Drew Hutchison needed less than six months to go from opening day starter to mop up relief during a tough 2015 season. By the time the postseason started, Hutchison had spent time at triple-A, posted a 5.57 ERA and been left off of the Toronto Blue Jays’ playoff roster.
Despite those struggles, pitching coach Pete Walker says Hutchison could turn things around just as quickly in 2016.
“We know he’s going to have a bounce-back year as far as I’m concerned. I think he’s going to get right back to where he was and take off again potentially,” Walker told the Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Friday.
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Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Chavez are expected to be among the pitchers competing for the open spot in Toronto's rotation this spring. While there's no denying that Hutchison's coming off a tough year, Walker says bad luck contributed to those struggles.
“I think the season unraveled a little bit at times for him. It got to where he just didn’t know what the heck was going on and why it was happening," Walker said. "Believe me there was no stone left unturned, but I think a lot of it had to do with luck. When you look at his numbers and his peripherals, I think there was some bad luck. I’m not saying that’s the only reason. I’d be a fool. But I think that played a big part in it, and I think he’s capable of much better.”
Hutchison posted an ugly 5.57 ERA in 2015, but his FIP of 4.42 and xFIP of 4.21 show his underlying numbers weren't so bad. He had three times as many strikeouts as walks, a positive sign. Opposing hitters had a batting average of .343 on balls in play against Hutchison, and BABIP isn't particularly predictive year to year.
That said, Hutchison's strikeout rate dropped in 2015 and he continued allowing more than his share of home runs. Even if the 5.57 ERA is misleading, that mark would have to drop by a run and a half to match the 4.10 ERA MLB starters averaged in 2015.
“I’m not saying the job’s his by any stretch," Walker said. "He has to come in and throw well. You’ve got Sanchez who’s right there and there are other guys who are competing. But I still think he’s very capable. Obviously he’ll have to have a really tremendous spring training.”
If Hutchison struggles, the Blue Jays can option him to triple-A and rely on someone like Sanchez or Chavez at the big league level. The Blue Jays have discussed a few ways of using Sanchez, who wants to start. While no final calls will be made until the spring, the Blue Jays plan to stretch the right-hander out to keep their options open.
“Aaron could be a tremendous major league starter. It’s timing. It’s what the team needs at the present moment, but certainly he’s going to be given an opportunity,” Walker said. “Where Aaron fits in exactly right now I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but we’re certainly going to take a look in spring training, extend him out a little bit and make the decision when the time comes. Right now we don’t have to.”