Matt Collins began the starting pitcher Tale of the Tape series yesterday, comparing Jeff Samardzija and James Shields, and today we turn our attention to the second half of those tiered rankings. I’ll be looking at a pair of right-handers in the two-star category, which projects players to earn single digits in mixed auctions, in Brandon McCarthy and Drew Hutchison. While McCarthy, 31, signed a free agent deal to pitch for the Dodgers this year, Hutchison is entering his second full season in the majors—he didn’t appear in the majors in 2013 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. The duo sits side by side in the tiered rankings and in NFBC ADP as they rank 67th and 68th among starting pitchers, respectively with Hutchison slightly ahead, 262-265.
McCarthy pulled this one out last year after his brilliant work with the Yankees (2.89 ERA in 90 1/3 innings) dragged his 5.01 ERA with the Diamondbacks down nearly a full run to 4.05 for the year. Hutchison was essentially the opposite of McCarthy as he started strong with a 3.62 ERA over his first 14 starts and struggled to the tune of a 4.96 ERA in 13 second half starts. He started to get hit harder in the second half as his ISO allowed rose from .161 in the first half to .195 in the second half and his HR:FB rate of nearly eight percent in the first half jumped over 12 percent in the second half. Hutchison’s big problem is left-handed hitters—he allowed them a .256/.334/.477 line last year—and it seemed to get worse as the year went on. McCarthy would be the better bet for ERA in a vacuum, so it’s an even easier call with him moving back to the pitcher-friendly National League West.
Hutchison actually took this category last year with a slim 1.26-1.28 lead on McCarthy in WHIP. He benefitted from allowing just a .241 AVG to opposing hitters all season and his BABIP allowed was .293, which isn’t far enough below league average to suggest it was just a fluke. Part of what makes Hutchison tough to hit, though, is wildness as he had a seven percent walk rate last year. McCarthy doesn’t walk nearly as many (four percent walk rate last year), and though he’s been easier to hit over the last two years, the bizarre decision by the Diamondbacks to scrap his cutter seemed to have a major impact. Pitching with the Yankees and his full arsenal of pitches, McCarthy posted a 1.15 WHIP with a .307 BABIP. We can expect more of that with the Dodgers.
With a 20 percent strikeout rate and his first 200 inning season in the majors, McCarthy tallied the best strikeout total of his career as he sat down 175 hitters last year. Hutchison, of course, topped that with 184 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings in his first full season in the majors. His strikeout rate was 23 percent and, unlike McCarthy, he has a true out pitch in his slider. McCarthy has hardly even come close to his 2014 strikeout rate in any other season he’s pitched and his injury history must be taken into account considering strikeouts are a counting stat.
One full season into his career and Hutchison has as many seasons with at least 180 innings pitched as McCarthy. It’s not so much that Hutchison is an innings workhorse, though it might seem that way against mostly right-handed lineups, but he’s done everything the Blue Jays have asked of him since having Tommy John surgery, pitching in the minors in 2013 as he made his way back and was healthy for all 32 starts last year. Shoulder issues, on the other hand, have limited McCarthy to just two seasons with at least 170 innings pitched over the last eight years. PECOTA projects McCarthy for more innings, but in fewer starts. I’m not really seeing that.
If there’s a theme at play here, it’s that McCarthy’s past durability issues make it difficult to rely on him for counting stats such as strikeouts, innings, and wins. He notched double-digit wins for the first time in his career last year, but again his time in Arizona was completely wasted as he managed just three wins over 18 starts. He won half of his 14 starts with the Yankees and going to the Dodgers shouldn’t hurt. Hutchison won 11 games last year and the Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin to a lineup that already had the Joses and Edwin Encarnacion.
Winner: Hutchison, slightly
This one’s tough. McCarthy took this category last year 16-12, but it was the first time he’s made 32 starts in a single season. With the Yankees, nine of his 14 starts were quality starts and he failed to complete at least six innings just twice. Hutchison is more of a boom-or-bust pitcher on any given day as he failed to make it through five innings in seven starts last year, compared to just two (including his time with the Diamondbacks) for McCarthy. PECOTA projects each of them for 14 quality starts. Well, I guess thanks, PECOTA.
Winner: McCarthy, very slightly
This is more of a question of which injury case you prefer because both are risks. All pitchers, of course, qualify as an injury risk, but here the decision is between a veteran with a long history of shoulder problems ruining his seasons and an up-and-comer with one full season under his belt two years removed from Tommy John surgery. In a way, this is almost like choosing between the porterhouse and filet mignon of injury risks. I’ll try to play it safe and go with the filet, which still tastes fine, it’s just smaller.
Winner: Hutchison, slightly
Both pitchers are entrenched as part of their respective starting rotations and on teams likely to be in contention. If both (somehow) remain healthy all year, they should get the ball every fifth day.
This is an easy one because after all this time we know who McCarthy is. He’s unlikely to have a career year all of a sudden. Hutchison, on the other hand, has more possible outcomes for this season, both good and band. If he’s able to make adjustments that mitigate the damage from left-handed hitters, he could really take off. If that’s too much to ask, perhaps cutting into that seven percent walk rate from last year isn’t. He’s in the more difficult division and ballpark to pitch in, but Hutchison still has more upside.
Despite Hutchison taking five categories, this is far from a landslide victory. In fact, by the time you reach the point in the draft when picking either of them makes sense, it’s entirely possible the team you have in place will dictate your decision. If your team is already loaded with strikeouts, playing it safe with McCarthy’s ratios makes plenty of sense. If strikeout upside is what you crave, then Hutchison is clearly your guy. All things being equal, I’ll go with Hutchison for the upside.
And the winner is… Drew Hutchison
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