Blue Jays should consider Drew Hutchison in the bullpen


If you’re having trouble trying to make sense of the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays, good luck trying to make sense of the 2015 Drew Hutchison. The 24-year old righty was tabbed by many as a potential breakout candidate towards the top of the Blue Jays rotation this season, but remains deeply entrenched in a season-long slump, plagued by inconsistencies and a 5.23 ERA.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos is looking to add at least one starting pitcher to the team, and will do so if presented with any reasonable deal in July. The return of Aaron Sanchez later in the month could have a positive impact on the rotation as well, unless he returns to a bullpen role as John Gibbons has previously suggested. My question, however, is why we haven’t had the same discussion with Hutchison?

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I trust Mark Buehrle to win baseball games, and have grown to trust Marco Estrada to be Marco Estrada, at the very least. R.A. Dickey would be a ticking time-bomb out of the bullpen, which likely leaves us with Sanchez and Hutchison rounding out the rotation. If Anthopoulos is to add a starter without dealing a current member of the rotation, there’s a case to be made for Hutchison’s demotion to the bullpen.

Perhaps demotion is too strong a word, as the “change of scenery” could have a legitimate impact under the right circumstances. Yes, balls have been dropping on Hutchison as a highly unsustainable rate, but there has been no time this season where I’ve considered him to be fully “right” or repeating his delivery from inning to inning.

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I’m led to the idea of Hutchison to the bullpen by his statistics through the first 25 pitches of each outing, which have remained notably strong. The 383 hitters to face Hutchison within the first 25 pitches of his career outings have recorded a slash line of .231 / .289 / .380. From pitches 25-50, when Hutchison begins his second trip through the order, those career numbers balloon to .293 / .351 / .427.

While these splits do typically grow with pitch counts and move closer when we look just at 2015, they highlight the broader issue that I have with Hutchison: he repeatedly hits a wall in the middle innings. In Hutchison’s 17 starts, he has exceeded 6.0 innings pitched just four times. His pitch counts inflate rapidly while he nibbles around the zone and struggles to miss bats late in counts, and Hutchison becomes ineffective.

In a bullpen role, Hutchison can move into attack mode without having to consciously preserve his secondary pitches for the second trip through the order. He will instead be able to focus on what he does best, which for Aaron Sanchez in 2014, led to excellent results as he pounded away with his heater. Hutchison’s ability to attack with the high fastball would be given increased value, as well, and I would feel confident using him in strikeout-needy situations.

This is not a damning dismissal of Hutch, who I still see being a pivotal rotation piece for many seasons. This is, however, a recognition that Toronto cannot afford to wait as Hutchison corrects and overcorrects on the mound in search of his previous form. This can be worked out in Spring Training next season, not when Toronto is desperately clinging to playoff hopes with the most productive lineup in all of baseball.

Of course, this all hinges on the minimum of one trade addition, but at this point, anything less than that should be considered a failure. Hutchison is not the first young arm that we consider for a bullpen transition, but at this point, the conversation is long overdue.

Next: Aaron Sanchez due back with Blue Jays near deadline

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