BallHeadWonder
      June 27, 2016 9:25 am

      Well the way Schugel has been pitching, he has the nod over Hughes now!! Clint put his neck out on the line for him last nite and he delivered 2 innings!!! Shock the hell outta me!! Very Un-Clint-Like!!

      Love Frazier!!! Makes me forget about Brock Holt!!! They Super 2’ed this kid!!! They brought up Rogers and Figueroa as stop gaps, but knew this is who they wanted to bring up!! There is NO WAY he goes back to Indy!!! They way he controls the zone is awesome to see!! It was awesome to see is confidence against the best pitcher in the game and get 2 hits!!

      Lastly, my delimma comes with Locke and Khul…which one goes to the pen?? Khul’s velocity is worthy of a bullpen role just for this season and we wait Locke out to see if he fizzles out. Or…..WAIT FOR IT….if Locke and Khul do well, WAIT FOR IT…..Does that make Frankie expendable?? Can we let him go and get something for him while he has value??

    • Can you really say that Kuhl is a better starter right now than Locke? Based on the way that Kuhl’s starts have been pregrossing, I don’t think you can.

  • There were a lot of things to like last night. Kuhl worked out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the first. Adam Frazier looks like a strong addition to the bench. I really like this kid going forward. 4 perfect innings from the bullpen may be the biggest thing of all. Great game to watch.

  • It was mentioned this was not a spot start for Kuhl by Adam Berry and I think Rob B. As well. Huntington Said Kuhl was going to to get a few starts.

  • People don’t disagree w/ your assessment that he’s a future SP because of a lack of velocity. People don’t disagree w/ your assessment because they have ‘outdated information’. People disagree w/ your assessment because they see a guy w/ one above-average pitch in his sinker….and questionable secondary offerings.

    I almost feel like this article was written *before* the start last night. I mean, if Tyler Glasnow came up and walked 4 guys in 5 innings, loaded the bases in the first w/ 2 walks and was wild like Kuhl was, I have a sneaking suspicion we would’ve heard about how he lets his nerves get the best of him and how he doesn’t keep his poise in ‘big situations’ (as we’ve heard in the past.

    Look, Kuhl has a great demeanor to him, attacks hitters, and didn’t shy away from the moment. HIs sinker has great run and averaged 94.3 MPH; it’s a very solid pitch. I like his competitiveness and fire. This team surely needs both.

    Yet, that’s where it kind of ends. I didn’t see more than a couple (maybe a few?) above-average sliders, but rather a few good ones and a lot of flat ones that he didn’t control very well. His CH was non-existent (2.6%) and not effective. As was easily predicted last night, the 2nd time through the order, Dodgers were squaring him up.

    5 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, HR, 5 Ks. That’s not a line where one should rush to the CPU to claim those that disagree w/ an assessment possess outdated information and are wrong about a guy’s future projection. An ERA of 5.40, a FIP of 6.13 – albeit in one start, obviously – is nothing to get stoked about.

    While I’m of the opinion that a change was needed in the starting rotation – if for nothing else, change for change sake – the book on Kuhl seems relatively unchanged. He’s got a really good, moving sinker…..and very questionable secondary offerings. Perhaps w/ time, that slider becomes an above-average offering and he gets an effective two-pitch mix. But, it’s not there now – and, even if it comes – that’s a profile of a strong middle-relief pitcher or perhaps a late-inning guy depending on the roster.

    Nothing last night disproved those scouts who see future reliever to be wrong or possessing outdated information. It seemingly went as they expected.

    That being said, Nicasio profiles best in the Pen anyways. Until Cole is healthy and they find another spot for Jeff Locke, I’m more than fine w/ Kuhl continuing to get starts. But, using last night as evidence of his capacity to be a strong #4 starter seems like a stretch, at least in my opinion.

    • I think this is fair assessment of Kuhl. His slider can look decent at times but when it’s not working well watch out because it’s going to be ugly 2nd time through order. And yes Taillon’s outing was ugly other night when his curve wasn’t working but his secondary pitches much much better than Kuhls.

      I think Law is correct on Kuhl. Probably a very good reliever. Not optimistic on him being a #4 starter even with continued work on his changeup.

      • I think that, once all of our pitching studs arrive, Kuhl WILL be a stud bullpenner, maybe even a closer?

        • Yes, definitely has stuff to be very good in pen. It was great effort from Kuhl but the reality was it was a pretty poor start. I think that was lost in the excitement of a great win and some great battling from Kuhl.

      • If hanging sliders and off speed pitches means Kuhl is a #4 starter, then Kershaw showed he was a #4 starter when he hung breaking pitches and put FBs in the sweet spot for hitters.

        Naturally, Kershaw has a long track record. So, besides the fact that his performance last night suffers from SSS problems, we know he has performed better in the past.

        • Don’t even know how to respond to this post.

          • But respond you did.

            “I’m speechless. But I’ll babble on despite having nothing to say.” Yeah, that attitude will win friends and influence people, especially when coupled with an ad hominem post.

            • It’s not ad hominem. I am speaking directly to your view/analyis of Kuhl and not other opinion(s) you may have. I’m sorry, I just don’t find the Kevin Brown or young Jake Peavy comps realistically based. Trust me, I would love for you to be correct.

        • Chad Kuhl has a 3.89 FIP and about 14% K-BB% in Triple A. He has a very nice sinker. But somehow you are still insisting he is next Kevin Brown or “Jake Peavy” who put up multiple 4-6 WAR seasons?

    • I loved seeing Kuhl get a shot. Only 1 start so it doesn’t mean much but if this was Locke’s first start of year and his stat line indicated an ERA of 5.4 and a FIP of 6.13 I’m not sure the same sort of praise would be flowing.

    • “People disagree w/ your assessment because they see a guy w/ one above-average pitch in his sinker….and questionable secondary offerings.”

      And that’s where the outdated information is. If the sinker is considered only “above-average”, then we’re already starting off with bad information. Your boy Keith Law just wrote it’s a plus pitch.

      Furthermore, as I wrote in the article, he had questionable secondary offerings last year, but the slider has really improved and the changeup, while struggling recently, has also seen some improvements.

      “Nothing last night disproved those scouts who see future reliever to be wrong or possessing outdated information. It seemingly went as they expected.”

      Who are those scouts? Because the only person you ever mention is Keith Law. I’ve talked to scouts who see Kuhl and they love him and think he’ll be a starter. I’ve had scouts say he could be higher than a 4th starter. The Pirates obviously love him and think he will be a starter. Other teams love him enough to want to trade for him. I have no doubt that there are scouts who feel he’s a reliever, but that seems to be the minority opinion lately, from my experience.

    • I would love to see Kuhl take the pen spot from Jared Hughes. Kuhl approaches pitching the same way as Hughes and I think would be way more effective. I have always disliked Jared Hughes with a passion so if Glasnow could ever find that ever illusive control I think you shift Kuhl to the pen and say “bye-bye” to Jared. This is my dream.

  • P2 has tracked this kid from the time he started separating himself from what might be expected from a 9th Round pick, so anyone paying attention is not that surprised at how quickly he has developed. He did not panic, and he did not change his approach when his control was off a bit. Being a little wild and unpredictable is not a negative.

    Chad Kuhl maxed out his opportunity in front of a national audience, and his enthusiasm was inspiring. Maybe this does not happen if not for injuries and poor team play in June, but it was an eye opener for anyone doubting the young, strong arms the Pirates have in their system.

    • Good post, so many things to discuss about last night on his performance, but specifically to your post, I found his composure, make-up, whatever you call it a pretty good indicator that the young man is ready, at least mentally which is quite important… lets see if we are right about that, should be fun….

  • As always, nice article TimW……In another attempt to show what a simpleton I am can someone (maybe you TimW when you wake 🙂 ) give me a comparison of another player from MLB recent history that Kuhl tracts the most to? When I see a 95-96 sinker and good (or better) command of two other pitches (think slider/change) that seems rather compelling…. Is Derek Lowe a reference point on the high side of what he can be which would be special or did someone like Derek (and three inches taller) favor more of a slider than a sinker…. Gosh Lowe had excellent movement, dare I say (sorry) electric stuff, but I’m just trying to find a comparison point…. Scott Erickson would be nice 🙂 🙂

    • LOL who is the guy that said Kuhl profiles as Kevin Brown and has like 6 pitches? 4 different fastballs a slider and a change. LOL

      • That was my comp. What I saw last night did not persuade me to drop that comparison. Another comp: A young Jake Peavy.

        Brown had a better slider. Peavy had Greg Maddux comps before his FB velocity climbed to the mid-90s.

        LOL back at ya.

        • Saying Brown had a “better” slider than Kuhl is like saying Starling Marte is “faster” than Chris Stewart. Really should not be compared.

          I’m rooting for Kuhl but the reality is last night was a very meh start by him.

          • The ‘reality’ last night showed a pitcher who recently struggled with command and control struggling with his command and control but still managed to get ML hitters out.

            • Steve it’s only 1 game so perhaps he is much better in the future. BUT if you are pointing to last night as evidence that he can get hitters out I would point out that his FIP and xFIP(1 game only) are both worse than any starter in our rotation this year. So I guess they all “managed to get ML hitters out” as well. I should hope we have higher standards for our starters going forward.

    • So an internal argument (responding to my post but not really), below, but nobody answered my question…. I have to be more clear in my questions… anyone?? 🙂

    • I could not help myself watching him he absolutely reminded me of a young Tim Hudson.
      Clearly he’s a wild stallion with that control, but jeez his stuff was electric. Nice arm for sure, and I love the idea of Cole and Kuhl. 2 Cool.

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