Pittsburgh Pirates: New Pitcher Drew Hutchison

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

On August first, just after the 4:00 deadline passes, it was announced that the Pittsburgh Pirates had acquired right-handed starting pitcher Drew Hutchison for Francisco Liriano, and prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire.

This article will not be analysis on the trade itself, but more or less about Drew Hutchison and what he will bring to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  He has struggled so far in his major league career, but reports out of multiple Pittsburgh media outlets are, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been trying to acquire him for a few years now.

So let us begin with some information on who Drew Hutchison is.  The newly acquired pitcher was drafted in the 15th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009.  He was drafted out of Lakeland High School in Florida.  Hutchison has a prototypical build. He is 6’3” and 205 pounds.  Coming up through the minors he was known for his command, being named by Baseball America as having the best control in the Blue Jay’s farm system.

He has a three pitch mix, including a fastball that sits 92-93, which can reach as high as 95 miles per hour, and has good movement on it.  He also throws a plus slider, that he used to throw in the range of 85-87. He received Tommy-John surgery in 2012, and since coming back from his surgery he has dropped his slider velocity to 83-85 miles per hour. By taking speed off the pitch, it has added more downward movement, as well as horizontal.   It is considered an even better pitch than it was before the surgery.  In 2014, he saw his strikeout rate go up to 26%.  He also throws a change-up.  It is considered an average offering, but he has better success using it against left-handed hitters.  If the Pirates can teach him how to use it effectively against right-handed hitters, it could be a third plus pitch for him.

For the Blue Jays he was ranked as a top five prospect in their system for multiple years between 2010 and 2012.  He was also touted as a borderline top 100 prospect and a potential number two or three starter. This was because right off the bat he was very impressive in the minor leagues.  In 2010, his first season he pitched to a 2.49 earned run average in 15 starts.  He followed it up in 2011 when he pitched to a 2.53 earned run average across Low-A, High-A, and Double-A.  This is what put Hutchison on the map.  Entering 2012, he was considered the Blue Jays 3rd best pitching prospect behind Noah Syndergaard and Daniel Norris.  In 2012, Hutchison made three starts in Double-A when the Jays decided to call him up to the majors.  He went 5-3 in 11 starts and owned a 4.60 earned run average in those games.

One of the issues that Hutchison has struggled with in his limited MLB career is limiting runs.  So far in 76 starts he has an earned run average of 4.92.  One of major issue he has had trouble with, is keeping the ball in the ball park.  In his 401 innings pitched he has given up 57 home runs.  That averages out to be 28.5 home-runs a season (given that 180-200 innings pitched is a full season for a pitcher).  That is not good, especially when opponents are batting .267 off of him and combine that with his WHIP of 1.37.  With that many of the home runs he gives up do damage because there are players on base.  In his minor league career, he has thrown 376 innings and has only given up 11 home runs, a big difference. With that, he has had a solid strike out and walk ratio per nine innings pitched.  In his career, he has average eight strike outs per nine innings while only walking 2.8 batters.  So he still is showing good command and the ability to miss bats, it is just a matter of learning how to effectively pitch out of the strike zone when he is ahead in the count.  His fault is when he is ahead, he still goes at hitters and they end up getting good pitches to hit.  The guy Hutchison was traded for had a lot of success in Pittsburgh by getting hitters to expand the zone, while painting effectiveness.

I think the biggest issues for Drew Hutchison is how he was managed by the Blue Jays.  They moved him quickly through the minors.  His first full season was in 2010, and he had reached the majors in April of 2012.  Keep in mind this was a prep pitcher, not a college pitcher who would have far more experience (and a 15th round pick for that matter not a high pick!).  The Blue Jays were desperate for pitching help in 2012 and thought that they could get it from the young right-handed pitcher.  The Pittsburgh Pirates on the other hand, are an organization that is very patient with their young arms coming through the minors.  They make sure that they have been tested in almost all situations before calling them up.  It is frustrating, but who is to argue, the Pirates are showing this year that it works.

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A great example is Tyler Glasnow, who has thrown 485 innings in the minors.  Another one would be Jameson Taillon, who was projected to make his MLB debut in 2014, which would have been four years after his draft date. Essentially, Hutchison should have been given another full year in the minors and made his debut in 2013 rather than 2012.  This would have given him around 450 innings against higher level competition.  Instead, the Jays had him completely skip Triple-A and hope that he could learn to pitch at the major league level.  In the American League East, it is not a smart idea for a team to let their young pitchers learn and adjust in the most offensive division in baseball.

This year Hutchison has had success at the Triple-A level.  So far, he has made 18 starts and has a strong 3.26 earned run average.  The even better news for Hutch, is that the Pittsburgh Pirates will keep him down until September first.  By doing this, the Pirates will gain an extra year of control for him.  It is also good news for him.  He will be able to work with the Pirate’s instructors and continue to refine his game and learn what he will have to do to succeed in the black and gold. Drew Hutchison is still just 25 years of age, he is not a busted prospect by any means yet.  I am optimistic that he will have better results for the Pirates than he did with the Jays.  He will be pitching in a more friendly park, with a team that will give him the time to develop, and will teach him how to pitch at the major league level.  He has the stuff, now it is time for the Pittsburgh Pirate staff to show him the way.