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Chad Kuhl’s early breakout

Colorado Rockies news and links for Monday, April 25, 2022

The week following the end of the lockout was a busy one for Major League Baseball, and the Rockies were no exception. The Kris Bryant signing on March 18th stole headlines nationwide, but it’s been the March 16th signing of Chad Kuhl that has paid dividends thus far.

That’s not meant to be a knock on Bryant, the former MVP and four-time All-Star. He’s yet to provide the power seen earlier in his career - totalling zero home runs and four RBIs thus far - but he’s got on base consistently and is leading the Rockies in run scored, which has been all the team has needed from him to get off to their solid start. And a big reason why they haven’t needed more is the other aforementioned signing - Chad Kuhl.

After coming up with the Pirates in 2016, Kuhl provided roughly league average production (FIPs of 3.95, 4.24, and 4.70 in his first three years) landing on the IL in June 2018. He later underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2019, before returning to the big league mound in 2020. He struggled with his control and the long ball, putting up career worst walk and home run rates in 2020 and 2021, resulting in some unattractive FIPs of 5.48 and 5.31.

Chad Kuhl Advanced Pitching Rates, 2016-2021

Year HR% SO% BB%
Year HR% SO% BB%
2016 2.30% 17.60% 6.60%
2017 2.50% 20.90% 10.60%
2018 3.80% 21.70% 8.90%
2020 4.10% 22.30% 14.20%
2021 3.70% 21.50% 12.00%
MLB Averages 3.30% 22.30% 8.50%
Baseball Reference

The Rockies, seeing something they liked in all of that or just seeing someone with potential to eat innings, signed him to a low risk $3 million, one-year deal.

So far, it’s looking like a sound investment. He raised his ERA on the season to 1.10 on Sunday after allowing one run on four hits over six innings against the Tigers, earning his second consecutive win in the process. An obvious small sample size disclaimer aside, this is the first stretch in his career where he’s put together three consecutive starts allowing one earned run or fewer.

It goes without saying, but his ERA is unsustainable, especially for a pitcher that calls Coors home. And the underlying stats back that up.

Chad Kuhl Rates, 2022

Year IP BA BAbip HR% SO% BB%
Year IP BA BAbip HR% SO% BB%
2022 16.1 0.145 0.190 0.00% 21.00% 11.30%
Baseball Reference

His walk rate is the lowest it’s been since his return from Tommy John surgery, but still higher than league average. And unless the Rockies are allowed to play defense with 18 fielders and Green Monster-esque monoliths as outfield walls, Kuhl’s BAbip and HR% rates will increase.

Rates and regressions aside, the stats that matter are those that have actually happened, and Chad Kuhl’s line thus far is as icy as they come. 16.1 IP, 2 ER, 8 H, 13 Ks, 1.10 ERA (2.78 FIP) for a 2-0 record. Something he’s been doing has been working well, and at least a bit of it seems to be due to a facet of the Rockies current pitching philosophy.

Coors Field is hard to pitch in. One look at the current team advanced pitching leaderboards (and just watching a game or two) can tell you that. The pitching staff sits on the wrong end of the totem pole for batting average against, BAbip against, and SO%. However, both teams have to pitch at Coors when they play the Rockies, and the pitching staff is a big reason for the Rockies hot start, thanks in part to a sound infield defense and an emphasis on inducing ground balls - the Rockies are currently fourth league wide, with a rate of 47%. Looking at Chad Kuhl, he fits right in.

Chad Kuhl Batted Ball Rates, Career

Year LD% GB% FB%
Year LD% GB% FB%
2016 26.30% 43.80% 18.80%
2017 29.30% 41.30% 20.90%
2018 26.70% 36.50% 25.90%
2020 25.40% 41.80% 26.20%
2021 24.70% 43.90% 25.60%
2022 24.00% 48.00% 24.00%
Baseball Reference

First, it looks like the 2022 iteration of Kuhl has changed his pitch selection. His sinker usage is up to a career high.

Per Baseball Savant, he’s thrown 33% of his total pitches for balls surrounding the lower half of the strike zone.

Baseball Savant

Those pitches have ended up with ground ball rates of 75% and 61%, to go along with other high rates for pitches in the zone.

Baseball Savant

All of that combined has led to lots of grounders for McMahon & company to turn into easy, routine outs. Exactly what the Rockies want.

With only one game at Coors under his belt thus far, Kuhl is sure to hit some rough patches. The home run against rate of zero will go up. The runs and hits against will come, no matter how low he keeps the ball nor how good the fielders behind him are. That’s the nature of baseball. But the early returns on Kuhl are looking good, at least for now.

★ ★ ★

Kyle Freeland Signs Up for Five More Years (ish) in Denver | FanGraphs

The Rockies locked up home-grown starter Kyle Freeland recently, adding to a young core of players that will hopefully be around for years. FanGraph’s Ben Clemens takes a look at the deal with an emphasis on the conditional clauses (there are a couple) included in the contract and overall potential value to be added. His outlook is not rosy on Freeland’s potential return to near-Cy Young form, but he admits that even on the decline years of Freeland’s tenure with the Rockies he could continue to serve as an innings eating type of arm that so many teams desperately need.

★ ★ ★

On the Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 9, Round Rock Express 6

The Isotopes wrapped up their visit to Round Rock Sunday, securing their second win against the Rangers affiliate of the six game set. The Express took the lead early but the Isotopes fought back to take the lead for good in the seventh behind a Brian Serven home run and defensive miscues by Round Rock. The Isotopes have an off day today, but then welcome the Sacramento River Cats (SFG) for another six game set starting Tuesday.

Double-A: Somerset Patriots 9, Hartford Yard Goats 1

The Yard Goats took a drubbing Sunday, as the Somerset Patriots (NYY) scored in five separate innings to draw even on the six game set and drop Hartford to 7-8 on the year. Karl Kauffman (no. 20 PuRP) was on the mound for the majority of the offense against, allowing eight earned runs on five innings pitched to go along with four strikeouts and three walks. Jameson Hannah had the only extra base hit on the day, smacking a too little, too late double in the eighth inning. The Yard Goats have no game today but will continue their season against the Harrisburg Senators (WSH) on Tuesday.

High-A: Hillsboro Hops 11, Spokane Indians 9

Spokane’s pitching was not immune to the organization wide day to forget, as starter Andrew Quezada allowed six runs and exited the game in the fifth. The Indians were able to tally 11 hits of their own, multiple hit games coming from Colin Simpson, Ronaiker Palma, and Drew Romo (no. 3 PuRP) but it was not enough. Next up, Spokane will travel across Washington state to Everett for a set against the Aquasox (SEA).

Single-A: Game 1 - Lake Elsinore Storm 6, Fresno Grizzlies 1, Game 2 - Lake Elsinore Storm 6 - Fresno Grizzlies 2

Rounding up Sunday’s minor league action, the Grizzlies made up for the Thursday postponement by playing two, dropping both. The Grizzlies only put up nine hits between the two games with Warming Bernabel (no. 18 PuRP) contributing two and an RBI in Game 1. Fresno will take today off to recover, then return home to play the Stockton Ports (OAK).

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