With the search for a starter is likely over for the Pirates, Drew Hutchison could have the inside track to the fifth starter job in the rotation.
With pitchers and catchers just days away from reporting to Bradenton, any chances of the Pittsburgh Pirates making a move for a legitimate veteran starting pitcher at this point are very slim.
While there are plenty of candidates, including Tyler Glasnow, one name will likely have the edge over the competition to begin camp.
That man is Drew Hutchinson.
Hutchinson is coming off a 2016 season to forget in which he made only nine total MLB appearances (three starts), with a 5.25 ERA. Six of those appearances came in a Pirates uniform where the right-hander posted a 5.56 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched.
So why would the Pirates be leaning on Hutchinson when prized prospects Glasnow and Nick Kingham are also in the mix?
There are a few outside factors that may give Hutchinson the edge.
First off is the trade that brought Hutchinson to Pittsburgh.
Neal Huntington and his staff were ripped by plenty for the Francisco Liriano salary dump at last season’s trade deadline that also saw prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. Huntington made it known how much they liked Hutchinson as a pitcher so you have to think he will be given every opportunity to crack the rotation this season, even if it just to save face.
Then there is the contract.
Hutchinson will be making $2.3 million this season. Truth be told, the Pirates aren’t going to want to pay Hutchinson over $2 million to spend most of the season in the minors. They are going to want to get value for their dollar and you can bet Hutchinson is going to be afforded every opportunity at winning a spot in the rotation during spring training.
Finally, Hutchinson is out of options. Unless he is extremely terrible in spring training you can bet he isn’t going anywhere.
But there are also a few outliers that would make you think Hutchinson could be a decent back of the rotation pitcher in a Pirates uniform as well.
Hutchinson went 13-5 just two years ago. Of course that came with a 5.57 ERA.
If Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage can work his magic with Hutchinson, he may have a chance at developing into a decent back of the rotation option.
In his two seasons in Toronto, Hutchinson posted a 4.03 FIP and 3.96 xFIP.
Those aren’t Clayton Kershaw numbers, but the MLB average for FIP last season was 4.19. In terms of xFIP, the 3.96 number Hutchinson posted in 331.2 innings pitched as a Blue Jay, is the exact number that Jeff Samardzija put up a season ago and is right in line with American League Cy Young winner Rick Porcello.
By comparison, Quintana had a 4.03 xFIP last season.
That isn’t the tell all measurement of a pitcher, but Hutchinson does line up well as a potential back of the rotation starter.
Hutchinson has swing and miss stuff as well, especially if Searage can get his slider back on track.
He struck out nearly a batter per inning as a Blue Jay and limited opponents to a .224 batting average off his slider. That pitch also produced a 46 percent ground ball rate, which the Pirates love.
But Hutchinson has a lot of work to do.
He has to throw strikes and more important keep the ball in the ballpark, which a move to PNC Park from the Rogers Centre should help.
Add all that up and it shows that Hutchinson has the chance to turn things around and be a decent back of the rotation option.
The Pirates have turned around pitchers before, but Hutchinson doesn’t have the talent of a Liriano, A.J. Burnett or plenty of others the Bucs have had success with so there is no guarantee,
But given the trade that brought him here, the money they are paying him and the fact that Hutchinson is out of options, he is going to have to be downright brutal to not be a part of the Pirates rotation in 2017.
Only time will tell if that is a good thing or bad thing.
Image Credit – Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons