Drew Hutchison should start the season as the Pirates’ fifth starting pitcher
Most of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ roster is already set. Due to this, there will not be a lot of competition in Spring Training. However, one of the competitions will be for the fifth and final spot in the Pirate rotation.
Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Chad Kuhl are all locks to make the rotation to start the season. This leaves three pitchers competing for one spot. These three pitchers are Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, and Tyler Glasnow.
Tyler Glasnow has by far the highest ceiling of these three pitchers. However, as we saw in his short time in the Major Leagues last year, Glasnow is not yet Major League ready. Due to this, I believe he should, and will, start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Steven Brault only throws two pitches, his fastball and slider, and neither of them are very good. Opposing batters hit .286 with a 148 wRC+ off of his fastball last year, and .367 with a 164 wRC+ off of his slider. Additionally, Brault’s control is not very good. After averaging 4.42 BB/9 at Triple-A last year, he averaged 4.59 BB/9 at the Major League level.
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For these reasons, Steven Brault is not a Major League starting pitcher. If Brault has a future in the Major Leagues it will almost assuredly half to be as a relief pitcher. So, hopefully, he is not in the Pirate rotation to start the season.
This leaves right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchison. And, in my opinion, Hutchison should start the 2017 season as the Pirates’ fifth starting pitcher.
In 417 2/3 career innings pitched Hutchison has averaged 8.27 K/9, 2.82 BB/9, and he owns a 38.6 percent ground ball rate. He has a career 4.25 FIP and 4.04 xFIP, both of which are numbers of a strong back of the rotation arm.
Throughout his Major League career Hutchison has been plagued by one major issue. This issue is that he allows too many home runs. In his career he has averaged 1.27 HR/9 and he owns an 11.9 percent HR/FB rate.
However, there is reason to believe that Drew Hutchison’s home run issues could be fixed this season. First off, he will no longer pitch in the American League East. The AL East is filled with hitter friendly ballpark, with his former home, the Rogers Center, being maybe the most hitter friendly of all.
Secondly, there is the PNC Park affect. Very few ballparks in baseball are friendlier to right-handed pitchers than PNC Park. In 2016 PNC Park allowed an average of 1.83 home runs per game. This was the fourth lowest total in the National League, and would have been the lowest in the American League.
Finally, there is Uncle Ray. Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage is arguably the best in all of baseball. Searage has a knack for taking pitchers like Hutchison and helping them reach their full potential. Drew Hutchison very well could be Searage’s next success story.
Drew Hutchison also has better stuff than most people give him credit for. This is especially true about his slider. During the 2016 season Hutchison’s slider spin rate was 2,254 RPM. This was the second best slider spin rate in all of Major League Baseball behind just Max Scherzer.
Opposing batters hit just .229 with a 101 wRC+ off of his slider last season. He also generated a 20.5 percent swing and miss rate with his slider in 2016. In his career opposing batters have hit just .226 off of his slider with a wRC+ of 78, and 15.7 percent swing and miss rate.
A big key for Hutchison will be cutting back on fastball usage. In what is a rarity, Hutchison’s worst pitch is his fastball. His slider is outlined above, his change up was also strong in 2016 (.182 average, wRC+ of 4), however, his fastball got hammered.
Opposing batters had a 202 wRC+ off of his fastball last season. This included four of the six home runs he allowed coming off his fastball. In fact, 38 out of the 59 home runs he has allowed in his career (64 percent) have come off of his fastball.
Drew Hutchison can be a good back end of the rotation pitcher for the 2017 Pirates. However, in my opinion, he needs to put more emphasis on his slider and change up and less emphasis on his fastball.
I believe that Drew Hutchison should begin the season as the Pirates’ fifth starting pitcher. Honestly, I believe he has a higher ceiling than Chad Kuhl who is already locked into the rotation. Hopefully Pirate fans will get to see what Hutchison can do as a starting pitcher to begin the season.