MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays

Date/Time: July 31, 7:07 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Johnny Cueto (first AL start) vs. Drew Hutchison (9-2, 5.42)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Kansas City -105

Total: 8

For the first time in his Major League career, Johnny Cueto will take the mound in blue instead of red. The Kansas City Royals have to be excited about the American League debut of their newest pitching weapon and he’ll be thrown into the fire right away against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays, who have made two enormous trades this week, will counter with Drew Hutchison. All eyes will be on this game with several compelling storylines.

The Royals gave up quite a bit to get Johnny Cueto and then gave up the rest of it to add Ben Zobrist. The Royals traded five pitching prospects this week, sending Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed to the Cincinnati Reds for Johnny Cueto. Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks were sent to the Oakland Athletics for Ben Zobrist. The Blue Jays have been busy as well, adding Troy Tulowitzki earlier in the week for a package that centered around prospect Jeff Hoffman and shortstop Jose Reyes. On Thursday, the Blue Jays made another significant move by adding David Price for Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and another prospect. These two teams are officially going for it and that’s what makes this weekend so interesting.

The Royals have a bona fide #1 starter for arguably the first time since Kevin Appier? Maybe Bret Saberhagen? Okay, maybe James Shields. But, in Cueto, the Royals add a true #1 starter that has the potential to carry them to home field throughout the duration of the playoffs. Cueto finished his Reds career with a 92-63 record over 213 starts with a 3.21 ERA, a 3.80 FIP, and a 3.82 xFIP. Cueto has always been a guy that has outpitched his advanced metrics because of his ability to keep hitters off-balance and induce weak contact, leading to low BABIPs. With the elite defense of the Royals, this is an important point to focus on.

The general rule of thumb is to expect about a 10 percent decrease in production when switching leagues. That may not always be the case for rental pitchers, who will make 10-12 starts with their new clubs during the regular season. For Cueto, this is a huge opportunity. His 2015 season has been eerily similar to his 2014 season and Cueto is in line for a big payday in free agency. His control has improved in each of the last three seasons and two of his three highest strikeout rates have come in the last three seasons. The question is how he will fare against the powerful Blue Jays lineup. That remains to be seen, but he has some reverse splits this season. Lefties are only batting .172/.242/.271, while righties are hitting .213/.258/.378.

I have officially anointed Drew Hutchison as the most frustrating pitcher of the 2015 season. He is 9-2 over 20 starts with a 5.42 ERA, a 3.99 FIP, and a 3.92 xFIP. Sequencing and batted ball luck have not been on his side at all. He has a .351 BABIP against and a 65.9 percent LOB%. League average for LOB% tends to be around 72 percent. There are a lot of things that make no sense about his season. He has a 2.21 ERA over 57 innings at home with a .219/.273/.302 slash against. On the road, he has a 9.00 ERA over 51 innings with a .362/.428/.592 slash. Rogers Centre is one of the better hitter’s parks in the AL.

He has a 62/11 K/BB with the bases empty, a 36/23 K/BB with men on and a 21/15 K/BB with runners in scoring position. His mechanics from the stretch could very well be the problem this season, though he hasn’t really excelled from the windup either. He shows reverse splits with a .327/.383/.507 slash against versus righties and a .260/.327/.394 slash against versus lefties. You have no idea what you’re going to get on a start-to-start basis from Hutchison, but yet he only has two losses because Toronto scores a ton of runs for him.

MLB Prediction: Kansas City Royals

I’m not enamored with Cueto against this lineup, but there’s not a whole lot to like about Hutchison against this lineup either. His home ERA may influence some in the betting market, though it seems largely coincidental. It doesn’t hurt that he has a .277 BABIP against at home and a .420 (!!) BABIP against on the road. With Cueto enjoying the spoils of pitching in front of a good defense, the Royals are the play for Friday.