What everybody ought to know about Phil Hughes

Down on the Farm
New Stadium/Metro-North hub plans on ice

Mark O’Brien is gettin’ the shaft. The Santa Clara University baseball coach doesn’t have a dominant, front-line ace to trot out there this weekend when his team takes on conference foe Loyola Marymount in one of the most important series of the season. Instead, O’Brien will have to watch his should-be ace, his prized recruit from 2004, take the mound for the New York Yankees later tonight. O’Brien, however, appears to be the only one who lost out in this situation.

The Yankees had one Mr. Philip J. Hughes ranked very high on their draft board in 2004, and were ecstatic when they landed him at #23 overall. Even though he had been pitching for only 3 years, they loved his potential. Who do you have to thank for helping Hughes end up in pinstripes? Scott Boras, and he’s not even Hughes’ agent.

* * *
It was a match made in baseball heaven. A young, hard throwing kid from posh Orange County, and the Angels, a team with an identity crisis looking to increase it’s marketability in Southern California. What better way to do it than to take a hometown kid with their top draft pick? The Angels had long made it known that Phil Hughes was their guy, and they were prepared to take him with the #12 pick. That is, unless…Scott Boras got in the way. His exorbitant contract demands caused another local kid to drop in the draft, a kid coming off one of the greatest pitching seasons in NCAA history and a Golden Spikes Award (baseball equivalent of the Heisman): Jered Weaver. The Angels couldn’t resist. They went for the big name, allowing Hughes to drop through nine different teams (the Twins twice), all the way to the Yankees at #23.Three years later, the young, hard-throwing kid has grown into a strikeout-groundball machine. He stands 6′-5″ and weights 220, a nearly flawless size for a power pitcher. His fastball routinely ticks 92-95 on the gun, and he can reach back for 97 when duty calls. His biggest accomplishment as a pro was developing a devastating curveball with 1-to-7 break, compliments of pitching guru Nardi Contreras. He scrapped his once lethal slider, but rumor has it he works on it in bullpens, and we may see him break it out when he gets into a jam in the bigs.His changeup, the subject of great debate, is a quality third offering. Is it a knock-out plus pitch? No, but Hughes already two of those in his arsenal, three if you count the slider. He can get his change over for strikes and he uses it well to keep hitters honest. It will never be a go-to pitch for him, but the thought that he needs more time in the minors to improve it is ridiculous, quite frankly. He’s more than ready to be a positive contributor to the team, much unlike many of the arms the Yanks are throwing out there nowadays.Ben, Joe and I have made no secret of our desire to see Phil Hughes in the bigs. A spot opened up, and they chose Darrell Rasner. Another opportunity came a knockin’, and they went to Chase Wright. It took three miserable starts from Rasner and a pair of performances from Wright that were barely worthy of Brad Halsey comparisons, let alone Erik Bedard, before the Yankees turned to the phenom.

When the news broke that Hughes was coming to Bronx, it was like one of those moments that you had waited so long for, that when the time came, it didn’t seem real. Joe and I were exchanging IMs when the news broke:

Mike: …and I said “No, but that’s a nice ski mask!”
Joe: HAHAHA!!! Damn Mike, you are one funny guy!

Okay okay, back to reality. Here’s what we really said:

Mike: i’m starvin’, imma go grab a bite, later
. . . makes a quick stop over at LoHud . . .
Mike: holy shit, they called up hughes
Joe: no, no way
Mike: yup, starting thurs vs the Jays
Joe: HOORAY!!!!

Hughes will be the 12th player from the 2004 draft to hit the bigs with significant staying power, joining Justin Verlander, Jeremy Sowers, Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, Taylor Tankersley, Huston Street, Dustin Pedroia, Chris Iannetta, Casey Janssen, Ben Zobrist, Cla Meredith and Jonathan Sanchez. What separates Hughes apart from those guys is his background, as he’s the lone high school draftee on the list.

How does he stack up?
Before we jump into possible comparisons, let us bask in the awesomeness of Phil Hughes’s professional statistics:

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
2004 GCL 18 5.0 7.20 14.40 0.00 0.00 0.80 0.00
2005 SAL 19 68.2 6.03 9.44 2.10 0.13 0.90 1.97
2005 FSL 19 17.2 4.08 10.70 2.04 0.00 0.68 3.06
2006 FSL 20 30.0 5.70 9.00 0.60 0.00 0.70 1.80
2006 EL 20 116.0 5.66 10.71 2.48 0.39 0.91 2.25

The only problem with Hughes’s numbers is the sample size. Everything else looks magnificent. Not once in his minor league career did he break a 1.00 WHIP. He’s never broken 2.50 BB/9, and never dipped below 9.00 K/9. His home runs shouldn’t even be measured by a rate stat: he’s given up just six in his entire minor league career, and three of them came in his first two AA outings. And, as his Eastern League numbers show, he kind of settled in.

Of course, we need a basis for comparison. Or many, if possible. Over the past few days, Mike and I (this Joe now, though I suppose you figured that out) have been rattling off comparison after comparison, trying to find a few guys to hold up beside Hughes. We tried to keep it to big righties with similar stuff to Hughes, high schoolers, comparable numbers, and call-up age. Of course, we didn’t want to come out here with two comps, so we were flexible. But those are the basic criteria.

Keep in mind: The Sally League, New York Penn League, and Gulf Coast League are pretty neutral. The Florida State League is a big pitchers league. The Eastern League favors hitters, as do all the California-based leagues. Not sure about the Midwest League — lemme know if you are.

Unfortunately, Baseball America’s Jim Callis is making us start with a pitcher not quite Phil’s size. He was also a junior college kid. But, let’s give it a whirl. First three minor league seasons (along with keeping consistent with Hughes’s professional seasons, this also saves me a whole ton of typing).

Roy Oswalt

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
1997 GCL 20 28.1 7.94 8.89 2.22 0.64 1.13 0.64
1997 20 NYPL 51.2 8.71 7.66 2.61 0.17 1.26 4.53
1998 GCL 21 16.0 5.63 15.19 0.56 1.13 0.69 2.25
1998 NYPL 21 70.1 6.27 8.57 3.97 0.38 1.14 2.18
1999 Midw 22 151.1 8.56 8.50 3.21 0.48 1.31 4.46

Of course, it would take another year and a bit before Oswalt finally got the call to Houston at the age of 24. He had some lower-level dominance, but really evened out once he climbed the ladder. His dominance started in 2000, when he split time between A+ and AA. He kept his strikeout rate above 9.50, kept his walks below 2.00, and he had a AA WHIP of 0.99. Comparing age 20 seasons, though, it’s not even close. Hughes ruled the Florida State and Eastern Leagues with an iron fist. Oswalt had great success in the Gulf Coast League, but couldn’t master the New York Penn League.

Josh Beckett

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
2000 Midw 20 59.1 6.83 9.25 2.28 0.61 1.01 2.12
2001 FSL 21 65.2 4.39 13.84 2.06 0.00 0.72 1.23
2001 EL 21 6.05 74.1 12.35 2.30 0.97 0.93 1.82

And that’s all she wrote for Beckett, because he was called up later in 2001, only to return for rehab work in 2002. Because he throws harder, his strikeout numbers were better than those of Hughes. Beckett kept his walks low, home runs lower, and kept his hits at a level that allowed for a near- or sub-1.00 WHIP. Beckett looks like a pretty good comp. He pitched 24 big league innings in 2001, posting an ERA of 1.50. He struck out 24 and walked 11, so he was a bit wild, and he let a few sail over the fence. Beckett came back with 107 quality innings in 2002 before becoming a sub 4.00 ERA guy — although frequently injured.

It’s a definite possibility, though, that Phil Hughes is a lot smarter than Beckett.

Let’s dig a little deeper, though, to a highly regarded prospect that didn’t exactly work out as planned. Still, you could do a lot worse than

Jason Isringhausen

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
1992 App/td> 19 36.0 8.00 6.00 3.00 0.50 1.22 3.25
1992 GCL 19 29.0 8.07 7.76 5.28 0.00 1.48 4.34
1993 NYPL 20 90.1 6.77 10.36 2.79 0.70 1.06 3.29
1994 FSL 21 101.0 6.77 5.26 2.41 0.18 1.02 2.23
1994 EL 21 92.1 7.60 6.73 2.24 0.58 1.09 3.02

Izzy was dominant in a Hughes-ian way in the New York Penn League, but he could not repeat at other levels. He kept his walks down, and his hits were at a very reasonable level. If you’re wondering about Izzy’s injury problems, look at his age 20 and age 21 seasons. When you increase your innings by 100 from one year to another, you’re bound for trouble. This will certainly not be the case with Hughes (it would take ~250 innings for that to happen, when he’ll probably clock in at somewhere around 180 or 190).

Edwin Jackson

Year Leage Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
2001 GCL 17 22.0 5.73 9.41 7.77 0.41 1.50 2.45
2002 SAL 18 104.2 6.79 7.31 2.84 0.17 1.07 1.98
2003 Sou 19 148.1 7.34 9.53 3.22 0.55 1.17 3.70

It’s kind of a sad comp, because Jackson hasn’t exactly worked out. But if you’ll look closely, he never put it all together in the minors like Hughes. He showed a high strikeout tendency in 2003, but at the cost of his walk and home run rates (plus, his hits went up, too). He’s probably the closest we have so far, which doesn’t bode well for our franchise player.

Dwight Gooden

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
1982 App 17 65.2 7.26 9.05 3.43 n/a 1.19 2.47
1982 NYPL 17 13.0 7.62 12.46 2.08 n/a 1.08 4.15
1983 Carolina 18 191.0 5.70 14.14 5.28 n/a 1.22 2.50

And that’s all it took for the Mets to call him up at the age of 19. True, he had more pure stuff than Hughes, but not nearly the polish. As you know, Gooden did just fine in the majors…until the whole cocaine thing in 1987. And even then, he continued to post stellar numbers until 1994. This makes me feel a lot better about the Edwin Jackson comp.

Jesse Foppert

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
2001 N-west 21 70.0 4.50 11.31 2.96 0.90 0.83 2.79
2002 Tex 22 61.1 6.46 10.86 3.08 0.44 1.06 2.79
2002 PCL 22 79.0 8.09 12.42 3.99 1.37 1.34 3.99

It’s really not worth it to type out two levels and eight innings worth of Foppert’s 2003 minor league numbers. He’s a college kid, so he’s not an ideal comp. He, like many of the other guys we’ve listed here, never put it all together: low WHIP, high strikeouts, almost no homers. And it’s a good thing, because Foppert is the definition of a bust.

I betcha I can find one you like less than the Foppert comp.

Carl Pavano

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
1994 GCL 18 44.0 6.34 9.61 1.43 0.20 0.86 1.84
1995 Midw 19 141.1 7.51 8.79 3.31 0.45 1.20 3.44
1996 EL 20 185.0 7.49 7.10 2.29 0.78 1.09 2.63

Yeah, I didn’t want to do this one, but his numbers match up…kinda. He never really had Hughes’s strikeout ability. He kept his walks low, which led to the low WHIPs, but all in all, while he had comparable stuff and size at the same age, his ability level was not that of Hughes. And that’s a good thing.

So let’s end this on a high note:

Roger Clemens

Year League Age IP H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
1983 FSL 21 29.0 6.83 11.17 0.00 0.00 0.76 1.24
1983 EL 21 52.0 5.37 10.21 2.08 0.17 0.83 1.38
1984 Int’l 22 46.2 7.52 9.64 2.70 0.58 1.14 1.93

Now that’s more like it. Super-low WHIP? Check. High strikeouts? Check. Low walks? Check. The only thing separating Clemens and Hughes is that Clemens was a college guy. However, at a similar age, he dominated the minors, just like Hughes.

Of course, we’re not saying that Hughes will turn out to be Clemens; we’re also not saying that he’ll turn out like Edwin Jackson, Jesse Foppert, or even Carl Pavano. He’ll have his own path through professional baseball, and what the future holds we don’t know.

However, just take a look at the numbers on all of those comps. No, we didn’t scour the minors for low-WHIP guys (and we wish there was a searchable database that provided such), but we pooled our knowledge to come up with as many guys as possible who were either as hyped as Hughes, or with similar stuff. And really, very few of them compare. And the ones that matched up best — Gooden and Clemens — were sort of good players. Hell, even Pavano had a few good years, though he was always an injury case.

Other guys we looked at: A.J. Burnett, Rich Harden, Dan Haren (matched up well, even though he was a college kid), Brad Penny, Chris Carpenter, and Pedro Martinez. For other comps, you can look to Hughes’s Baseball Prospectus PECOTA card. They include Bobby Bradley (eh), Jake Peavy (struck out nine in a row last night), Brad Penny, Edwin Jackson, Bob Miller, Adam Miller, Yusmeiro Petit, Milt Pappas, Troy Patton, Bert Blyleven (yay!), Don Drysdale (yay!), Clint Everts, Scott Kazmir, Rick Ankiel (minus the psychosis), Ubaldo Jimenez, Erv Palica, Dave Boswell, Carlos Zambrano, Ed Correa, and Jim Maloney.

Seriously, everyone: enjoy this to its fullest. It may be a long time before we see a pitching prospect of Hughes’s caliber come through the system and into Yankee Stadium.

(Photo via NoMaas)

Down on the Farm
New Stadium/Metro-North hub plans on ice
  • Yankee Fan in Chicago

    Tonight is like Christmas morning when you’re 8 years old.

  • mg

    Interesting stuff. I’m beyond excited. See you at the game tonight.

  • ShawnT

    cant wait to go see this game in the stadium tonight, bought tix the minute i herd hes pitchin

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Where are you sitting, Shawn?

  • http://mehmattski.blogspot.com mehmattski

    I went looking for high school pitching prospects who made the majors in the last five years, and what about Scott Kazmir. He was a #1 pick out of high school and made his major league debut at age 20 (though six months younger than Hughes). Though lefty, he also had a high K rate (11.35/9IP) and low walk rate (3.67/9IP) in the minors:


    I really think as far as comps go, we should look more closely at pitchers who came straight out of high school, because they don’t have that “polish” that an experienced college coach can give. Players with statistics similar to Hughes are interesting, but I think following the similar path to the majors is more illuminating. Thoughts?

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Agreed, mehmattski. We tried to keep it to high school guys, but also didn’t want to limit ourselves. We did, however, eliminate lefties, hence the no Kazmir comp. Baseball Prospectus matches them up, though.

  • Mike A.

    We certainly tried to narrow our focus to HS kids, but there’s just not many out there that have had the level of success Hughes has.

    In retrospec, we probably should have included Kazmir, and we probably should have included Homer Bailey, who’s development has been very similar to Hughes’.

  • Jb

    Mike and Maddog Interview JP Ricciardi


    Please Click and Listen on Mike and Maddog Interview 4/24 with JP Ricciardi . Also He talks about Hughes.

    I heard PJ Ricciardi on the WFAN two days ago, and he said that he thinks the Yankees rotation without injuries is 2nd behind the Red Sox, but with injuries are 3rd (after Boston and his Jays) but that its surprising that our offense has kept us in games, but not enough to overtake some of these other teams.[/quote]

  • Jb

    Wfan Mike and Maddog Today’s Interview with Scranton pitching coach Eiland

    Hughes will sit at 91-93 touch 94 but will throw the change-up for strikes and his curveball was rated the best pitch in the Eastern league last year.

    Has the make up that will make him special in that he’s unflappable and if he gets roughed up his make up will have him chomping at the bit to get the ball again and do better.

    Bottom line – I don’t think we’ll see him back in Scranton – he could use a little more time in the minors but he’s as close to ready as anyone. He only has thrown 250 innings combined since being drafted so the team won’t make him throw a lot of innings and will shut him down at some point, just to protect his arm, but he’s ready for the situation.

  • mg

    Youtube – Hughes K’s dude in 3 pitches.


  • yankz

    I’ll be in tier reserved, I think section 30.

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  • Joe

    Hughes sucked tonight guys. Sorry. Seems like you got coal from Santa this year!

  • http://jeteupthemiddle.blogspot.com Jeteupthemiddle

    I don’t think he “sucked.”

    He certainly wasn’t GOOD, but he definitely had a lot of positive to take away from the game (a bunch of slow rolling ground outs, and a couple of strikeouts).

    It sounds like he is going to have another start.

    I think he will be more efficient in that start, and do better.

  • mg

    I was impressed, with Phil Hughes

    The pitching line doesn’t do justice for Hughes tonight. After that shaky first inning, he was DOMINANT until he ran into some trouble in the 5th.

    Plus, he got hit by guys like Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas. I’d say Phil hasn’t seen hitters like that in his minor league days.

    F*ck Igawa. F*ck Karstens. Keep Hughes in the rotation.

    Hughes looked excellent, but like he could do with getting his arm strength up in the minors.

    you dont want a guy who can only throw 80-90 pitches every single time on your major league roster. thats wright territory, no matter how good he is.

  • http://sportswrap.berecruited.com Ryan

    And to think Hughes almost missed his first start because he wears baggy jeans – maybe he should have skipped it!


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  • Barry

    Even though he lost his first start he didn’t do all that bad, especially considering A, it was his first start, B, he struck out 5 in 4.1 innings. I expect that the Yankee’s staff will have him more prepared for tomorrows start against Texas. I’m sure he’ll have more knowledge based on how to pitch to certain players and I’m sure he’ll have a good outing. I’m so confident in his ability I just picked him up for my fantasy team. So well see where this goes but I’m excited about it.

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