Blue Jays Pitching: Breaking down Drew Hutchison’s 2015 Struggles


Drew Hutchison had a disastrous 2015 campaign, and Jays Journal examines how his flawed mechanics are limiting his ability and potential.

Drew Hutchison’s career has taken an absolute tailspin. After a promising 24-year-old campaign, he entered the 2015 season at the top of the Jays rotation and poised to take another step forward. He was tasked with being the team’s ace after Marcus Stroman went down, yet he ended up off the 25-man roster during the team’s first playoff appearance in 22 years.

Despite this, I wholeheartedly agree that he must not be given up on; he’s still only 26, and he’s one year removed from being pegged as a Cy Young candidate. Now, that obviously looks like a mind-numbing conclusion in hindsight, but his stuff, peripherals, intangibles, and perceived improvement made a viable case at the time.

Related Story: Why Blue Jays Shouldn't Give Up On Hutchison

Much was made about his late 2014 dominance, and both Bluebird Banter and Fangraphs wrote in detail on how he seemed to develop himself from a mid-back-rotation starter into a potential top-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. His slider took a major step forward and became a dominant offering, allowing him to have an excellent end to the 2014 season.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

But as Jeff Sullivan noted in his piece for Fangraphs, he had flashed similar stuff earlier in the year, and with the slider in particular, but he found the ability to throw it consistently late in 2014. It was that consistency that led to his unfound success.

Moving into 2015, that slider disappeared. Without that slider and his already fringy change-up, he became far too reliant on the fastball, and he paid the price for it. When he was bad, he was really bad. But once again, he showed flashes of brilliance and the stuff that makes it easy to think about his potential, but there wasn’t a smidge of consistency in his game.

Kyle Matte wrote a fantastic piece on spin rate and spin angle, two attributes that ultimately distinguish the movement of all pitches. He found an alarming amount of inconsistency in both spin rate and spin angle on his slider, and he never reached the optimal spin rates and angles that he obtained in his late 2014 success.

Furthermore, his velocity was also all over the place as well. On a month-to-month basis, his slider varied from 83.53 to 86.47, his 4-seam ranged from 92.19 to 94.11, and his change ranged from 85.27 to 87.12. Velocity isn’t going to be the exact same all the time, but have nearly 2 mph (3 mph on the slider) differences on all his pitches is a red flag and points to altering mechanics or an inconsistent release point.

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I didn’t want to do another statistical analysis, as plenty of those have already been done since the end of the season. So, I went back through some 2014 starts, both near the beginning and near the end for comparisons sake, and compared those mechanics to what we saw in 2015. I was trying to find a correlation between his struggles and some sort of mechanical flaw that could provide an answer or a reasonable explanation.

Bare with me, as there are a number of screenshots present, but they’re pivotal in being able to show the flaws embedded in his mechanics. The screenshots below are taken from four separate games. Game 1: June 3, 2014. Game 2: August 30, 2014. Game 3: June 17, 2015. Game 4: Aug 29, 2015.

These four dates represent different moments in Hutchison’s career. The first game was a time when Hutch was inconsistent yet showing plus stuff after recovering from Tommy John. The second was during the most dominant portion of his career. The third was in the beginning stages of his demise, and the fourth was during his free fall.

All four games are home games in order to provide a consistent camera angle, and they were acquired from videos supplied by The bases were empty for all four situations used. 

Game 1: June 3, 2014 – Sequence 1 / Acquired from

Game 2: August 30, 2014 – Sequence 1 / Acquired from

Game 3: June 17, 2015 – Sequence 1 / Acquired from

Game 4: August 29, 2015 – Sequence 1 / Acquired from

He’s changed some very important things here. First, the way he’s taken the ball out of his glove is different, and he positions his throwing hand closer to the third base side as he releases it. Secondly, his front shoulder has opened up a little bit and he’s not as closed off. Finally, his left arm is a little bit more bent in the final photo.

These things suggest that he made an attempt to eliminate the cross-fire motion in his delivery. He’s basically rotated his upper half in a counterclockwise direction. His lower body stays the exact same, but by opening up his front shoulder and moving his throwing hand towards third base, he’s creating more of a straight line towards home. In theory, you’d think this would be a good idea, but it’s had a negative effect on his throwing motion.

There’s no way to know if this was directed by the coaching staff or if Hutchison has over time, slowly shifted his body this way.

Game 1: June 3, 2014 – Sequence 2 / Acquired from

Game 2: August 30, 2014 – Sequence 2 / Acquired from

Game 3: June 17, 2015 – Sequence 2 / Acquired from

Game 4: August 29, 2015 – Sequence 2 / Acquired from

Not a whole lot changes in the second sequence, it just shows what he looks like further into his delivery; however, I wanted to include them to really emphasize the rotation of his upper half in what looks like an effort to eliminate his natural cross-fire mechanics. Something else to note, his glove hand is getting higher over time. I don’t really know why he would do this, but it’s hard to say if it’s on purpose or simply just happening over time. Again, his lower half is the same.

Game 1: June 3, 2014 – Sequence 3 / Acquired from

Game 2: August 30, 2014 – Sequence 3 / Acquired from

Game 3: June 17, 2015 – Sequence 2 / Acquired from

Game 4: August 29, 2015 – Sequence 2 / Acquired from

This is the point in his delivery where the problems become clear. The counterclockwise rotation of his upper half is once again visible here, but the main area of concern is where his arm is, and the lack of hip fire action. Out of these four screenshots, his arm is in the best position in game 2, which is during his stretch of dominance in late 2014. In games 3 and 4, you can see his arm is falling further behind his body as it moves towards home plate. He got progressively worse in this regard as his struggles continued.

When a pitcher’s front foot hits the ground, his arm should be at a 90 degree angle with the forearm perpendicular to the ground and the ball pointing upwards. As you can see with Hutchison, this has been an issue for him even when he was having the best success of his career, as his arm is parallel to the ground, which is manageable, but still not ideal. Since then, it’s gotten worse, and it’s at the point now where the ball is pointing at the ground when his foot makes contact.

His arm is way, and I mean, waaaay too late. It’s easy to see why he struggled the way he did when you look at the last image of sequence 3, it’s shocking to me that the entire Jays staff would allow his arm to be in that position at that point in his delivery. Furthermore, his lower half hasn’t even begun to activate yet. Between the time his front foot hits the dirt and when he releases the ball, he needs to activate his lower half, fire his hips while still keeping his front shoulder closed, and get his arm into a strong throwing position before rotating everything over a stiff front leg. There simply isn’t enough time for all that movement to occur. His arm and his lower half are playing catch up, creating a huge margin for error.

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Having your arm behind the rest of your delivery creates a myriad of problems. First of all, it’s an injury risk. Pitching is dangerous enough for a human’s arm as is, having your arm play catch up is only heightening the risk. Secondly, he won’t consistently be able to get on top of the baseball and create a consistent release point.

More often than not, his hand is going to be behind the baseball pushing it towards the catcher, instead of getting on top and driving it down. When this happens, a pitcher’s fastball will flatten out and tend to leak to the upper parts of the zone. The effect on the change will be the same, as it will essentially float towards home plate. His slider isn’t going to have consistent spin rates and angle levels because it will be impossible to consistently get on top of the ball to create the spin needed for a good slider. Instead, it will lack tight spin and will either back up (acts as a poor 2-seam) or be a cement mixer over the heart of the plate (just spins, doesn’t move). If this doesn’t sound familiar, then you didn’t watch Hutchison pitch very much this year.

When he his arm does successfully catch up, that’s when you see the dynamite stuff, but there’s no way that’s a consistent equation. Looking at Hutchison’s Brooks Baseball profile is a series of inconsistent statistics. Velocity, horizontal and vertical release points, horizontal and vertical movement, they’re all over the map. And as Matte explained, his slider spin rates and angles are shockingly inconsistent.

For comparisons sake, and to provide a point of reference as to where a pitcher’s arm should be when their foot hits the ground, let’s look at a pitcher who also struggled early in his career despite having a great deal of potential and outstanding stuff. He also has a cross-fire motion in his delivery but needed to go through a mechanical overhaul to unlock  his ability.

Jake Arrieta: August 30, 2015 / Acquired from

(Disclaimer: I reviewed video from a variety of pitchers and found very similar results to what I found with Arrieta. Strasburg, Harvey, Stroman, Odorizzi just to name a few.)

That’s Jake Arrieta late in 2015 when he was the most dominant pitcher on the planet. In no way am I comparing the performance Hutchison to Arrieta, I’m simply using Arrieta as a means to show what a pitcher should look like at this point in their delivery.

No two pitchers are going to look the same and everyone is going to have their own quirks and different things that work for them, but the difference here is shocking. It may look like I simply pressed the pause button later in his delivery, but for both this photo and the last one of Hutchison, the image is created when they first make contact with the ground. As you can see, Arrieta’s delivery is much farther along, and in a much stronger position.

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  • Arrieta’s arm is in a terrific spot and his lower half is full motion towards home plate. By starting his lower half earlier while keeping his front shoulder closed, he’s creating an incredible amount of torque by the time his front foot hits the ground. All he has to do now is rotate his upper half and use his front leg to catapult all that energy into his pitch. By having his arm in a good throwing position, his margin for error, in terms of release point, is very small. 

    Since he doesn’t have to play catch up, he’s able to consistently get on top of the ball, allowing him to consistently deliver and command his excellent stuff. There’s a lot that goes into pitching mechanics, but it’s easy to see that what Hutchison is doing right now, or the kind of mechanical changes that the Jays staff is trying to instill in him, is not an equation for success.

    At this point, he needs a mechanical makeover. As I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to know if eliminating his crossfire motion was a direction from the coaching staff/management or not, but if it was, they were focusing on the wrong thing. They should be directing attention to the areas of his mechanics that are limiting his ability to have consistency: arm positioning and lower body activation.

    I would say let him go back to his natural crossfire motion, as I don’t see anything wrong with that portion of his delivery. However, they need to find a way to get Hutchison to activate his lower half much sooner while keeping his upper half closed, and to be able to get his arm in a much better throwing position.

    Getting his hand out of his glove to get his motion moving sooner is an easy start, and it looks like he could benefit from a longer stride, as his current short stride is locking up his hips until after he makes contact with his front foot.

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    A mechanical overhaul is next to impossible mid-season, but there needs to be significant work to fix the current problems during the off-season and in spring training. We’ve seen flashes of what Hutchison can do, there’s no doubt that he’s a talented arm, but there’s no way he’s going to have success at the highest level with such significant flaws in the way he pitches.

    There needs to be a commitment from Hutchison, the coaching staff, and management in order to turn this young man’s career around. If he can successfully alter his mechanics, it could unlock a pitcher who will has the potential we’ve been witnessing in spurts since he arrived in the big leagues.