Toronto Blue Jays: Inconsistent Slider Continues to Plague Drew Hutchison


Toronto Blue Jays: Inconsistent Slider Continues to Plague   Hutchison

What has happened to Drew Hutchison?

Through six starts this season, the Toronto Blue Jays opening day starter has posted a league worst 7.47 ERA, to go along with 38 hits, 12 walks and 23 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. To put it mildly, it’s been a rough opening month for Hutch.

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  • Despite his struggles, though, the Blue Jays insist Hutchison is healthy, and is simply dealing with command and confidence issues.

    For anybody who has watched the Blue Jays this season, specifically when Hutchison has pitched, the command issue is noticeable. Even though his velocity is about the same as least season, Huthcison regularly struggles to put hitters away.

    Last week, during a start in Boston, Hutchison didn’t strike out a single batter. While he struck only two during his last start in Cleveland.

    Combine his lack of his strikeouts with the fact that he has failed to reach five innings in four of his six starts, and you can see how infuriating his season has been for the Blue Jays.

    Naturally, Hutch’s numbers are way up in comparison from 2014 to 2015.

    In 2014, Hutchison posted a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .318. This year, his wOBA has increased to .370. Last year he boasted a strikeout rate of 23.4 percent, while this year it’s down to 15.9 percent. His walk rate is up from 7.6 to 8.3. His BABIP is up from .295 to .324, while his swinging strike rate is down 2.5 percent from last year, which partially explains the uptick in his contact rate from 76 percent last year, to 80 percent this year.

    Apr 28, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Drew Hutchison (36) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    To be blunt, he’s struggling. Even though he is throwing about the same percentage of strikes, you can clearly tell that something is off with the 24-year-old right-hander.

    So what’s to blame for Hutchison’s struggles? When you analyze his full body of work, the root of his problem looks to be his slider.

    When pitching well, Hutch’s slider wreaks havoc on hitters. It’s an out-pitch he can go to when in a jam, or even a pitch he can use to start hitters off backwards. Bottom line, it’s essential to his success.

    So far this season, his slider has been a mess, which has allowed hitters to sit on his fastball. When you statistically compare his slider from last year to this year, you quickly notice a difference. When you watch it in-game, you’ll notice that it is either a ball, or flat and over the plate for hitters to drive. Either way you look at it, it needs to be refined.

    Last year, the batting average on his slider was .186, this year it’s .267. The slugging percentage on his slider last year was a robust .268, while this year it’s an eyesore at .467.

    A big reason Hutch is struggling with his slider is because he struggles to throw it for a strike. Last season he threw his slider for a strike 60 percent of the time. This year, he is throwing his slider for a strike only 56 percent of the time. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but it certainly explains why the chase rate on his slider has gone from 34.5 percent last season, to 30 percent this season.

    Again, when he is throwing his slider, it is either flat and over the plate for hitters to drive, or it’s out of the strike zone and they’re avoiding it all together.

    Unfortunately, for the time being, Hutchison is kind of like Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz. They both show flashes of brilliance, possess two quality pitches, but struggle to find consistency. However, Hutchison followed a similar path last season, where he eventually fixed his slider and was able to gain consistency during the second half of the season. Much of his slider success came from changing his velocity on the pitch.

    Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs did a great job providing an in-depth analysis of Hutchison’s slider earlier this year. In the article, you will see how Hutch throws his slider in a variety of ways and even plays around with his velocity more than you’d think. Take a look at his plot of average game velocities from last season:

    Drew Hutchison Average Velocity in 2014 – Image Credit:

    During the second half of last season, he found success when he took a bit off his slider, which created more vertical movement, as you can see in the bottom right corner of his vertical movement plot below:

    Drew Hutchison Vertical Movement in 2014 – Image Credit:

    So far this season, Hutchison is throwing his slider around the same velocity as last season (82-84 MPH), but his vertical movement is substantially less at an average of -1.71 inches. That’s a far cry from the 3-4 inch drop we saw last season.

    If Hutchison is going to regain his success, it all starts with his slider. After all the talk about his new and improved slider during spring training, perhaps it’s time for Hutchison to go back to the basics and focus in on his arm slot, hips and basic mechanics that helped him develop the devastating movement we witnessed last season.

    Next: Toronto Blue Jays Need to Remain Optimistic