DREW HUTCHISON (AGE 24 SEASON) – I think a lot of people forget that Hutch was returning from Tommy John surgery last year. He got 35 innings across three minor league levels in 2013 and then another 22 in the Arizona Fall League so he was able to work out some kinks, but he was basically re-learning on the job in 2014. It was a pretty impressive effort, all things considered. Sure, the 4.48 ERA is lame, but he made 32 starts, fanned a batter per inning, held a 3.1 K:BB ratio, and closed with a bang.
The ERA indicators all back up the notion that he actually had a good season, too. His FIP and xFIP were split by 0.03 (3.85 and 3.82, respectively) while his SIERA was down at 3.59 tying him with James Shields and just behind Adam Wainwright (3.52). He only had a 4.21 ERA in his last 10 starts, but that is inflated by three duds (9.00 ERA in 19 IP). The other seven outings were really good (2.09 ERA in 43 IP). A big driver in those seven gems was stark improvement from his slider.
We can see on Brooks Baseball that the slider had a sharp velo drop in the final couple of months. After working 85-87 MPH with it for the first four months, he dipped to 83-84 MPH in the final two. The drop in speed fueled a sharp vertical drop, too, giving the pitch that bottoming out effect.
It also became a tremendous weapon against lefties, something he sorely lacked to that point. He still had a huge platoon split because the fastball and changeup were beat up just as they’d been through the first four months, but the slider gave him an out-pitch against southpaws.
In the first four months of the season, lefties only saw the slider 12 percent of the time. The .402 OPS and 46 percent strikeout rate weren’t bad in 39 PA, but they are laughable in comparison to the final two months. First off, he ramped up the usage to 18 percent and lefties put up just a .146 OPS with a 71 percent strikeout rate in 28 PA. Both samples are admittedly small, but there were distinct changes in approach with the pitch so the big results feel like more than just a hot streak.
Righties saw an even bigger dip in production, but I highlight the lefty situation because of how much he struggled with them on the whole (.811/.615 OPS platoon split for the season). Right-handed batters had a .718 OPS and 23.8 percent strikeout rate in 80 PA against the slider in the first four months of the season, but fell to a .329 OPS with an excellent 40 percent strikeout rate in 43 PA over the final two months.
There is still work to be done with Hutch, but he is a legitimate breakout candidate for 2015. Even if the fastball and changeup aren’t ready to dominate lefties, they have to stop allowing so many longballs. Hutch’s 17 homers to lefties were the third-highest total for right-handers behind Jeremy Guthrie and Jered Weaver tied at 19, and Hector Noesi at 18. The slider accounted for just one of those. The changeup allowed seven, most among the 50 righties who threw at least 200 changes to lefties. And he allowed those seven in 80 PA while Guthrie and Weaver allowed six apiece in 154 and 143 PA, respectively. Hutch needs to try something different with the changeup, whether it’s a new approach or new grip… something.
Hutch might also consider working his fastball in to lefties more often (he had a 54% away rate). It would help him leverage the solid velocity (avg. 93 MPH) even more via effective velocity, and we also saw within the 2014 season that it was just better in that area of the zone. For the first three months of the season, he threw fastballs in 27 percent of the time against lefties and allowed a total of .721 OPS (.603 just on the inside ones) for 150 PA. In the last three months, the fastball in percentage was down to 21 percent and the OPS was up at .981 in 142 PA. The inside fastball still had a .687 OPS in that span, too.
Overall, he needs to cut down on the implosion starts (he had nine 5+ ER starts, tied for fourth-most) and that is obviously tied to his work against lefties. The easiest step to improving against them without necessarily changing his pitch mix or pitch types would be to throw more first-pitch strikes. His 52.6 first-pitch strike percentage against lefties was fifth-worst among right-handers (unsurprisingly, Weaver was right there at 52.4%).
Despite the obvious flaws, Hutch has laid the groundwork for something special. His slider is devastating to both sides of the plate, the fastball is great against righties, and he showed impressive control in his first full year back from TJ. Thanks to the uninspiring ERA, the price isn’t high. According to the six sources that FantasyPros has culled together, he is the 79th starter off the board which affords us a ton of wiggle room with Hutch, though I wouldn’t wait quite that long.
Even if it doesn’t all come together this year, he isn’t being priced at a level where we need him to greatly improve for the pick to be worth it. He definitely falls into that large tier of pitchers clustered in the late-30s to mid-70s range meaning you can start to consider him anywhere within that grouping depending on preference. You probably don’t need to go higher than late-40s (the Kazmir, Weaver, McHugh area), but I’d definitely jump him up a bit from that ADP and I wouldn’t be afraid to go the extra dollar or two, especially in AL-only leagues.
OVERALL MECHANICS GRADE: B
- Balance: 65
- Momentum: 50
- Torque: 60
- Posture: 70
- Repetition: 55
Raise your hand if you found Hutchison's grades surprising. The right-hander has a bit of everything, with exceptional balance that culminates in elite posture at release point, in addition to plus torque that fuels steady velocity in the low-to-mid 90s. The only weakness is his momentum, which features a subtle “stop at the top” method in which Hutchison invokes a slight pause at max leg lift, and the technique can throw a wrench into his ability to repeat his release point. The torque includes some twist with the upper half but is largely driven by a heavy delay to his trigger, utilizing hip rotation to create separation after foot strike. He does a good job of lining up the gears to find solid extension and distance at release point.