Nick Kingham has looked objectively terrible for most of May. How can the Pittsburgh Pirates go about remedying one of their former prized pitching prospects?
Pick a metric, any metric. Any statistic you wish. Any stat will do to describe just how bad Nick Kingham has been during the month of May for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Want to keep things fairly standard and use ERA? He’s carrying an 11.93 mark for the month, raising his overall ERA from 4.35 to 8.76 across just 14.1 innings. The building blocks of that scarlett letter-like figure can be boiled down to a .422/.500/.719 slash line.
Think that his peripherals could be better? Well, in a word: no. He’s striking out just 16.9 percent of his batters while walking 13 percent. A FIP of 6.08, supported by an xFIP of 6.12, shows that ERA figure is well earned. He has given up hard contact 42.6 percent of the time so far this month, explaining a bloated 41.2 percent fly ball rate.
So, yeah, it’s pretty bad. No matter what prism you choose to view his performance, Kingham is simply not performing to the level that the club needs right now. So how can this be resolved?
What’s working, and what isn’t
Let’s look at some splits across Kingham’s pitches, using Alex Chamberlain’s fantastic pitch leaderboard tool:
Kingham has quite a few offerings aside from his surprisingly sturdy four-seam fastball. The cutter is a bit new this year, as Kingham morphed his slider into something with a bit more velocity. As you can see, the usage of his four “secondary” offerings are pretty much equal.
Yet that curveball stands out to me as a pitch that does not get as much pub as it should. Those are pretty solid peripherals, and we can add a 29.6 percent whiff per swing rate to what’s seen here.
In terms of overall swinging strike, the curveball does much better than his cutter:
(Blue - Curve; Green - Cutter)
So why would the Pirates be so hesitant to let Kingham drop his cutter/slider, and emphasize a curveball? Maybe they recall how well the pitch — then labelled a traditional slider — worked in 2018, including his dazzling 10 K debut.
No matter now, as the pitch is just not working. Why not lean into the curveball instead?
At this point, Kingham might just be better served by doing everything he can to maximize his fastball. Take this at-bat against Tony Wolters last night:
Yes, this is the at-bat in which the mustachioed Wolters took Kingham deep, but look at the curveball/fastball combo that I highlighted. These pitched weren’t tunneled well at all, but the change in velocity and movement brought forth two strikes in quick succession. I dug into Kingham’s pitch pairings, and found that he is holding hitters to just a .256 wOBA on four-seamers that are preceded by a curveball.
That’s just one pairing, and further research is needed to fully quantify it. But it stands to reason that Kingham can take his best pitch and use it to elevate his others. Doing this alongside dropping that which does not work might just pave a path towards respectability more quickly than one might think.