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Drew Hutchison needs a new plan against left-handed hitters

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The conventional wisdom for RHP is to throw a lot of changeups against opposite-handed hitters. That's not working for Drew Hutchison.

Tom Szczerbowski

Entering the 2014 season Drew Hutchison had an absolutely gargantuan range of outcomes.

Coming off Tommy John surgery with a very limited MLB track record, it was very difficult to to pin down a realistic projection for the young right-hander. The fact that he would up pitching 184.2 innings and posting a WAR of 2.6  has to considered a very pleasant surprise.

With a fairly potent high fastball and an effective slider Hutchison struck out almost a batter per inning and showed himself to be a mid-rotation option going forward. However, like many pitchers that throw largely fastballs and sliders he posted pretty significant batter handedness splits.

Vs.

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

FIP

xFIP

RHB

9.42

1.91

0.64

.222

.272

.343

.273

2.73

3.43

LHB

8.58

3.79

1.54

.256

.334

.477

.353

4.80

4.16

In short, Hutchison turned left-handed hitters into sluggers and right-handed hitters into scrubs. While the narrative throughout the season was that he couldn't pitch at home, the more concerning issue was the he couldn't get opposite-handed hitters out. This was especially problematic because he only had the platoon advantage 44% of the time.

What the 24-year-old hurler did to combat lefties was what a lot of right-handers do, try and beat them with the changeup.

Vs.

Total Changeups Thrown

Changeup%

RHB

39

2.98%

LHB

321

18.55%

Unfortunately, knowing that throwing a changeup is a smart idea isn't  enough. It turns out that having a good changeup is also important, and that's where Hutchison ran into some trouble.

The table below shows how left-handed hitters fared against Hutchison's changeup in 2014:

Fouls per Swing

Whiffs per Swing

HR's Against

AVG against

SLG against

31.29

23.93

7

.364

.727

The whiffs here aren't half bad, but otherwise this is ugly. FanGraphs' pitch values put Hutchison's changeup at 10.7 runs below average, or -2.97 runs per 100 pitches last season, a number that make it the "worst pitch" in any Blue Jays' arsenal.

That's not to say that he should give up on the pitch entirely. Perhaps he can find a grip that suits him better, or do a better job of making his change indistinguishable from his fastball coming out of his hand.

Neither of those possibilities are out of the question. However, it is also unfair to assume his changeup will magically improve. For now, Hutchison might consider using his slider more often against left-handers.

On the surface it's a counterintuitive idea. Sliders have well documented platoon splits and very rarely are they effective against opposite-handed hitters. That being said, there are exceptions.

In recent years Blue Jays fans have witnessed Brandon Morrow at his peak mowing down lefties with his slider down and in, and if Hutchison can replicate that style perhaps he can improve his numbers when he has the platoon disadvantage.

Although the sample size is small, it appear's he's already done so with some success early in his career.

Although he has gone to his slider infrequently against left-handers infrequently in his career, the success he's had has been pretty remarkable, especially compared to his change.

Pitch Type

Pitches Thrown

Fouls per Swing

Whiffs per Swing

HR's Against

AVG against

SLG against

Changeup

417

30.95

24.79

9

.317

.663

Slider

279

43.06

36.11

1

.089

.152

The sample sizes here are small as Hutchison's career is in it's infancy, but it appears that the changeup really isn't working so far. Whether his slider is special enough to a be weapon against guys hitting from either side of the plate remains to be seen, but the early returns are good.

This season Drew Hutchison arrived as pretty reliable option in the rotation. If he's going to take the next step towards being a really good one he needs to figure out how to attack lefties.

What he's doing right now just isn't working.