Monday, May 6, 2013

Hughes On the Rise

Phil Hughes takes a lot of grief from Yankees fans for not living up to the ace that he was hyped up to be. Most of this grief has been unearned because just because Hughes is not Matt Harvey or Stephen Strasburg does not mean he is not a solid pitcher. The calls for him to be taken out of the rotation whenever he struggles are mind boggling. Right now, only Hiroki Kuroda is pitching better than him on the Yankees, and Hughes has demonstrated the best stuff on the team.

In his past four starts, Hughes has pitched 28 innings, allowed six earned runs for a 1.93 ERA, 23 hits, five walks and 30 strikeouts. This has lowered his ERA for the season from 4.67 to 3.60.

Hughes was the reason the Yankees didn’t get swept this weekend, as he turned in a masterful eight innings against Oakland and allowed only one run. The Yankees needed all eight innings out of Hughes as well because the bullpen would have likely blown the lead without Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson. His fastball was absolutely dominant, as he seemingly got ahead 0-1 to every Oakland hitter. Out of Hughes’ 118 pitches, 79 of them were fastballs, 60 of them were thrown for strikes and he got 12 swings and misses out of his fastball. Also, his fastball had the velocity on it that we had not seen from Hughes for awhile now, as he topped out at 95 MPH without losing control. With Hughes’ short arm delivery, his fastball gets on hitters very quickly, so it appears even faster than that.

Hughes’ two main problems over his career have been his inability to put batters away and allowing too many home runs. His HR/FB rate is 9.6% this season compared to 12.4% last season, so he has improved there. For the season, Hughes’ foul ball rate on his fastball is still 26.17%, which is still too high. However, with 18 strikeouts over his last two outings, he is starting to show improvement there as well.

Part of the reason for the added strikeouts has been the development of Hughes’ slider. He implemented it around the middle of last season when he started to have success and it has really taken off this season. Hughes has thrown his slider 20.7& of the time this season compared to just 4.2% last season. His slider has a whiff percentage of 14.75% this season. It has replaced his curveball as his number one off speed pitch, which is good because Hughes’ curveball just was not effective enough to be an out pitch, but it is much better served to be his third pitch. Also, he has completely scrapped his cutter, which was an awful pitch for him, as it had a higher line drive percentage (6.67%) than whiff percentage (5%) last season.  He has four solid pitches to get people out and he can control of all of them, as his outstanding 8.74 K/9 and 1.80 BB/9 this season.

Hughes is in a contract season and if he keeps this up he will be in line for a very big deal. He should get around the five-year deal worth $77.5 million that Anibal Sanchez received from the Tigers. Hughes would be even more valuable to a team with a big ballpark, as more of his fly balls would not turn into home runs. It has been assumed that Hughes will be out of the Yankees’ price range due to the $189 million budget. However, with CC Sabathia being the only pitcher you can count on being under contract next season, the Yankees will have a big hole in the rotation. With talk of the Yankees maybe going away from that budget, perhaps there is more of a chance Hughes returns. If Hughes does leave as a free agent, fans will miss him more than they think, and maybe they will finally appreciate him.


  1. Thanks for writing this Matt, lol.
    You convey everything I believe about Hughes.
    Wrapping up some personal business and family business and will resume writing here next week!

  2. If Hughes does EXACTLY what he did in his last start then there is no doubt in my mind that he could be an amazing pitcher. Remember, Justin Verlander's stuff didn't kick in until he was 28-29 years old. Maybe the same thing could happen for Hughes. He's still a relatively young pitcher.

  3. That's a great point Delia. Many power pitchers take longer to develop as they have to learn how to pitch and develop their secondary stuff. It's easy to forget how young Hughes is since he is in his 7th year with the team. I myself have been critical of Hughes in the past and I think part of it is the huge expectations that came with him. He was once the #1 pitching prospect in baseball and had a dominating minor lg career. Yankee fans expected him to be a #1/2 type starter and have been disapointted in his lack of consistency.

  4. Good article Matt. I think a lot of the criticism on Hughes was warranted as he's been inconsistent and injury-prone. But he's still young, has a great pedigree and it looks like things may be finally starting to click with him.

    Ever since he tore up his hamstring during his rookie season he's been a differnet pitcher. He had to change his mechanics and it altered his throwing motion. As a result, he's basically had to re-invent himself and he's been searching for the right mix of secondary pitches ever since. He used to throw the slow knuckle-Curve and for a while he threw the hard Cutter. He had some success with both but they eventually proved ineffective. Now he seems to have found a solid Slider and harder Curveball that isn't as loopy. His changeup is improved and can be useful vs LH hitters but still a work in progress. His FB is unique because it has very little downward action and is actually more-effective up in the zone. He now seems to have a good understanding of what makes his FB difficult for hitters and it's a very effective pitch when he is throwing 93-95.

    His last 2 games have been perhaps the 2 best in a row he's thrown since early 2010 and maybe his best ever. if he can build on that and maintain it all year, he will be a rich man and the yankees will be forced to pay him.

  5. Good to hear Michael. Look forward to seeing your articles again.

  6. Delia and fisham, it would be nice but I think the truth is somewhere in between. Hughes looks to be a good #3 or 4 pitcher going forward, but it is unlikely the Yanks will resign him since he's a fly ball pitcher who is going to ask for a lot of money.

  7. Right you are Doug....Hughes is a mid-rotation guy. nothing wrong with that, especially if he's a good mid-rotation guy. With his pedigree and ability, we hoped for more but I don't think he'll ever be considered a #1/2 type starter because of his odd throwing motion. His arm action doesn't allow him to get a lot of downward action and although his FB is above average, it isn't quite overpowering. No reason he can't have a fine career as a guy who throws 200 ip with a solid ERA and good perihiperals.

    But the fly-ball rates and propensity to give up HRs because of no Sinker and little faith in the Changeup will prevent Phil from being great. But if he has a strong season and the Yanks decide to scrap the $189 plan he could be back. There just aren't many quality young pitchers on the Free Agent market so Hughes may be a fit. There's no chance if they go for $189. A lot will depend on how Nova, Phelps and Pineda do this season. If ALL of those guys pitch well then it makes sense to team them up with CC and Kuroda and/or Pettitte for 2014. But if 1 or all of the 3 young guys take a turn for the worse, Hughes may be the young, in his prime anchor in the middle of the rotation.

  8. fishjam, you are right on they money, if the Yanks want a #2 next year it's Kuroda, the 3,4,5 are up for grabs right now. I like hope for Pineda at #3, Nova, and Phelps. I don't see Hughes or Joba returning. Both of these pitchers could be a find for other teams.


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)