Drew Hutchison, your opening day pitcher
Drew Hutchison was recently named the opening day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays when they travel to the softball stadium that is Yankee Stadium for the season opener on April 6th.
This move had a lot of fans, especially non-statistical enthusiasts, questioning, why him? Coming off a season where he went 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA, it seemed he wasn’t the best option. I mean there were still arms like Mark Buehrle, R.A Dickey, Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez, so why not them? Well, Buehrle can’t win in New York, Dickey doesn’t like the open air and the other two are, “just rookies,” so the club elected to run out Hutchison opening day.
More than that though, if you dig deeper, Hutchison is potentially the Jays best starter on the current roster. Last season, he was worth an impressive 2.3 WAR and should have had an ERA closer to his FIP which stood at a respectable 3.82. But it didn’t; to all manifest accounts, it was much worse.
Using Baseball Reference’s splits tool, one can really delve deep into the type of pitcher Hutchison actually is and Jays fans may see this season. If anything these splits reveal some fun tidbits about Hutchison that you can’t really see anywhere else, but caution, some are subject to a small sample size and must be taken only with the finest grain of salt.
Mar 11, 2015; Sarasota, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole (22), starting pitcher Drew Hutchison (36) and pitching coach Pete Walker (40) talk in the dugout against the Baltimore Orioles at a spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Starting with the more important splits, Hutchison was a completely different pitcher when throwing from the stretch last season or more specifically, with runners on base. Grantland writer Jonah Keri chronicled this in his piece projecting several breakout candidates for the 2015 season. In it, he highlighted that opposing batters hit .282/.35/.484 with runners on base but only .222/.288/.373 with bases empty against Hutchison. This means that Hutchison either had problems throwing from the stretch or, as a young pitcher, felt the pressure of pitching in high pressure situations and thus suffered on the scoreboard.
This leads into a second split which may have an impact on the young right-hander come opening day. This is the could be impact of veteran catcher Russell Martin. In 2014, what Hutchison was to incumbent Dioner Navarro, he wasn’t to colleagues Josh Thole and Erik Kratz. Really, the transition was two sides of a coin.
Last season, Navarro caught Hutchison in 25 of his 33 starts. In those starts, Hutchison had a laudable 3.57 ERA. However, in the other eight starts where Kratz or Thole caught him, his ERA jumped to 7.68. Although the latter of this relationship is a minuscule sample, the pitcher-catcher relationship cannot be ignored. If Martin can have any impact similar to what has been prophesied, maybe, just maybe, Hutchison can reap the benefits as well.
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Another split worth a glance is his performance when given ample days off. Although he said last June he felt the same when given extra rest days, Hutchison was more effective the more rest he was given. When given only four days of rest, approximately half his 2014 workload, Hutchison was least effective producing a 4.89 ERA, 2.68 K/BB ratio and .265/.332/.478 slash. When given an extra day off, his ERA dropped to 4.50, his strikeout to walk ratio jumped to 3.46 and batters saw 30 points on their batting average whither away.
This relationship continued in the rare occurrence that he was given a 6th day off but that occurred a grand total of four times last season.
Additionally, Jays fans should check-in on Hutchison’s new-born slider to see if he can continue its late 2014 success. Over the first four months, Hutchison’s slider was average at best. It had little-to-no depth and wasn’t exactly an out pitch for him.
Starting in August, Hutchison changed the pitch, making it slower and creating more vertical movement. In August alone, Hutchison averaged two inches of downward movement on his slider with the depth doubling in the final month of September. Given Hutchison’s documented problems with fanning left-handed hitters, this new slider could hold the key to evening out his success.
In reality, all we have is past numbers to predict future performance. There is spring training but those numbers shouldn’t provide anyone comfort being that Hutchison was identical this spring the way he was last spring training with a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings pitched.
When Hutchison takes the ball next Monday at Yankee Stadium, he will do so for the fourth time in his career, still searching for success. His 4.80 ERA and 1.60 K/BB ratio in the building won’t excite a lot of fans for his performance, but if he can adapt to some of his other splits, April 6th may just be his moment of triumph.