After a memorable run to the ALCS, it has been one of the most intriguing offseasons in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays. A front-office shakeup, the contract status of two beloved stars, and questions as to where the team stands among the MLB’s best has provided much fuel for discussion. Thankfully for fans, spring training is upon us, and with that, anticipation is building. Leading up to Opening Day 2016, Taylor Noble will be taking a look at some of the most prominent storylines facing this year’s edition of the Toronto Blue Jays.
I’m not gambling man, but I would bet that over the past few months Drew Hutchison has become a huge fan of Shania Twain. You have to admit, after having one of the worst seasons of any major league starter last year, “there’s no way but up from here” is something you’d want to hear everyday.
Hutchison finished the 2015 regular season with a deceptive 13-5 record, but I assure you this is one of the only statistical representations that makes it look like Hutch didn’t go out there every fifth day to throw batting practice. Of all Blue Jays starters who threw a minimum of 150 innings, Hutchison finished the season worst in ERA, WHIP, Hits Per Nine Innings, and a number of other crucial statistical categories. In fact, among pitchers who completed 150 innings in the entire league, Hutchison finished dead last in WHIP and Opponent OPS, as well as second last in ERA. I’ve spared any reference to Hutch’s road numbers, but those of you who have the constitution to deal with disturbing subject matter can find them here.
Hutchison’s performance was so poor down the stretch that not only was he was left off the Jay’s playoff roster, he spent the magical playoff run in Florida playing in the instructional league.
Now despite what it looks like, I’m not writing this to beat the guy while he’s down. I’m actually a fan of Drew Hutchison, and hope he rebounds this season. And he certainly has the ability to. Although a lot of people have been quick to write him off after last season, let’s not forget that many had him pegged as potential dark horse candidate for the Cy Young at the beginning of the year.
The main reason I’m writing about Drew Hutchison is that as of right now, it is unclear how much opportunity he will be given to exorcise the demons of 2015. Back in November, then-interim GM Tony Lacava stated that Hutchison was a “great bounce-back candidate”. Although he may have been perfectly sincere in saying that, its clear that current Blue Jays management have taken measures to make sure their options remain open for 2016.
As it stands, the projected rotation involves Marcus Stroman, R.A Dickey, Marco Estrada, and the returning J.A Happ. The fifth and final sport remains highly contested, and the competition during spring training is going to be fierce.
Newly acquired Jesse Chavez is a prime candidate for the fifth spot. A starter last year with Oakland, he put up slightly better better numbers than Hutchison during an almost identical workload (and speaking frankly, with a far less capable team). You can be sure that he will start spring training hungry to prove the spot is his.
At the same time, young reliever Aaron Sanchez has been extremely vocal this off season about his desire to be in the rotation. Although less than stellar in his eleven starts last season, he returned from injury mid season to provide excellence relief in high-leverage situations.
I’m not trying to say it will be impossible for Hutch to snag the last spot, but it’s not going to be easy. He’s going to have to turn some heads this spring to earn the trust of the fans, and more importantly, management. Even fangraphs has predicted his workload will be cut almost in half this season. It appears that the odds are against him, but the ever-optimistic fan in me hopes he will use all this as motivation to become the shut-down starter he’s been advertised as since he was drafted seven years ago.
With spring training starting this week, where Drew Hutchison winds up come April – be it in the rotation, in the bullpen, or in Buffalo – will be a storyline Jays fans will follow with great interest.