With the news last week of the Pirates avoiding arbitration with Drew Hutchison (1-year/$2.3M), it becomes clear that the front office plans on Hutchison making the team in 2017. I doubt they want someone making $2.3M throwing in Indianapolis. The general consensus among comments from fans on social media is that Hutchison was a throw in from the Francisco Liriano trade last July where the Pirates would have taken anyone back just to shed Liriano’s salary and his then awful pitching. And Hutch is pretty much being written off. But why couldn’t this work? Maybe, just maybe the Pirates brass (who have known to find some hidden gems before) sought out Hutchison and wanted him all along? To anyone that feels Hutchison has no future in Pittsburgh, have you even look at his numbers as a starter?
The Blue Jays selected Hutchison in the 15th round of the 2009 draft out of Lakeland Senior High School in Florida at the age of 18. Hutchison quickly blew through the minor leagues, posting a 2.49 ERA in 15 starts at A ball in his pro debut. He put himself on the map in 2011 with a 2.53 ERA in 27 starts between low-A, High-A and Double-A ball. He posted an impressive 10.3 K/9, didn’t walk many and allowed just four home runs in 149 innings.
Prior to the 2012 season, Baseball America listed Hutchison as the Blue Jays No. 9 top prospect, and after three solid starts at Double-A to begin the season, the Jays called him up to make his Major League debut at the age of 21. I think his age gets lost in all this that he bypassed Triple-A altogether and was starting in the big leagues at such a young age.
To no surprise being in the AL East at 21 years old, Hutchison struggled in his debut. He ended up making 11 starts that year (4.60 ERA/4.48 FIP) and struck out 49 in 58.2 innings. After leaving a start in June due to injury, Hutchison hit the DL with a UCL sprain. Two months later, it was announced he would need Tommy John surgery. Hutch was out for an entire year and only pitched briefly in the minors in 2013. Finally healthy in 2014, he made 32 starts for the Jays and held his own with a 4.48 ERA/3.85 FIP and was named their Opening Day starter in 2015. He struggled in 2015, lost out in spring training for the fifth spot of the rotation and became expendable.
Here’s the thing that sticks out to me, from 2012-15, Hutchison made 71 starts for the Blue Jays and posted a 4.92 ERA, but 4.15 FIP. The strikeouts are there (8.3 K/9), the walks aren’t an issue (2.3 BB/9), HRs are a little high (1.2 HR/9) and hits are about average at 9.4 H/9. He posted these numbers from age 21 to 24. In the American League East. In one of the best hitters park in the game.
Now he’s getting a fresh start and moving to an easier league and ballpark to pitch in, plus has the Ray Searage effect that could do wonders for him. His career 38.6 GB% would be the lowest of any pitcher on the Pirates staff. If Searage can get Hutch to work more inside and keep the ball down more, why couldn’t we see a turnaround for Hutchison?
Let’s take a look at seven pitchers that all pitched for the Pirates at some point from 2012-16…
The spreadsheet above shows you the pitcher’s career ERA/FIP before coming to Pittsburgh and then the same numbers with the Pirates. Every single pitcher improved his numbers, some by a significant amount. Why couldn’t Hutchison be next in line to enjoy that Searage effect? Between those seven examples, all saw their ERA and FIP drop in a Pirates uniform. J.A. Happ saw his ERA drop almost two and a half runs. Edinson Volquez‘s ERA dropped just under two runs and Ivan Nova decreased his by 1.35 runs. On average, those seven pitchers ERA dropped by 1.21 runs and 0.87 runs in FIP.
Let’s take that average and apply it to Hutchison’s career numbers as a starter with Toronto—3.71 ERA/3.28 FIP. Are those numbers you’d take for a No. 5 starter? I would all season long. There’s no reason to think that at age 26, Searage and company couldn’t help right Hutchison’s path. He features three pitches, swing-and-miss stuff and fairly good control. Looking at the pitchers they’ve turned around above, give Neal Huntington and his staff the benefit of the doubt that they could have found another gem.
With the Jose Quintana rumored deal looking less likely every day, I think it’s time to embrace the idea of Drew Hutchison in the rotation and realize that it might just not be a disaster like most are predicting.