Hughes not as good as we believed?

2007 Minor League Awards
How do you make playoff baseball better? Tack on some extra innings of course!

RAB favorite Keith Law has a new blog post today. And guess what? It has to do with Phil Hughes!

It’s not what you think, though. He wasn’t as impressed as us, claiming that the 21-year-old’s curveball didn’t have much bite, that he didn’t use his slider enough, and that his 89-93 mph fastball just isn’t going to cut it. He does make one concession:

Why is Hughes’ stuff down? One possibility is that his left leg is still causing him trouble…it looked like he was babying that leg rather than landing firmly and pushing off that leg as he drives through his delivery.

I always wondered why some guys don’t use their plant leg to generate more force on the ball. I guess it’s what works for them, but if what works for Hughes is the use of his plant leg, it could certainly explain his disappointing outings. I’d love to verify this through video, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to find a third-base-side shot from last year. The archives probably have a side-view shot of him during the Texas game, so if I come upon some time I’ll take a look.

Update by Ben: I want to add something here. I watched last night’s game from the third base side of the Tier Boxes, and I tried to pay attention to Hughes’ leg kick and delivery. He definitely has shortened his stride since the Texas outing, and I don’t think he’s generating enough power from his legs as he should.

As for the “why” bit of this, I think he’s tentative. He’s still concerned that he’ll pop his hamstring if he takes a long stride and really drives forward on his legs. As Joe said to me earlier today, what 21 year old hasn’t had some confidence issues? We can all relate.

For Hughes, I would expect a few more good starts and an eventual off-season of rest and healing to restore his confidence. I liked what I saw yesterday; he went about establishing the location on his fastball in the best fashion I’ve seen since the Texas game. But he is 21, and he will struggle. It may be the leg kick; it may be growing pains. But he’s still Phil Hughes, and he’s going to be huge.

2007 Minor League Awards
How do you make playoff baseball better? Tack on some extra innings of course!
  • yankeefan

    hughes is beast

    • Mac

      Agreed. I don’t care what has been ailing him because he’s clearly figuring it out as last night demonstrated. That’s exciting as hell, because we know he has that no-hit stuff in him. I’m looking forward to next year; if only I could afford season tickets on the third base side, right next to the dug out and thus get a great view of our kickass righties…

  • Count Zero

    I hate to say it, but…I agree. While I thought Hughes was good, I didn’t think his “stuff” was anything like it was in the aborted no-no in Texas. His curveball was devastating in that game — I haven’t seen that pitch look as good at any time since his injury.

    But to me, that’s the good news. Because the Phil we’re seeing right now is only about 80-90% Phil, and he was still good enough to give a quality start against the team with the fifth best record in the AL, in a must-win game. :-) I am confident that ’08 Phil will look more like the guy we saw in that early no-no bid.

  • Mike A.

    Jayson Stark had this little nugget in his latest column:

    One AL executive says he’s starting to feel sorry for Phil Hughes — because he may never be able to match all the hype that was laid on him before he arrived in New York.

    “I think he’s going to wind up being a No. 3 starter, and that’s not bad,” the exec says. “But people were led to believe he’d be more than that. It’s going to be really hard for him to ever live up to all his expectations.”

    Let it go down on record that we are one of the very few, if not the only, Yankee blog that has not bashed on Phil Hughes. We reserve the right to say “I told you so.”

    • Count Zero

      Good! Let them feel sorry for Phil and keep right on feeling sorry through all of next year while a rotation of Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Joba and IPK leads the Yanks to a 110 win season and the league’s lowest starter ERA. ^_^

      Personally, I’m feeling sorry for the rest of MLB because the team with the most available cash is going to have the best combination of young starters since Billy Beane was blessed with Hudson, Mulder and Zito.

    • Ben K.

      I feel sorry for that AL executive. He had to deal with Jayson Stark. From now, all of my paragraphs are going to one sentence…and irrelevant.

  • Rob_in_CT

    I agree with Count Zero (and thus with KLaw) – Phil’s stuff hasn’t been the same since he came back, especially his curveball.

    He hurt himself originally throwing a curve. I have to think that it’s possible he’s holding back just a tad (maybe even unconciously).

    I’m not dumping on the kid. Not at all. But this is what my eyes are telling me.

  • Beantownbosoxh8er

    I tend to agree that he hasn’t been himself since the injury. But that in no way is any indication of what he will become.
    Saying now that he will only develop into a #3 starter is just plain dumb. There are too many people saying he is not as advertised. he hasn’t pitched a full year in the bigs. give me a break ,NO! better yet give Phil a break! let him develop, and maybe now that the hype is diminishing he can just go out and pitch.
    IMHO he will become what we all expect a top flight pitcher 1 or 1a just needs experience.

    • Rob_in_CT

      Part of it comes down to the fact that nobody has a real definition for what “number 3 starter” MEANS. Or number 1, 2, 4 or 5. It’s a deliberately vague category, with wiggle room in it.

      To me, in the AL… a #1 is a guy who comes in under 3.50. Preferably under 3. While tossing 200 or more innings.

      A #2 would then be around, but above 3.5 (for instance, Wang). So for a #3 we’re talking what, a 4.25 ERA or so?

      I do think that Hughes has better than that in him. But given the level of competition, I don’t think it’s “dumb” to guess he will be a #3. It might be wrong, but I don’t think it’s stupid.

      I’m still hoping for a bonafide #1, but I’m realistic about this.

      • Michael T

        Hee is Keith Law’s definition. These are #1s:

        Bedard, Beckett, Halladay, Sabathia, Verlander, Santana, Escobar, Smoltz, Hamels, Oswalt, Carpenter, Sheets, Peavy, Webb, Liriano, Cain, Lackey, King Felix.

        If that is the standard, I’ll take Hughes as a solid #2 , which is where KLaw says he could be if he gets back to pre-injury form.

  • Barry

    Hughes will be fine. I think there are a couple factors going into current views of Hughes. 1 Expectations were too high for his first season. 2 His mechanics were off from his injury. and 3 his experience is limiting his ability. I still expect him to be a B+ to an A starter, especially next year. Give him at least 1 full season before you judge him is what I say.

  • Mike A.

    I think that part of the problem is Joba. He came with so much buzz and has been so immediately successful that people look at Hughes are say “why aren’t you doing that?”

    Patience is a virtue. Never underestimate how big of a jump it is from AAA to the bigs.

  • steve (different one)

    whenever a writer wants to say anything in an article, they can ALWAYS find an “anonymous AL scout” or “exec” to back their opinion. calling Hughes a #3 starter after 9 starts is just too dumb for words.

  • Beantownbosoxh8er

    What I think is “dumb” about it is that after 10 or so MLB starts people are ready to just write him off as “just a three” (I would agree with your fuzzy math on era=1-3 starters)
    so by that logic are we ready to say buttholtz is going to be the second coming of cy young?
    In now way are either of these young pitchers what they are going to be for the rest of their playing days.

    • Mike A.

      Buttholz….classic. Snapple up the nose on that one.

  • stuart

    yeah these same no it all’s said Abreu was done 3 months ago.. hughes is 21, huge frame, smart, and has excelled at every level. he will figure it out. he is actually 21 yrs and 3 months old I think the youngest starter in MLB at present.

    Law’s column would lead you to believe Hughes got torched yesterday, he gave up 2 runs on 1 pitch!!!

  • zack

    Its not even a debate about whether Hughes has been the same since the injury, just look at his #s. His control is so off and curve isn’t breaking like it did. It all screams hamstring to me, and mechanics. These are fixable.

    The thing with Joba is that he has the luxury of pitching one inning. Its a lot harder to get exposed when you come in and can pump fastballs past hitters as hard as you can throw them, mixing in one or two sliders. Pitching a whole game is a whole ‘nother thing.

    But Hughes’s curve WAS better last night. The control, eh. I don’t see why Hughes’ 90-93 FB won’t cut it when Jake Peavy’s 91-94 mph FB or Buccholz’s or Santana’s or whomever’s will. Its all about control and the other pitches. And when Hughes is right his control is plus plus as is his curve…

  • Greg G.

    I think a few things are at play here. It’s easy to say he hasn’t been the same after his injury, but keep in mind that before his injury he had only 2 starts at the major league level. We’re not talking about a huge sample size here.

    In addition, he’s 21, only had 28 IP of AAA experience before coming to the majors and is now pitching in essentially what has been a “playoff” race for the Yankees for the past few months. Not only that, but he stands in comparison to Joba, who has been awesome for 12 innings, but (as zack said above) has the luxury of pitching only an inning or two per game.

    One more thing: how many other rookie pitchers for the Yankees have had their mechanics so rigorously picked apart in excruciating detail?

    Of course I’m biased, but I really think Phil’s going to be fine. In yesterday’s telecast, YES showed a graphic of other really good starting pitchers and their stats in their first year (I remember Peavy and Smoltz, can’t recall the others). Each one was not particularly impressive, and I bet none of them at the time had to deal with the NYC media/spotlight/etc.

    Beware the dangers of extrapolation. Otherwise, one might get the impression that Joba will never give up a run in his entire major league career.

    Thus endeth my longest-ever RAB post.

    • dan

      one other was maddux…. im not sure of the other one (this might have been it for all i know), but look at glavine’s numbers (especially that K/BB ratio). he didnt have an ERA+ over 100 until he was 25.

      • zack

        Look at Roger, look at Santana, Schilling, Gator, Cone, Bunning, Catfish, look at almost anyone their first year in the league, no matter the age. Freaking Bob Gibson had an era over 5 in his second year!! I’ll take two years of Phil working things together if it means he puts it all together in the third. He’ll still be younger than most pitchers BEGIN their careers at. Felix Hernandez, Sabathia, both of them came up younger than Hughes and it took CC3 years, and Felix is still putting it together.

        Like I said, wouldn’t you all gladly take another year or two of Hughes “figuring it out” and “maturing” if he goes on to pitch like, well, CC Sabathia is now?

  • Travis

    Zack, I found your Bob Gibson reference fascinating, so I looked up his stats. Great tidbit!

    By the way, check out his career numbers. In 1968, Gibson pitched 28 complete games – and didn’t lead the league! He followed that up in 1969, of course, by throwing ANOTHER 28 complete games! Granted, it was a pitcher’s era, but that is ridiculous.

  • Mike R.

    I know that this is off topic, but I haven’t seen any Yankee blogs focus on this weekends series between the Indians and the Angels.

    The Angels are currently one game up in the race for 2nd best record in the AL. As we all know if the Yankees hold and win the wild card they would face the team that team.

    In essence this series could make the difference between an ALDS against Cleveland (A team we’ve had success with) and one against LA (A team we struggle horribly against). I for one would like our chances for a championship alot better if the road goes through Cleveland.

    • Mike A.

      Excellent point Mike. Life would be alot easier if we got the Tribe in the first round instead of the Angels. Although the prospect of having to face CC & Fausto four times in a five game series scares the shit out of me.

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