Nothing incites passion in the world of Yankee blogs these days quite like Phil Hughes. Maybe it’s the hype; maybe it stems from the Santana trade that probably wasn’t going to happen anyway. But whatever the cause, when Phil Hughes comes up, passions run high.
On one side of the Great Phil Hughes Divide are sites like ours and Save Phil Hughes, to name a few. Carrying the torch for the anti-Phil Hughes crowd is of course this guy. Among the recent critiques of Phil Hughes has been a focus on his velocity. Hughes, once touted as a prospect with a mid-90s fastball, has sat consistently around 91-93 during his Yankee tenure. Mostly, to be fair, he’s sit around 91.
Apparently, it’s chic to be worried about a 21-year-old with pinpoint control and great breaking pitches who hasn’t yet in April flashed his top velocity. At the end of last week, a few baseball experts fielded the question should we be concerned with Phil Hughes’ velocity. For the most part, the consensus was no. Phil Hughes, the second youngest player in the Majors, is doing just fine, and it’s still just April. Plus, the belief that 21-year-olds won’t see an increase in strength and velocity over their next few years is simply not correct.
Today, a piece came out that has to be examined, and it’s time that we broke our silence on this whole Phil Hughes velocity thing. Mike Pagliarulo, the famed pitching coach who once said that Kei Igawa would be a serviceable Major League starter, has determined that Phil Hughes’ mechanics are out of whack. Pags writes:
What to do about Hughes? He needs to change his delivery, just as Roger Clemens did when he went from Boston to Toronto. Hughes’ mechanics are the weakest during pitching stages three and four, the time in which he takes the ball out of glove to when the ball leaves his hand. Two issues: First, he’s not getting full arm extension after taking the ball out of his glove – and this creates an inconsistent release point and, therefore, an inconsistent pitcher. Second, he’s leading with his head instead of staying back and throwing “around” his head – something that young, aggressive hitters can be guilty of…
You’ll notice that Hughes has been throwing his slider more often, despite the fact it’s just his fourth best pitch. Because of his mechanics, Hughes’ arm slot is lower than ideal and, thus, his slider is the only breaking pitch that he can command effectively. It’s the same reason you don’t see three quarter or side arm pitchers with good curveballs. It’s also why if you’re looking at Hughes behind home plate his curve ball is breaking at a 10 to 4 angle as opposed to its typical 12 to 6…
My guess is that if Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland is allowed to really work with him, Hughes will be on track by 2009 or 2010. Let’s not forget this kid should still be in AA Trenton.
Here’s the thing about Pags’ scouting report: It’s wrong. It’s coming from someone who doesn’t get along too well with the Yankee brass, and it’s designed to jab at the Yanks and their coaches.
Starting from the end, the idea that Phil Hughes should still be at AA Trenton is patently ridiculous. Two years ago at AA, Hughes blew through the league. Hitters were overmatched, and the Yanks rightly didn’t see any reason to keep him there.
Meanwhile, the idea that Hughes’ slider is his fourth best pitch also goes against prevailing Hughes wisdom. Hughes had a Major League slider when he was drafted out of high school, but the Yanks made him put it in his pocket to in an effort to develop his other pitches. It’s highly unlikely that he’s lost so much feel for the pitch that it’s now his fourth best offering.
As for the mechanical issues, what we see is a 21-year-old in his first start of the season reaching the low 90s with his fastball. We saw him hit the mid-90s in the warm weather during Spring Training, and we know what he was capable of in the Minors. At the Big League level, it’s only a matter of time and warm weather before Hughes is breaking out the speedier fastballs, and in the end, if the results are what they were last week against the Blue Jays, it doesn’t really matter. With stellar breaking pitches and a change up, those low- to mid-90s pitches will seem a lot faster.
Right now, a bunch of people rooting for the same team are arguing over minor points after watching a 21-year-old throw six innings during the 2008 regular season. Doesn’t this seem a bit overblown as well?