It may only be Spring Training, but the Toronto Blue Jays have officially entered the second phase of their starting rotation plans; the first one being “with Stroman” and now the second phase is “without Stroman”.
To suddenly replace those innings out of thin air will be a tough task for the Blue Jays, but now that the dust has settled on Marcus Stroman’s season-ending injury, the club can finally go about finding his replacement.
If the Blue Jays can’t replace Stroman’s production outright, then they’ll need other members of the starting staff to take the next step forward in their development.
R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are pretty much mainstays in the starting rotation for the Blue Jays, and most already know what to expect out of the two senior members in the starting five. Pencil them in for 200 innings, 30 plus starts and an ERA around the mid to high 3’s.
Then there’s Drew Hutchison.
He very quietly started 32 games last year had a respectable bounce back season from Tommy John surgery in 2012. Although Marcus Stroman was the sexy pick last year, Hutchison logged the third most innings of any Blue Jays starter in 2014.
Drew Hutchison also had some of the most memorable pitching performances for the Blue Jays last season as well. Most notably, his start in Texas where he went toe-to-toe with Yu Darvish and pitched a complete game shutout against the Texas Rangers.
In that start, Hutchison posted a GameScore of 86; which is tied for the second best starting pitching performance of 2014 for the Blue Jays. Marcus Stroman’s complete game shutout of the Cubs was first with a GameScore of 89.
It’s also easy to overlook that Drew Hutchison posted the 8th best K/9 in the American League at 8.97 K’s per game, putting him in company with the likes of Jon Lester (9.01 K/9) in the AL and Madison Bumgarner (9.07 K/9) over in the NL
So since the Blue Jays are at least temporarily devoid of an “ace”, can Drew Hutchison step up and provide even more contributions in 2015 to Toronto’s starting rotation? Many are beginning to believe Hutchison may indeed have the makings of the Jays’ next great starter.
Jonah Keri pegged Drew Hutchison as one of his breakout candidates for 2015, and David Schoenfield of ESPN listed Hutchison as a dark Horse AL Cy Young candidate. Keith Law has Hutchison listed as one of his breakout players as well.
Admittedly, that’s some mighty praise for a player who only has 43 career starts under his belt over the course of two seasons.
Compared to long-tenured veterans like R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison might look relatively inexperienced. But as of now, he projects to be the third longest tenured arm in the starting rotation. That’s a little concerning but also equally exciting at the same time.
Most of the talk around Spring Training camp has surrounded what will happen with Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, but in actuality the Blue Jays will be relying more heavily upon the contributions of Drew Hutchison instead.
FanGraphs went into great detail about how Hutchison’s slider was a weapon that greatly aided him in the second half of the season. They point towards a drop in velocity on the pitch as a key to his success, and that Hutchison make be breaking the mold when it comes to slider-happy right-handers who feast on lefties.
Hutchison must’ve grown fond of that pitch as the season progressed, because at season’s start he was averaging around 19.68% of his total pitches being his slider. Closer to season’s end, he was throwing his slider over 30% of the time.
|Via Brooks Baseball|
In that respect, Drew Hutchison is beginning to remind me a lot of Brandon Morrow; he’s a pitcher with the potential to strike out a lot of guys, he has a great slider, and he possesses a fastball that can clock in at the low-to-mid (and occasionally high) nineties.
For years, we heard how Brandon Morrow was a high ceiling starting pitcher with a great deal of talent; unfortunately, he just never stayed healthy long enough with the Blue Jays to ever come close to reaching that ceiling.
I sincerely hope Drew Hutchison eventually develops into the starter that many were hoping Brandon Morrow would, with the potential to become a front-line starter. At times last season, Hutchison certainly displayed glimmers of that potential.
Is it unreasonable to heave lofty expectations upon a starting pitcher who has just come off his sophomore campaign? To a degree, yes – but if the Blue Jays are going to remain competitive in 2015, they’ll need Drew Hutchison to take the next step forward.
Image via Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports