Monday, April 23, 2012

Sweeps and Hutch and Stuff

Remember in your formative years when your (insert sport) team would beat up on the team comprised predominantly of the uncoordinated, asthmatic, and/or overweight kids?

That's kind of how I feel about the Jays' success in Kansas City.

Sure it feels good to assert your dominance over a team that's clearly inferior, but the results fail to provide an accurate sense of your true abilities. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to belittle a four-game sweep -- it's not easy to beat any team on four consecutive nights, especially on the road -- but considering how Kansas City has played over the season's first fortnight, you have to think this sweep is more a testament to their uniform ineptitude than anything else.

But that caveat aside, it's hard to find too much to complain about when you notch four Ws in as many nights. Sure, Sergio Santos went down, Adam Lind continues to struggle, and interim closer Francisco Cordero didn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in his first save appearance, but we did get a nice, longish look at Drew Hutchison.

Though his "signature command" eluded him for virtually his entire outing on Saturday, the 21-year-old did enough in his major league debut to get the win. Having said that, his erratic performance was somewhat surprising given his reputation as a strike-thrower. The former 15th-round pick walked three in just 5.1 innings, a far cry from the guy who averaged 2.2 BB/9 and 4.32 SO/BB for his minor-league career.

However, Hutchison demonstrated poise beyond his years in the face of adversity, showing no emotion after surrendering homeruns to both Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer, respectively. Considering he'd only made six starts above the High-A level heading into Saturday, Hutch fared reasonably well in his debut; I'll attribute his tenuous command to jitters. But what really stuck out for me was his resemblance to another young Blue Jays hurler, Henderson Alvarez.

Incidentally, there appear to be a number of overt parallels between Hutchison and Henderson, not including that nominal one. Over ten starts in 2011, Alvarez threw his fastball 71.8% of the time; while he averaged over 93 mph with his heater, he missed bats just a scant 6.4% of the time, presumably due to his lack of a third pitch. Like Alvarez, Hutchison favours the fastball, and threw it almost 80% of the time in his debut. He also has a propensity to pitch to contact, missing bats on just 5.1% of his pitches on Saturday. And, perhaps most importantly, like Alvarez, Hutch has yet to develop a respectable third pitch.

Given their similarities with respect to age, makeup, repertoire, and...uh, team, it'll be fun to watch their mutual development, especially if we can somehow foist the nickname "Starsky" upon Alvarez.

And speaking of developments that are fun to watch, how about Colby Rasmus? I'd like to think our taciturn centrefielder won over some skeptics this series, hitting .357 with two homers and four RBIs. Needless to say, the Alabama Slammer is hot -- over his last 10 games, Rasmus is 13/37 (.351), and has reached base safely in all but one contest. And as exciting as those numbers are, they elicit even more giddiness when viewed in the context of his overall maturation as a hitter.

Below is Rasmus's spray chart from April 1-23, 2011. While his start to 2011 was, admittedly, stronger than that of 2012, last year he drove the ball almost exclusively to right-field.

Now, if you look at this year's spray chart, you'll notice there's no such concentration of green dots. This right-field bias appears to be gone, as his hits are distributed rather equitably throughout the ballpark so far this season.

Small sample size notwithstanding, he's hitting line drives with unprecedented frequency (26.1% of the time), and a tempered leg kick has him hitting the ball to all fields. Both of those things augur well for him, myself, and my loyal band of unabashed Rasmus boosters.

On the other side of the ball, the Blue Jays defense turned nine double plays (and one triple play) in Kansas City, and now lead the majors with an average of 1.44 twin-killings per game. Of course, this couldn't have been possible without the selfless efforts of Royals catcher Brayan Pena.

Defense is often an area of the game that gets overlooked, but the Blue Jays have done a fine job making plays behind their young rotation this year. And Kelly Johnson's backhand-glove-flip-extravaganza in the rubber match of the series was one of the more adroit displays of defensive prowess in recent memory.

While the sweep may have inflated the team's sense of self-worth, aplomb is a good thing. Onwards to Maryland. Complacency, be damned.

1 comment:

  1. Personally I was impressed with Hutch's movement on his fastball. He was pumping in a pretty dirty 2-seamer at around 93-94. I don't wanna get overzealous here, but that pitch reminds me of the Doc's sinker. If he can develop his other pitches (and show the plus command he's been said to have) I think we're looking at a good big league starter for a long time. I just love moving fastballs so much.