There’s plenty to be happy about right now when it comes to the Blue Jays, and Drew Hutchison has absolutely been a part of that. With a 3.50 ERA, supported by a strong 3.63 FIP, 8.25 K/9, and 2.75 BB/9, he’s been an important part of the Jays success in the rotation.
As a 23-year-old major league regular, it’s clear that the talent is there for him to have a long and successful MLB career, but it will be the little things that he that may or may not do that could turn him into a bonafide top of the rotation starter.
Much has been made about his heavy use of the fastball early in the year, using it 65.24% of the time according to Brooks Baseball, and he’s been successful with it thus far. Now whether that success will continue with the heavy fastball use will be determined, but let’s take a closer look at what he can do to continue his success.
When facing right-handed hitters, Hutchison is primarily a two-pitch pitcher. He’s had success so far, holding righties to a very good .211/.262/.368/.631 line, but if he were to mix speeds and pitches more often, those numbers could get even better.
Of the 457 pitches Hutchison has thrown to a right-handed batter this year, in any count, 94% of them have been either a fastball or slider. I’m grouping his 4-seam and sinker together due to the similarity of the two. His 4-seam has arm side run and some vertical movement, while his sinker does primarily the same thing, albeit with slightly more vertical movement. They come in at the same speed, 93.52 for the 4-seam and 93.30 for the sinker; thus, I’m grouping them together.
As a right handed batter, you can all but rule out the changeup, especially early in the count, he’s thrown 11 changeups in less than two strike counts all year, and simply focus on two pitches. What amplifies that is that Hutchison throws his slider low and away to righties nearly all the time. The graph below gives you a visual representation of that.
As you can see, he primarily goes for the low and away part of the zone, not that there’s anything wrong with being comfortable throwing it to the spot where it’s going to have the most bite and sharp break, but constantly throwing it to the same spot creates a pattern for hitter to follow. If he can develop the slider to the point where he can front door it to righties, it becomes a much more valuable weapon.
As a hitter early in the count, you look for a fastball to drive, or a slider that Hutch fails to locate well. If Hutchison is failing to locate his fastball effectively, which is the root cause of his struggles in his bad starts, then the problem of only throwing two pitches becomes far worse.
What’s shocking to me about his pitch selection to righties, is that he’s thrown 26 changeups, and not one has been put in play. Not one. He’s getting hitters to swing 57.69% of the time and generating 38.46% whiffs. When you’re getting hitters to swing and miss that often on the change, you might want to mix it in more than 6% of the time.
Maybe he’s not entirely comfortable throwing it to righties, or perhaps the staff wants to avoid it against righties, and I realize there’s the old adage of not throwing changeups to same side hitters, but when you’re having some success with it, it might be worth it to throw more often to give the hitters a different look and keep them off balance.
Against lefties, his mix is better, using all three of his pitches at least 13% of the time, but his fastball use is still heavy, using it 68% of the time. An increase in mixing speeds could help lower his line of .252/.314/.426/.740 against lefties.
Right handed pitchers typically do better against right handed batters, so this isn’t entirely surprising, but those numbers could get better by mixing in the slider and change more often, especially early in the count, and potentially adding another pitch to increase his ability to mix speeds.
As mentioned earlier, his 4 seam and sinker, which I grouped together, are coming in at nearly the exact same speed, 93.52 vs. 93.30. But his slider and change are on average, almost the exact same speed as well, 86.68 vs. 86.81. Keeping a hitter off balance is far more difficult when you’re throwing two different speeds.
In terms of repertoire, I feel as though Hutchison could greatly benefit by incorporating a cutter. First, it would be a different speed than his other pitches, which would be an asset in itself, but it could also work great with his running fastball.
Hutchison’s success will always start with his ability to command his fastball, but if were to add a cutter to both side of the plate as well, you’re looking at a pitcher that can do a lot of things to fool hitters.
He could cut it in on the hands or back door it to lefties, while also being able to use it as another pitch against righties. Using it effectively with his strong running fastball would allow him to fool plenty of hitters.
Obviously, it’s easy for me to say that he should throw more offspeed and breaking pitches, or to just start throwing a cutter mid-season, but it’s not exactly that easy. These are simply observations that I’ve made, and feel as though he could grow into a top-flight starter if he makes some adjustments.
To give you an idea of what I would like to see him grow into, is someone like Alex Cobb. There fastball velocities are very similar, 93.48 for Hutch and 93.33 for Cobb. Brooks Baseball categorizes Cobb’s as a sinker, but both of them have that similar run and sink to whatever hard stuff they throw.
One big difference is Cobb throws a curveball instead of a slider, and it’s coming in at about 5 mph slower than his split, which helps to keep hitters off balance, but the most important thing about him that I’d like to see Hutchison emulate is his ability to mix pitches. The chart below shows you not only the growth Cobb has gone through throughout his career, but the dramatic difference in his pitch usage compared to Hutchison’s.
He’s moved away from the 4 seam, and gone almost exclusively to the sinker. This isn’t something I feel that’s necessary for Hutchison to do, but it shows Cobb’s ability to adjust his repertoire in order to be as effective as he can be. The most important thing from this chart is the upward trend in Cobb’s curveball use.
Cobb truly has the ability to throw any pitch, in any count, to any hitter, and what allows him to do this is confidence in each of his pitches. The chart below shows his curveball use this season, and as you can see, he can put it anywhere he wants.
He typically buries it down in the zone, but can also work it to both sides of the plate with it to each hitter. It’s an absolute treat to watch him pitch.
Expecting Hutchison to go through a dramatic pitch usage change or repertoire change mid-season is unrealistic, but if he can slowly gain more confidence in all of his pitches, perhaps mix in a cutter, and work on his ability to work both sides of the plate with all of his pitches throughout the rest of this season and the next 2-3 years, he will have the opportunity to develop into a top pitcher.
Stuff, velocity, mound presence, it’s all there. His ability to adjust and continually grow as a pitcher will determine if he can take the next step.