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Drew Hutchison's strange season

Despite one of the worst ERAs in the majors, Drew Hutchison's peripherals indicate a stronger performance than in 2014.

Drew Hutchison's strange 2015 season has been better than his 2014 rookie campaign.
Drew Hutchison's strange 2015 season has been better than his 2014 rookie campaign.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2015 season, Blue Jays starting pitcher Drew Hutchison was a fairly common pick as a potential breakout performer. In 2014, his first full season, the right-hander struck out a batter per inning with an above-average swinging-strike percentage, despite middling run prevention results (4.48 ERA).

However, he hasn't gotten the results to justify the selection to this point in the season. With a 5.19 ERA (one of the bottom ten among qualifying pitchers) in 19 starts, some might consider his season to be a disappointment.

However, certain parts of his stat line offer reason for optimism. For the second straight season, Hutchison has an ERA well above his FIP (3.76 this season). Per FanGraphs, his 20.5 percent strikeout rate is among the top half of qualifying starters, all leading to a 1.6 fWAR, with roughly a third of the season remaining.

While his FIP-related peripherals have looked fairly strong this season, his problem continues to be the actual balls in play. With a .350 BABIP (the highest rate of his career) and a conflicting 22.8 percent soft-hit rate (the highest of his career), there may be some element of luck involved in his poor run prevention rates.

Hutchison also is underrated in the way he repeats his delivery - his release point is very consistent among all his pitch types, with a slight deviation from his slider.

hutchison release point

An amusing side note involves Hutchison's AL-leading .828 win percentage, which when combined with his sky-high ERA is yet another example of how meaningless the pitcher win is (it is held afloat by the Blue Jays' high-scoring offense).

Hutchison also has strange reverse platoon split, one likely due for regression but also potentially involving some real issues with his pitch selection (data per FanGraphs).

Season Batter
IP AVG OBP SLG wOBA LD% GB% FB% Soft% Med% Hard%
2015 vs L 57.2 .253 .321 .378 .308 19.9% 45.8% 34.3% 24.1% 48.2% 27.7%
2015 vs R 46.1 .328 .381 .503 .384 30.5% 34.4% 35.1% 21.3% 43.9% 34.8%

Right-handed hitters have specifically crushed Hutchison this season, despite no real change in the movement or velocity of his four-pitch mix (four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup, per Brooks Baseball). This season has continued the trend of seeing increasing amounts of his slider, the pitch that results in the highest number of swinging strikes of his offerings (Fangraphs reports 14.2 percent swinging strikes on the pitch).

However his slider, typically an above-average pitch, has been tagged hard by hitters this season. While it resulted in opposing batters' producing a 46 wRC+ in 2014, it has become a 130 wRC+ pitch in 2015. Despite a roughly equivalent zone profile in terms of location, batters seem to be hitting the pitch harder across the bottom half of the plate.

hutchison slider slg

His changeup, used primarily against left-handed hitters, has become a ground ball generating machine (60.9 percent ground balls, per Fangraphs). For whatever reason, Hutchison's slider has regressed against right-handed hitters.

Drew Hutchison is having an odd 2015. Despite a regressing slider contributing to reverse platoon splits, his season's peripherals have remained resilient due to the improvement of his changeup, and actually having seen more left-handed hitters than the right-handed variety (243 PA vs 215 PA).

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Spencer Bingol is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.