Blue Jays: Drew Hutchison’s growth an offseason catalyst
The Toronto Blue Jays need starting pitchers this offseason, and with the lack of turnover in their lineup, the rotation should be Shapiro and ____’s sole focus over the coming months. With David Price and Mark Buehrle surely gone and Marco Estrada‘s situation still up in the air, the current rotation picture is heavy on question marks. Thankfully for the Blue Jays, they still have their young and affordable Opening Day starter from 2015. Right?
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Drew Hutchison took the long road to the bottom in what was supposed to be a breakout campaign for him. On more than one occasion, I saw Hutch’s name mentioned as a “dark horse” Cy Young candidate, and industry-wide, expectations were high. Instead, he circled the drain for 28 starts.
Over those 150.1 innings, the 25-year old righty put up a 5.57 ERA and 1.483 WHIP to pair with his brilliantly misleading 13-5 record. Nothing looked right for Hutchison from day one, and he soon found himself caught in a very bad place for a young Major League pitcher: making adjustments on the fly.
Whether it was his foot placement on the rubber, his release point or hand placement on the ball, Hutchison was in a constant state of “fixing”. This limited his ability to go out and simply throw, which, when it happens, allows Hutchison’s bulldog approach to take over.
His return to the 2016 rotation would make life a lot easier on the Blue Jays, but it can’t just be any return. I’m talking a quality, sub-4.10 ERA return. It would bring the current rotation number to three with R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman, which allows some combination of Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna or a fresh face to fill the final spots.
The trouble is that the Blue Jays cannot wait until March to see what the have in Hutchison. They’ll be forced to decide over the next two months how much insurance they’d like to purchase, and while they undoubtedly see him as a rotation contributor longterm, this season must be treated with some sense of urgency given the option-years of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Hutchison’s salary is certainly playing in his favor, as he represents the ever-valuable “affordable young talent”. If you believe late-October budget tweets (which, well..), you’ve heard that payroll is expected to stay the same, so he’ll be pushed to the front of the line to earn an important role. But again: just filling the role isn’t enough here.
Through 71 career starts, we’re still looking at a pitcher with a career ERA of 4.92. His potential has not vanished, but his 2015 campaign certainly added questions. It’s important to consider the lacklustre secondary depth in this rotation, too. Unless Toronto stocks up heavily on back-end filler arms, there won’t be much of a cushion for failure with Hutch. That’s a scary game to play.