The Colorado Rockies signed Chad Kuhl shortly after the MLB lockout ended in mid-March. The former right-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, at least partially, signed with the Rockies due to his connection with Clint Hurdle.
Hurdle, who is a new special assistant with the Rockies, managed the Rockies from 2002 through 2009 and the Pirates from 2010 through 2019. Kuhl pitched for Hurdle from 2016 through 2018 (he was on the team in 2019 too but he was injured for the entire season).
Kuhl, 29, will be replacing Jon Gray in the Rockies rotation, at least to start the season. However, if Peter Lambert or Ryan Rolison prove themselves after they come off of the IL, Kuhl could slide into the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter, as Chi Chi González did in 2021.
In 2021, Kuhl made 28 appearances and exactly half of them were starts. He had a 4.82 ERA with an ERA+ of 88. His problems throughout his career (but particularly since 2020) have been a high walk rate (5.0 BB/9 since 2020) and a high home run rate (1.5 HR/9 since 2020).
Chad Kuhl’s 2022 projections are not great
ZiPS projects that Chad Kuhl will make 25 appearances with 15 starts, an ERA of 5.40, and an fWAR of 0.2. In 2021, he had an fWAR of -0.1 so that would be an improvement there but the 5.40 ERA would be a regression. Additionally, ZiPS is the second-best projection for him.
Steamer projects a 5.96 ERA and most others have him between 5.50 and 6.00. The only projection that has him better than ZiPS is Baseball-Reference, which projects a 4.45 ERA in 97 total innings.
As we’ve discussed multiple times recently, the Rockies starting pitchers have thrived on high groundball rates and low spin rates on their fastballs. Kuhl doesn’t have a groundball rate as high as his fellow starters as since 2020 (among all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched), his 43.7 percent groundball rate is 73rd among the 166 qualifying pitchers. Germán Márquez, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, (former Rockies starter) Jon Gray, and Austin Gomber all are in the top 58 in that span.
However, Kuhl’s fastball spin rate is low. In 2021, there were 263 pitchers that threw a four-seam fastball that faced 250 or more batters. Kuhl was one of them. His spin rate was 40th-lowest. Among those around him are Germán Márquez (31st), Antonio Senzatela (37th), and new Rockies reliever Alex Colomé (39th).
In other words, Kuhl will be a “swingman” in a few ways. Some stats say that he could do well for them but some say that he will struggle. That’s why they are projections and only time will tell whether or not he can pitch better than the projections.