Carson Cistulli, who hosts the oddly entertaining podcast for FanGraphs, posted an interesting article at FG yesterday titled The Most Improved Pitchers Thus Far By Projected WAR.
Based on their surprisingly good start, I was hoping to find a member of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation on the list. At first I thought it might be Mark Buehrle, who has been outstanding in the first three weeks of the season, but it was actually 23-year-old Drew Hutchison who saw a 0.9 jump to his projected fWAR, which was the third best improvement among all starting pitchers.
As Cistulli points out, Hutchison was coming off Tommy John surgery and doesn’t have much of a Big League resume under his belt, which made his initial projection rather difficult. However after pitching very well during the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, Hutchison has carried over his success to the MLB regular season.
He’s exactly what the Blue Jays needed in their rotation after a dismal 2013 – a young, promising starter with good control, composure and swing-and-miss stuff. His xFIP- of 84 is 16% better than league average and is ERA- of 89 might go down even more if his BABIP lowers from the .365 it sits at currently. His 27.6% strikeout rate is probably unsustainable but with better luck on balls in play even if his K rate decreases he should be able to keep his FIP south of four.
His success with the fastball seems to be driving his strikeout numbers – his swinging strike percentage of 10.9% (FanGraphs) is propped up by a 12.8% whiff rate on his heater alone. That number will likely trend downwards but if he starts generating more swinging strikes on his changeup and slider, once again it should balance out to a point he maintains an above average swinging strike percentage.
Based on the sample size, it’s tough to project with much certainty whether or not Drew Hutchison will keep contributing at such a high level. However even if his strikeout and strand rates come back down to Earth a bit, there’s a good chance Hutch meets the 2.0 WAR and 3.94 FIP projections that Cistulli’s research suggests.
Hutchison starts tonight for the Blue Jays and will face Bud Norris of the Baltimore Orioles.