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Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season preview: Drew Hutchison

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Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison finds himself on the outside looking in as the club enters spring training as he looks to fight for the fifth rotation job

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A lot can change in one calendar year, and Drew Hutchison would be among the first to tell you. After returning from a lost 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery, the former 15th round draft pick took major steps forward in 2014 and seemed ready to cement himself in the Blue Jays rotation for years to come.

2015 Production Recap

After the injury to projected opening day starter Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays decided that Hutchison would get the ball on opening day and there was a solid argument for why he was the man for the job. Although his numbers from 2014 weren’t spectacular (4.48 ERA and 184 strikeouts over 184.2 innings), Hutchison looked poised to continue his improvement in 2015.

While his record looked solid on paper mid-season and even as a final line, “Hutch” was the beneficiary of plenty of run support which helped hide his struggles, especially early. He finished 13-5 with a putrid 5.57 ERA over 150.1 innings. His WHIP rose from 1.262 in 2014 to 1.483, his strikeouts were down and he actually gave up 6 more hits than he did in 2014, while throwing 34.1 fewer innings.

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What was truly baffling was the Jekyl and Hyde numbers for his home and away splits. Despite pitching in a home park that is known as a hitter’s haven, the young right hander performed exponentially better at the Rogers Centre, with an 11-2 record and an ERA of 2.91. He held betters to a .238 batting average and gave up just 8 home runs at home over 92.1 innings. If you only looked at those numbers, Hutch was performing as the top of the rotation starter the Jays had hoped for.

On the road… well, that was a different story. Over 57.2 innings, the 25 year old’s ERA ballooned to 9.83 (!), while hitters raked for a Ted Williams-like .380 batting average. Not only that, Hutchison couldn’t keep the ball in the yard, giving up 14 home runs. Granted there are several other hitter friendly parks in the AL but the numbers really didn’t make sense to anyone, including Hutchison.

By the end of the season he was no longer in the rotation and was also left off the playoff roster. Not the way the opening day starter had envisioned his season coming to a close.

2016 Role and Steamer Projections

Steamer projects a modest improvement in 2016, pegging him for a 4.07 ERA over 81.1 innings and 15 starts. While Hutchison is likely hoping for another season closer to his 2014 output, he’ll have to perform well in spring training in order to even get the opportunity.

It’s possible that he could be a member of the rotation to begin the season, start the year at AAA in Buffalo, or even as a potential bullpen piece. There may not be another Blue Jay with more question marks around the start of the 2016 season.

What could go wrong?

For starters, Hutchison is going to have an uphill battle just to make the opening day roster. Assuming there are no injuries in spring training, he’ll battle fellow rotation hopefuls Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Chavez for the 5th starter’s role, and will have to perform well in order to be given that chance. Also working against him is the fact that he has minor league options remaining, so it’s more than likely he begins the year in Buffalo.

It’s also possible that he could make the club and continue to struggle as he did in 2015, which could be even worse than beginning the year in the minors.

What could go right?

The best case scenario for Hutchison is winning the #5 job in the rotation, and re-establishing his value after his disastrous 2015. There is plenty of reason to believe in the still-only 25 year old, evidenced by the inquiries by other GM’s this offseason. He still has plenty of talent and upside, and there was a reason the Jays believed in him enough to give him the ball on opening day in 2015.

Next: Blue Jays 2016 season preview: Ryan Tepera

The bottom line

My expectation is Hutchison begins the year in AAA barring injury to one of the likely rotation candidates. He does provide excellent rotation depth (in theory), and will almost certainly get an opportunity in 2016 as the Blue Jays will undoubtedly need more than five starters to get through the season. My prediction is he’ll perform much closer to his 2014 numbers than repeating his disastrous 2015 season.

It will be an important year for the young right hander, both for his future with the Blue Jays, and also for his pro career. The talent is there to get back on track, and Hutchison will look to find a solution to his struggles away from the Rogers Centre and hopefully re-establish the value he had as the 2015 opening day starter.

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