The Blue Jays acquired Hatch in a quiet Trade Deadline move, but he has been making noise since coming to Toronto
The Blue Jays were one of the MLB’s busiest teams at the trade deadline. One of their more under-the-radar moves saw Double-A starter Thomas Hatch arrive from the Cubs in exchange for reliever David Phelps.
When I wrote about these moves, I noted that Hatch had produced pretty unimpressive numbers this season at Double-A: “his strikeout rate (21.5%) is slightly below-average, his walk rate is slightly above-average (8.6%) and he gives up homers (1.17 HR/9) much more often than most at his level.”
One important detail that I wasn’t aware of at the time, which appears fundamental to why the Jays acquired Hatch, is that he added a cutter to his repertoire just before the trade. Eric Longenhagen mentioned this adjustment in his summary of the deadline moves—”Fastball/slider relief prospect who started throwing a cutter just a few starts before he was traded, which may give him a better chance to start”—and noted yesterday that the Blue Jays identified this prior to making the trade.
It’s early days yet, but there are at least signs that Hatch has taken a big step forward. Over his first 243.2 innings at Double-A, Hatch struck out only 20.3% of the batters he faced. Since joining the Jays, he’s run a strikeout rate of 26.6%. Even more impressive has been his ability to completely avoid walks—in his six starts, he’s walked only two batters and those two walks came in one start. His 1.6% walk rate with the Jays is a fraction of the 9.5% walk rate he produced with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate.
When Hatch arrived in New Hampshire, he was sporting a 13% K-BB% that ranked in the 50th percentile among Double-A pitchers (min. 80 IP). After six starts with the Fisher Cats, he’s increased his 2019 K-BB% up to 15.7%, a mark that ranks in the 74th percentile.
One point I noted in my deadline post was that Hatch had been effective at generating swinging strikes with the Cubs, producing an 11.5% SwStr% in 2018 and a 13.2% mark in 2019. In his six starts with the Fisher Cats, he’s outdone himself, generating swings and misses on 15.2% of the pitches he’s thrown.
One key area in which he’s seen regression is his home run rate, which stands at 1.27 HR/9 with the Fisher Cats (compared to his 1.07 mark with the Cubs). That said, his HR/FB is 20.8%, which screams bad batted ball luck. For context, his Double-A HR/FB with the Cubs was 10.4%. In fact, since the trade, he’s surrendered outfield fly balls at a lower rate than he ever has—with a fly ball rate of 27.3% and a pop-up rate of 25%, only 20.5% of the batted balls he’s given up have been outfield flies. In comparison, his 2019 OFFB% prior to the trade was 37.4%.
This discrepancy led me to do some more digging. These are all of the batted balls that Hatch has given up as a Fisher Cat, transposed on Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium (as is the default). Only one of the five would have cleared the KC fences, helping to explain the high HR/FB. The three homers in right field had estimated distances of 332, 357 and 370 feet. The one in left-centre field was actually an inside-the-park home run.
These five homers travelled an average distance of 358 feet. Among 113 Double-A pitchers who faced at least 80 batters since August 1st, that was the 14th-lowest mark.
All of these homers counted for the opponents, there’s no changing that. Nevertheless, noting this is relevant for the purpose of looking forward, as it suggests that Hatch’s HR/9 as a Fisher Cat does not accurately reflect how well he suppressed the kind of batted balls that turn into homers. This is also made clear by his excellent 2.26 xFIP with the Fisher Cats, which gives him credit for allowing so few fly balls.
After Thursday’s start, Hatch’s Double-A season is over. While he hasn’t been mentioned among the potential arms to get a September call-up to the majors, there is one reason to think that is a possibility: like Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch, Hatch is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, so he would need to be added to the 40-man roster in the next few months anyways. Given his lack of Triple-A experience, I still think Kay and Zeuch get the call before he does. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up joining them.
Whether or not he pitches another inning in 2019, it certainly seems that the Blue Jays have a potential big league starter in Thomas Hatch. As with Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson, I look forward to seeing if Hatch’s strong start in the Blue Jays system is an accurate sign of things to come.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.