Chad Kuhl’s Latest Start Shows That High Velocity Might Not Always Be a Good Thing

PITTSBURGH — Chad Kuhl can probably throw 100. Clint Hurdle isn’t sure that’s a good thing.

Kuhl came tantalizingly close to hitting triple digits during his start against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, hitting 99.5 MPH with a two-seam fastball at one point.

On the season, Kuhl’s fastball had averaged 94.89 MPH coming into Tuesday’s start, and that played out about the same. His 26 four-seamers averaged 95.4 MPH and his 38 two-seamers checked in with a 94.4 MPH average.

But the variance was way up. His fastballs checked in as low as 90.6 and he had several over 98. Hurdle said that led to issues with pitch sequencing and separation between his pitches. The four-seamer wasn’t consistently faster than the two-seamer, which at times, was barely faster than his change-up.

“I think sometimes he just gets involved in the game and I’m not so sure the added velocity helps,” Hurdle said. “There was a time when his two-seamer and his changeup were playing at the same velocity. That’s not a good indicator, as well. You want some separation on those two pitches. He’s out there giving everything he’s got and sometimes, a kid giving everything he’s got gets in the way.”

Kuhl has had issues with overthrowing his two-seam fastball and flattening it out, but even then, he never regularly thew this hard. He said he wasn’t consciously doing anything different on the mound.

“Maybe a little bit, but it felt like it was just coming out hard and coming out smoother,” he said. “Obviously, throughout the course of the game, being aggressive, I feel like there’s definitely pitches that I overthrow. But for the most part, they were coming out hot.”

Kuhl is a competitive guy and not getting too fired up during the course of his starts is something that he’s still working through.

“I hate losing,” he said. “I hate falling behind hitters. It’s a really big challenge for me to just stay the course and not try to do too much.”

Hurdle mentioned that it’s a helpful reminder that despite the stuff, Kuhl has less than a year of experience pitching at the major-league level. That’s something that applies to three-fifths of the Pirates’ rotation right now.

“That’s the age-old argument that people have,” Hurdle said. “You don’t want young pitchers. You want guys with experience. Well, how do guys get experience? He needed to go out there tonight and actually try to put another inning out there after he had some turbulence to see what he could do. Tonight wasn’t his night, but sometimes, the best opportunity is to get on the mound and figure some things out about yourself and be your own coach. They need to find themselves. It’s still not a full year for him. He’s learning things every time he’s out there.”

If Kuhl can find a way to work his newfound velocity into something more consistent, it can certainly be a bonus for him. There aren’t many starters out there throwing two-seam fastballs at 100 MPH. But the Nationals didn’t seem to be fazed by the increase in velocity as they knocked in six runs on ten hits against Kuhl.

“I think the two-seam really was a little straighter and the four-seam was a mirror image of that tonight,” Kuhl said. “I think that’s why they were getting hit. A lot of the stuff was down, hard 95, 96, it was just all over the plate and didn’t have much movement, so it got hit.”

The other thing that held him tonight was the lack of an out pitch. Kuhl had three strikeouts — one came against his mound opponent Stephen Strasburg — but that came despite having ten two-strike counts.

“Execution was inconsistent,” Hurdle said. “Balls were elevated. Too much of the plate. With the secondary pitches, he got into some offensive counts and wasn’t able to put balls where he wanted to.”

NEW APPROACH?

Kuhl did have some success against the one area he struggled with his last time out — left-handed hitters. He retired the first five he faced, including a strikeout of Matt Wieters.

“I feel like I get trashed just because you see a couple of bad numbers against the lefties, but if you look at all my strikeouts, most of my strikeout numbers are against left-handed hitters,” he said. “It’s kind of a catch 22. I’m kinda just pitching my game against them. It comes with practice, what works and what doesn’t and obviously, big-league, left-handed hitters can hit the ball really well. … I feel comfortable against lefties. If they get me, they get me.”

Of course, Kuhl doesn’t treat left-handers the same as right-handers when it comes to which pitches he throws. He had discussed using his four-seam fastball as an addition weapon against left-handers earlier this year. That worked in the first inning, as he got Bryce Harper to pop up on an elevated four-seamer. His changeup — a pitch more typically associated with a righty against left-handers — got Harper to ground out in the third, but poor execution of it led to a two-run home run by Wilmer Difo in the fourth. Kuhl was pretty displeased with that pitch afterward:

“Bad location. Bad movement. Just bad.”

NOTES

Gregory Polanco (left hamstring) and Felipe Rivero (neck) both did not play. … Daniel Hudson pitched the fifth inning as opposed to his customary eighth-inning role. … Josh Harrison hit a solo home run and a double to go 2 for 5. … Adam Frazier was also 2 for 5 with a double and an RBI single. … Andrew McCutchen went 0 for 4 and was removed from the game as part of a double switch before the eighth inning.

  • I don’t see the games but is Cutch washed up? I am starting think he is becoming radioactive at this point. No other GM will give up any players for him and they do not want to touch him. Maybe they should have moved him for what Washington was offering during Spring training.

    • I don’t think Was would’ve gave up much more than a lotto ticket….Cutch has major red flags, as literally every phase of his game went down the shitter. Rizzo is not an idiot.

      • I feel that Wash was willing to give up something for him like one of their top pitching prospects and a mid-level prospects – just not the OF or two top three prospects.

  • I still remember the “good old days” when these young guys were expected to perform or get out of the way for someone else to do it.

    I like Kuhl, Glasnow, and Williams. But they should be on a short leash and Brault should be called up while they practice on AAA hitters and not on MLB hitters.

    To me the only quetsion is who goes down first – Kuhl or Glasnow?

    • Darkstone42
      May 17, 2017 1:13 pm

      Leash is proportional to talent, and both of those kids have serious talent. That said, if one goes down, by the same argument, it’s likely Kuhl.

      On top of that, I think Kuhl has things he can fix in AAA. I don’t think Glasnow can learn anything there.

      (I also think they made the right choice, first by putting both Kuhl and Glasnow in the rotation to start, and by sticking with them through their struggles. They’re both up and down, but each has been competitive as often as not, and the upside, especially for Glasnow, is worth it.)

  • Chad Kuhl (6.69 ERA) and Tyler Glasnow (7.98 ERA) are making me yearn for those “heady” days of Jeff Locke and Charlie “Mr Electric” Morton.

    Good thing that our awesome offense can pick these two up when they start.

    • Still rather see Glasnow and Kuhl with their “stuff” than Jeff Locke.

      • Maybe for the long term but Locke never had an era that high – not even last year when everyone (justifiably) said he was horrible.

        Theses guys are outright losing games in the first inning or two. It has to be very demoralizing to a team.

    • Darkstone42
      May 17, 2017 10:06 am

      Kuhl’s is inflated by two really terrible starts, in fairness to him. He wasn’t good against LA, but he didn’t instantly lose us the game, either. He was terrible against Chicago and last night, but in his other five starts, he’s been between competitive and pretty good. His previous two starts, he was pitching really well (Miami scored on him, but there’s nothing alarming in his K/inning, 50+% GB%, and just one walk) before he got hit by that comebacker, and he was shutting down Milwaukee before the outing got shortened by rain. The ball was down in those two starts.

      Also, Charlie Morton is suddenly throwing fastballs at 95 on average, so he’s actually Mr. Electric now.

    • Leefoo, did you see Charlie Morton against the Yankees on Sunday night’s game of the week for ESPN? He looked terrific. He looked healthy and was throwing in the upper nineties, hitting 98 and 99. Only Matt Holliday hurt him. The announcers said that he’s been pitching like that all season. He looked like a different pitcher. He told the announcers that when Houston offered him a 2 year deal…he asked, “Why would you give ME a 2 year deal? The Astros told him,”We believe in you”.So much of this game is about confidence.

      I would stay with these talented kids. Next season, you may very well have a formidable rotation. If you look at the Cubs, they have an aging rotation, with nothing special in the minors. For them to continue to compete at a high level, they’re going to have to BUY expensive pitching…unless they want to try to win by slugfest. That is the same trap that the Yankees fell into.

  • piraterican21
    May 17, 2017 7:56 am

    The two seamer had a vertical drop of 5 inches compared to Trainer’s who had a similar velocity at 7 inches. His four seamer had a 4 in. drop. I had this conversation before it is not a good sinker, is often elevated and last night was often in the middle of the plate. Hope the team has reached the decision to punt this whole season while the likes oh Kuhl and Glasnow work their problems out.

    • It didn’t look like he had much sink on his two seamer at all. Kuhl looked more like a hard thrower than a pitcher. Where was Cervelli in all this? He didn’t seem to be actively involved in the game mentally. No effort to have Kuhl push the ball down. Kuhl had a reputation of being a groundball pitcher in the minors. Based on last night, where did that guy go?

  • It is incredibly depressing watching Cutch these days. He seems to have totally lost his confidence.

    • Did we watch the same game? He hit two rocket line drives right at the CFer his first two AB’s. If anything, he should be depressed his BABIP is so low.

      • That was the commentary on the radio broadcast. Wehner said Cutch and Mercer have hit the ball hard, but a high percentage of them were at someone for outs.

      • That last at bat is what im used to watching. Can’t even keep his feet still on a curveball. Glad he actually hit two balls to center though, because so far this year everything has been pull pull pull, which is the main reason for his BABIP, grounding and rolling out to 3B and SS.

  • Darkstone42
    May 17, 2017 12:52 am

    It just looks to me like Kuhl isn’t finishing his pitches. He’s finishing high and not driving down through the ball. Throwing hard isn’t what flattens pitches, pulling insufficient spin on them does, and if he’s not finishing his pitches, snapping his wrist down through the ball, he’s not going to get the spin rate he needs.

    There were pitches when he finished low, got his arm all the way down through the baseball. Those pitches had life, went to Cervelli’s glove, and didn’t get hit. I wonder if he’s trying to stay high at release to get more plane, but as a result, he’s not finishing his motion downward. Finishing his pitches would probably also help with his command a bit.

    • Well if his arm speed is higher the wrist needs to work faster too, right? Seemed to me like he was over throwing, getting more velocity just because he could. He’d be more effective if he backed off a little on his two seamer and let it sink, just as you have said.
      A lot more brains, and a lot less adrenaline will help Kuhl considerably.

      • Darkstone42
        May 17, 2017 9:59 am

        I can’t think of a reason the difference between arm and wrist speed should matter. In fact, you can generate some spin without using your wrist at all (which is why knuckleballers have to throw their fingers forward to counter the spin driving their arm downward would generate).

        The spin is generated because, at release, the fingers move down some axis on the baseball. The faster they move down, the more spin in that direction. Kuhl throws a 2-seamer from a 3/4 arm slot for his singer, so he generates spin and movement by his fingers moving down the back of the baseball over the two-seam axis tilted about 45 degrees from perpendicular to the ground. The faster his fingers move down the back of the baseball at release, the faster it will spin. If he’s not finishing his pitches, it doesn’t matter how slow his arm is moving, or how low his velocity is, he’s not going to generate that spin.

        He also needs to stay on top of the ball to generate plane and keep the ball down. It’s pretty clear from his follow through that he’s not doing that right now. Blass said it looked like a slingshot action, and I agree. And I can’t think of any good reason for him to think he needs to do that, except maybe that comebacker being in his head and wanting to stay on his toes so he can react better.

        • Thanks for the narrative, very interesting! So you think then that the lack of sink was caused by a lack of “finger action”?
          When you say “stay on top of the ball” what exactly do you mean?

          • Darkstone42
            May 17, 2017 1:06 pm

            When you throw from a 3/4 arm slot, if the ball slides off the side of your fingers above your hand, you’ll get something closer to 4-seam spin, and that will flatten the pitch out, since 4-seam spin leads to a Magnus force straight up. If you keep your hand over the ball so that doesn’t happen, and so you’re throwing the ball downward to being with, you’ll get the right spin and some sink.

            Zach Britton throws submarine-style, and he throws a pitch that looks to hitters like it rises by releasing the ball almost like a slider. Based on Kuhl’s arm action, my suspicion is he’s doing the same thing, but coming from a 3/4 slot instead of a submarine slot, the pitch is flat and hittable instead of jumping over guys’ bats. He might not be flicking his wrist hard enough, but it seems more likely to me that he’s not throwing his fastball over the correct axis.

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