Here we stand. It’s a little over half way through the 2016 MLB season, and the Jays are within sniffing distance of a playoff spot. What to do, what to do.
Some want to sell the farm and do a re-run on last year’s trade deadline to take another shot at raising a banner. While I’m not of the opinion that that’s even possible—given the Jays lack of top quality prospects—I am, like all, looking ahead at what’s possible for this year’s incarnation of Blue birds.
One man who could make a massive contribution, effectively becoming the Jays MIP (Most Important Player) is Drew Hutchison. After you’re done rolling your eyes at that statement, hear me out.
As it stands, this rotation is in a bit of… trouble, we’ll call it. For starters, there’s the ominous and overhanging proposed innings limit on team-ace Aaron Sanchez. Whether he’s going to back to the bullpen or be shut down has yet to be effectively determined so that decision will no doubt be of importance going forward. Add on to this that we haven’t yet heard back from the MRI on Marco Estrada’s back, which could land him on the disabled list, force him to miss a start or mean he simply has to toss back a few more Advil pre-game. Both of those negatives fail to mention that it wasn’t even a week ago either that Blue Jays nation was advocating for Marcus Stroman’s demotion after struggling for much of the past month.
Like Sanchez himself, the Blue Jays pitching staff isn’t in a precarious position because of its ineffectiveness. Quite the contrary, actually. By WAR, the Blue Jays starting staff ranks 10th in the entire league with an ERA that ranks 8th all the while throwing more innings than any other starting staff. Of course, that is the problem. These cumulative innings are beginning to have an effect on the core themselves. Cue Mr. Hutchison.
As the story goes, Hutchison had a terrible season in 2015 as a Blue Jay. Over some 150 odd innings, Hutch owned a 5.57 ERA and home away split that would leave Albert Einstein confused. It was no wonder then that when the Jays added J.A Happ and company to the rotation in the off-season, Hutch would be the left on the outside looking in.
While looking through that metaphorical window from Buffalo, Hutchison has done fairly well for himself. In 87.1 innings pitched for the Bisons, he owns a 2.78 ERA with a 3.23 FIP. It is slightly troubling that his walk-rate increased from 2.63 to 3.19 this season, but his strikeout rate increased by more than two batters too so the walk rate could simply be a result of more pitches being thrown to batters.
GM Ross Atkins has been open about Hutchison’s role on the team and has even put forward the idea of using him in the bullpen in the future. Maybe he will work into that role, but my thinking is that he would be better suited in the rotation to help conserve innings for some of the Jays starters down the road.
If you’re sitting there thinking there are better alternatives in the minors than Hutchison, look around. Scott Diamond is the next best thing and even his 3.48 ERA isn’t attractive enough to demand a promotion anytime soon. I would say Wade LeBlanc is still available but it’s hardly weeks removed from when he was shipped away for a PTBNL.
In the end, Hutchison will be a paragon for the Jays season. If he succeeds, the Jays could be vaulted into the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, the Jays could sell Hutchison for a more useable piece at the deadline. If he fails, so too might the team, forcing the front-office to sell off some big players in hopes of rebuilding the farm system.
Hutchison might not become the Jays most valuable player in the coming weeks. He probably won’t be their best player down the stretch, either. But he can be their most important. At a time when the rotation needs someone to throw them a lifeline, Hutchison can be that guy.
Whether that lifeline actually gets to them or not? Well, that’s a different story.