In recent seasons The Pirates have built a defensive strategy around positional infield shifting. This strategy requires pitchers that can pound the lower half of the strike zone to induce ground balls – something the Pirates have been exceptionally good at as Travis Sawchik of the Trib pointed out in is this excellent piece, “Pirates pitchers finding success with expanded strike zone”. As a staff the Pirates 51.5% ground ball percentage was tops in baseball by a wide margin. Individually Charlie Morton ranked 8th best (55.7%) and Francisco Liriano ranked 9th best (54.4%) in GB% among starting pitchers with a minimum of 100 IPs last season season. In the bullpen Jared Hughes posted a 64.6% ground ball rate, good enough for 6th best among relievers with at least 30 IPs. The Pirates clearly have been able to create ground ball pitchers at the big league level. But what about the next wave of pitchers coming up from the minors? Are there any high percentage ground ball specialists emerging in the farm system? The answer is yes, and his name is John Kuchno.
John Kuchno is a tall 6’5″ RHP drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2012 draft after his sophomore season at Ohio State. His control is fair, he doesn’t miss many bats, and as a late round pick he doesn’t come with a pedigree. But of all the pitchers in the Pirates farm system none do a better job of keeping the ball on the ground than Kuchno. Last season Kuchno produced a 58.1% GB% with Bradenton of the Advanced A Florida State League. The previous season with the West Virginia Power he posted a 55.2% rate. In fact, Kuchno has gotten better at rolling ground balls at every stop in the minors. That is notable because ground ball rates decline league wide the further up the ranks of the minors. Last season the GB% in the AAA International League was 42.0% compared to 43.6% in AA Eastern League and 44.6% in The Florida State League and the South Atlantic League (the two full season A ball leagues in which the Pirates have affiliates). Here are Kuchno’s ground ball rates compared to league averages during his first three minor league seasons:
|Year||League||Level||GB%||League AVG GB%||Diff|
John Kuchno does not miss enough bats to be the kind of prospect anyone should get too excited about. Last year he struck out just 3.88 batters per 9 innings. His career minor league rate is just 5.19 K/9. And he did not rack up tons of Ks in college either. However, with the Pirates emphasis on ground balls it would be foolish to dismiss Kuchno. There is simply no one better than Kuchno in the Pirates’ farm system at inducing ground balls.