Hutchison's Changeup A New Weapon

BY @CHRIS_TOMAN

So, how about Drew Hutchison?

The Blue Jays right-hander has looked sharp through five starts, including back-to-back outings in which he has struck out 18 while walking one over 11 1/3 innings. For the season, he has punched out 33 and issued nine free passes, good for an above-average K/BB ratio of 3.67, placing him right behind Mark Buehrle for the 17th-best mark among 51 qualified American League starters.

Hutchison's strikeout rate of 29.5 percent puts him in elite company, as he trails only Max Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka and Felix Hernandez among AL starting pitchers.

We can place small sample size caveats on every stat at this point in the season, and that certainly applies here, but that doesn't takeaway from Hutchison's impressive early results.

He's a 23-year-old recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery, which capped his inaugural big-league season at 58 2/3 innings, who didn't throw a single pitch in the majors in 2013 and wasn't guaranteed a rotation spot -- despite being a heavy favorite to land one -- in spring training.

Oh yeah, he's throwing as hard as he was during his last few starts of the 2012 season, too. Hutchison started throwing harder over the last four of his 11 starts that year, gaining two grades on his fastball from his seventh outing to his eighth former manager John Farrell said at the time, before eventually going down with the elbow injury.

Well, he's back to that, and throwing a four-seam fastball that sits at 93 mph and change, per Brooks Baseball, a pitch he will run up to 95 mph.

This chart, via Fangraphs, shows the velocity spike he has experienced since making his debut.

fangraphsHutchvelo

Hutchison's impressive start to 2014 also comes after he threw the ball exceptionally well during spring training. Now, spring training stats can often be misleading if not useless, but it's worth sharing this Fangraphs post from 2012 which states how pitcher strikeout rates are actually one of the few predictive spring stats. Hutchison punched out 19 in 15 spring innings.

The Florida native relies heavily on his fastball, both a four-seam and two-seamer, and has a repertoire which also features a slider and changeup. He gets his strikeouts off the fastball-slider combination and in 2012 virtually didn't throw his changeup to right-handed batters. This year, and specifically Thursday's outing against Baltimore, things have changed.

New Weapon

Hutchison is throwing his changeup more often this season and vs. the Orioles he threw it a career-high 20 times. He didn't just limit the usage to lefties, either, he threw seven to right-handers and generated four whiffs. While seven might not seem like much, Hutchison entered the start having thrown his changeup to righties six times in four combined outings. It wasn't just to show the hitter a different look, either, Hutchison was using it as a putaway pitch.

In 2012, Hutchison threw two-strike changeups to right-handers one percent of the time, and this season that number has jumped to 17 percent. According to Brooks Baseball, right-handed batters have never recorded a hit off his changeup at the major-league level.

The owner of a 3.46 ERA and 3.16 FIP, Hutchison kept the changeups low, as they should be, and buried some inside.

Strikeout, Nelson Cruz in the first inning:

HutchCruzCloseup

A 1-2 changeup to J.J. Hardy in the second inning, which was fouled off:

HutchHardyFoul

Strikeout, Jonathan Schoop in the third inning:

HutchSchoop

The changeup is a feel pitch, and his third weapon, so his usage will likely sway from outing to outing and throwing 20 a game -- basically 20 percent of his pitches -- shouldn't be considered the norm.

But for Hutchison, a pitcher who can fall into traps of becoming too predictable -- because of the small repertoire -- when he abandons the changeup, having another offering he can turn to more frequently is a good thing. And if he throws it the way he did against Baltimore, it's a very good thing.

h/t Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball for stats

[GIFs courtesy MASN]