On Phil Hughes and his velocity

Putting Paul O'Neill's number in perspective
Briefly revisiting Nick Johnson

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?

Putting Paul O'Neill's number in perspective
Briefly revisiting Nick Johnson
  • TurnTwo

    i really think Lombardi does this for no other real reason than to rile up the masses, and draw attention to his site.

    hey, if ignorance works for M/MD, why not try and replicate it?

    • daneptizl

      I agree that it’s just to attract attention to the site.

    • B

      It’s the only subject that get him comments at this point (he’s pretty much beaten A-Rod and Cashman into the ground). Why wouldn’t he, especially after his affliation with SNY, do it?

      It’s our own fault in some ways for feeding him on this.

  • Yankee1010

    Pags and Lombardi are both nuckin’ futs and have axes to grind. Their analysis is void of reason and logic while containing multiple doses of the short bus elixir. Neither can be taken seriously.

    It’s going to be great to see The Big Three shove it up their asses and watch Pags and Lombardi look for the negatives.

  • Bo

    Pags has some axe to grind with the Yanks brass huh?

    To nitpick Hughes velocity after a great outing is pretty funny.

    And there is no worse Yankee blog than Was Watching.

    Talk about pessimism at its highest. That guy was probably complaining after the ’98 season saying the Yanks didnt win enough games.

  • h2munro

    “Doesn’t this seem a bit overblown as well?”


  • Oui Oui

    I love you guys for getting all over this. Lombardi’s become a killtrocity.

  • Bo

    Who even goes to Was Watching? I guess if you want to read about how bad a job Cashman is doing and how bad the young guys are its a terrific read.

  • Rob From NY

    Yeah i was a Hughes apologist all last season. 88-91 is because of the injury was my battlecry. To be honest I dont think ive seen him “sit” at 91-93 in any of the major league games. That said, he dominated the Jays and who cares how fast he throws if he can blow guys away like he was doing last week? Last thought, I remember him throwing a 2 seamer in the minors. Does he throw it anymore and could that be the pitch that isnt as fast as the scouts had his 4 seamer? To conclude i love Hughes’ stuff, makeup, and overall ability whether he is a 92-95 guy or an 88-92 guy.

  • Chofo

    I´m yet to see Hughes hit mid 90´s constantly at ML level, but you are right, if he keeps pitching like this, who cares?

    I don´t like Lombardi´s negativity and he is stuborn, but I aprecciate the passion he has in blogging and read him frecuently. He has taken shots at Hughes, the kids and Cashman more than he should, but he did a very good thing when he asked many experts on the same subjetc and published their answers. By the way, they all agree with RAB

  • CB

    Justin Verlander worked all spring to decrease his fastball velocity because the tiger’s felt that his fastball was too straight.

    It’s still a work in progress as last night’s game shows but evidently he’s committed to doing this – trading velocity for movement.

    I think Phil will be ok.

    Sites like WasWatching, Pags site and NoMass love to critique the “main stream media” for being clueless and willing to say anything in order to sell papers.

    It’s funny how those same web sites are willing to intentionally make unsubstantiated statements again and again in order to rile people up – that’s the point to what they write – they know that’s going to get other bloggers talking about them, cross linking to their sites and driving up their page views and comments.

    And amazingly it works.

  • rbizzler

    The analysis that Pags provides is hilarious and just plain wrong. I love how he attacks Phil’s command and takes shots at his curveball. Not to mention the whopper that Hughes should still be in AA. All lovely additions to my day.

    For added humor, read through the comments and enjoy the Pag’s defenders. Good stuff.

  • mehmattski

    According to multiple people, Hughes hit 93-94 consistently in his last spring training game, based on numbers from MLB Gameday. I have every reason to believe that the velocity in Hughes’ first regular season start had a lot to do with how cold it was.

    In addition, Steve Lombardi’s hand-wringing about what Hughes at 21 years old throwing 90 mph means for Hughes at 31 years old was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen written outside of a Lupica column. Never mind that the guy is still just 21, and plenty of pitchers add velocity before they hit their peak at 26-28 years old. Never mind that the guy is already a solid #3 pitcher for a contender.

    And of course, Ian Kennedy gets shelled in his first start, but Lombardi’s Golden Boy can do no harm…

    • mehmattski

      For those interested, I’ve found the Gameday that people have referenced. Clearly, there were glitches in the reporting of Pitch F/X data during the game and so there isn’t data for every pitch. But, importantly the fastballs that were recorded were at 94 mph. Take a look, under the Archive Tab found here:


  • http://www.overheardinnewyork.com NC Saint

    I’m not just echoing the criticism of Lombardi, this is an honest question: why does anyone even read WasWatching anymore? There is basically no rational analysis of anything anymore. The anti-Cashman crusade is bizarre and tiresome. Sure, he blogs at a furious pace, but you can get breaking news without the psychosis from Pete Abe or elsewhere. So for those who are still reading (and linking to) him what’s the upside?

    I think of him as the Ann Coulter of Yankee blogging. Sure, he’s saying things that are outrageous, but you can’t be outraged if you don’t pay attention. Why not just cross him off the list?

  • Ivan

    Has the Phil Hughes arguement about the velocity gone away yet? I guess not.

    Can we just leave this arguement alone please. Can someone please, please, please, please, tell M&MD to shut the fuck up about Chamberlain deseve to be in the bullpen. Now Mike has said we are mindless people if we think Chamberlain should be out of the bullpen. We are mindless now, last year this time you didn’t know the fuck Joba was now you just sucking him off like he’s the greatest thing in the world. Stop it please. Can someone tell Mike and the moron that yankees have not won a WS because starting pitching not bullpen. Please.

    This is absurd.

  • http://justinyates.wordpress.com Yankee Psycho-fan-t

    I don’t understand why anyone is being negative about someone who is all upside. What’s the point? If he doesn’t live up to his potential it’s a damn shame, but he’s proven a lot so far…and we still have a lot more of him to see. Why not sit back, relax and enjoy the show. As for the outrageous nature of his comments, who could give any credibility to someone who thought Kei Igawa could be a serviceable Major League Starter? What has this guy done in the way of scouting/pitching to establish himself as someone to listen to? Check out the mechanical breakdown of Igawa’s delivery at Saber Scouting if you want to read some very good analysis. If Phil Hughes were continually failing at the major league level, like say, Mike Pelfrey, and those guys said he had some issues, I would listen. I don’t know anything about this Pags guy, but he sounds unnecessarily defeatist and pessimistic coupled with an inferiority complex and a need for attention. Oh my god! He sounds like a Red Sox Fan!

  • Ivan

    RAB you might have the best Yankee blog on the net and one of the better baseball sports blog in the game right now.

  • steve (different one)

    Lombardi is a hack. he has lost objectivity on certain issues. it’s that simple.

    • JRVJ

      The problem I have with Lombardi, and why I stopped reading him, is that (a) he is not that smart and his blog suffers from it; (b) he thinks he knows sabermetrics, but he really doesn’t (he really should have Baseball Reference taken away from him, since he comes to these nutty conclusions from whatever numerical combination he decides to run on a given day).

  • http://justinyates.wordpress.com Yankee Psycho-fan-t

    Just don’t listen to sports radio. No one in the professional sports media knows anything. They are paid to make up controversy and have no accountability or justification for their opinions. That’s what happens when you’re primary goal is entertainment, not information.

  • http://justinyates.wordpress.com Yankee Psycho-fan-t


  • http://justinyates.wordpress.com Yankee Psycho-fan-t

    I don’t see the point in arguing with something that’s working. I’d like to call upon an old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Phil Hughes ain’t broke, and nobody should be worried about fixing him. No pitcher or athlete of any kind is perfect. He’ll have issues and kinks and he knows that. Right now he’s a lot younger than a lot of us and a lot more successful at what he does. If he’s doing pretty well now, think about how good he’ll be when he gets most of this figured out!


    in his first start this year, which was a good one, he was hitting 95 mph a few times. he’ll get there. what is more encouraging is the fact that he pitched so well and only threw his fastball and curveball. he threw his change twice. if he can work that in 20 times a game…

  • http://www.dugoutcentral.com/blog/?author_name=Matt%20Bouffard Matt

    I don’t understand all the furor here, Dugout Central, or anywhere else. This whole thing is overblown, but I don’t think that Pags’ comments were negative or out of line.

    Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that Hughes, at 21 years of age, the youngest pitcher in the Majors, with basically three years of professional experience, and coming off a season in which he missed 3 months with leg injuries could have a flaw in his mechanics? That sounds plausible to me.

    That said, Hughes pitched very well Thursday night, and to my eyes, his curveball was very good even if it was up in the zone from time to time. Nowhere in the Pags post does it say this is going to prevent him from being successful, but it may limit from maximizing his potential. No big deal in my book; I’d like to think that a 21 year old prospect has something to improve on over time.

    At the risk of sounding like a “Pags defender” or someone stumping for Dugout Central, that piece was a response to a question that Lombardi asked Pags. Cashman commented on Hughes’ drop in velocity last summer, and Carlos Gomez at Hard Ball Times looked at this as far back as May of last year (http://www.hardballtimes.com…anges/). Pags is not the only person to pick up on it.

    Hughes’ velocity may well improve with the weather. And yes, jumping to conclusions based on 6 Hughes innings is a little premature, but at the same time, so is rendering a verdict on Mussina after 5 and two thirds.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Hughes’ velocity may well improve with the weather. And yes, jumping to conclusions based on 6 Hughes innings is a little premature, but at the same time, so is rendering a verdict on Mussina after 5 and two thirds.

      Shhh. :)

      Mussina is an old dog in need of a few new tricks. That’s why I’m more skeptical of his long-term success right now than I am of the young Mr. Hughes.

      • zack

        Doesn’t that article on Gomez actually specifically say that Hughes SHOULD be throwing from a lower arm angle?

      • http://www.dugoutcentral.com/blog/?author_name=Matt%20Bouffard Matt


        I completely agree that there are more legitimate concerns about Mussina than Hughes, but one start, from either pitcher, is no reason to be too optomistic nor too pessimistic.

        Hughes is not a finished product, and will continue to have things to work on, whether it be his arm slot or something else. That said, I was impressed with Hughes Thursday night. At the same time, I didn’t think Mussina pitched too poorly on Tuesday. It certainly wasn’t a good start, but a couple breaks here or there and it would have been a lot better.

        Needless to say, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Yankee starting pitcher both tonight and tomorrow.

    • steve (different one)

      here is my problem with Pags’ article:

      1 week ago, Hughes was throwing 93-95 in his final ST start.

      mehmattski posted the link above.

      he was also hitting 93 and 94 regularly in his playoff appearance in game 3.

      so, when your basic premise can be refuted with 60 seconds of research, i am sorry if i can’t put a whole lot of stock in the rest of your article.

      the same goes for Lombardi’s article about how Hughes’ will be throwing 87 in 10 years based on the premise that he throws 91 MPH now.

      he doesn’t.

  • Curramba

    This is just a stupid argument and for those who keep questioning his velo there were a couple of radar gun readings that showed 94, 95 during that game. Joba wasn’t throwing in the high 90’s his first time out. He was mainly 93-95.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      But people like Joba. Big difference.

      • steve (different one)

        maybe Phil should start doing a fist pump.

  • Curramba

    I like them both so no difference to me. I think both if they stay healthy are going to be great :)

  • stefan

    People forget that Hughes TOPS OUT at 95-96. That doesn’t mean he hits that speed consistently, just as Wang isn’t always throwing 96 and Joba isn’t hitting 100 with every single fastball. It’s absurd that people are THAT concerned about the kid.

    It’s a shame that so many sites resort to those kinds of tactics to attract readers and discussion. They end up falling prey to the same exact shortcomings of the mainstream media that they hate so much. I’m glad that this site has stayed true to its principles.

  • Jon W.

    Pags also said Hughes has a 10 to 4 curve, instead of a 12 to 6 curve. Unless he’s actually throwing a screwball, I thought it was impossible for a righthander to throw a ball that breaks 10 to 4. Just another example of how idiotic that post was.

  • Billybob

    In his last spring training start Hughes was hitting 94 and 95 with his fastball….Nothing to get worried about here.

  • Chip

    I’m not concerned at all with Hughes because he doesn’t need to throw fast to be effective. The most important part of pitching is changing speeds. Hughes throws say a 91 mph fastball followed by a 69 mph curve. That’s just mean. Also, we all know the he has a great changeup in his back pocket when he needs it.

    Watching his first start, I saw a few guys buckle at the curve up in the zone. Hughes can get away with that high curve because nobody expects it and it looks just like the fastball out of his hand.

    Also, Hughes has a lot of run on his fastball naturally that is death to righties on the inner half. If he can throw the change effectively to lefties, he’ll dominate this league for years

  • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

    ok, i’ve read that Hughes’ arm slot is incredibly CONSISTENT – i cant remember if it was THT or Baseball Analysts that proved that.

    Hughes fb also avg’ed 92+ mph last year, a large portion of which was post leg-injury.

    part of the reason we’re waiting for higher velocity is bc in the Futures Game (on youtube) he WAS hitting 94-5 a lot, but A) he could ratchet up his velocity bc he was going just 1 inning (ala Joba, Ohlie), and B), does anyone remember that despite that velocity he gave up like 3 er?

    Pags doesn’t like Hughes curve, the same one that Vernon Wells missed twice in a crucial ab (the 2nd on a 3-2 pitch). yes, he does occasionally leave it high, but isn’t that more due to a guy being 21 friggin years old? does anyone not think his command of all his pitches will only improve with time?

    and where does he get that Hughes is ‘throwing his slider more’? ONE start?! iirc, he only threw 2-3 in that game.

    seems like a poorly researched article.

  • Chip

    Yeah he probably meant 2 to 8 but he’s still dumb. In Hughes last start, it certainly looked to me to be diving straight down with the curve.

  • YES

    Why are people in the media so concerned with velocity? I’ve heard some say specifically Micheal Kay who said Joba isn’t going to throw as hard as a starter because he’ll be 95,96 instead of 98,99. Is he serious? So now 95,96 isn’t good enough to start the new standard at least according to Kay you have to throw upper nineties.

  • zack

    It all comes back to those who worship the FB, and therefore think Josh “IPTGTRW” Beckett is a God (lot of good that 96-98 MPH FB did for him yesterday) and those like him (hey, Farnsworth throws hard too!) , and those that realize that velocity isn’t everything. Johan Santana “sits” at 93, often lower than that, and hes the best pitcher in the game. For the umpteenth million time, its about the difference between pitches. 91, 93, 96, its all pretty damn fast, and when paired with a 70 mph curve and 82 mph change/slider, its damn effective…

  • emcee

    Clemens maybe tried some additional tactics to improve his velocity between Boston and Toronto, Pags.

  • dan

    He honestly has nothing behind any of his claims. Every single one of them can be refuted, or proven to just be flat out wrong. Why the Yankees ever employed this man I have no idea.

  • steve (different one)

    this is why Pags has no credibility:


    Amid all the “Who was the scout who recommended Igawa?” outrage being directed at Cashman, Pagliarulo, who heads up the international scouting service Turf Dirt, has been at the forefront. A recent blog on Pagliarulo’s Web site contained this scathing indictment of Cashman’s job performance: “Igawa could potentially be one of the worst free-agent signings ever – in Mike Hampton territory. Dare we say another Pavano? At least Hampton did have stretches of decent production after he left Colorado. Igawa, on the other hand, might never be better than what he is now – a Triple-A pitcher with an attitude who is at best a back-end starter on a second division team. The Yankees chose not to use (Cashman’s) Japan consultants, who told him to walk away from Igawa. The consultants knew about the Igawa holdout in spring training 2005 in Japan and how Igawa then laid down that year and wasn’t productive at all. Important information that is interpreted through consulting and difficult to put in scouting reports.”

    In other words, Cashman, in signing Igawa (who was sent to the minors on Friday), ignored the advice of Pagliarulo’s company, whose services the Yankees have employed the last couple of years. The only problem is, Cashman didn’t ignore Pagliarulo’s report. Here’s what it really said: “(Igawa) is considered one of the best starters in Japan and is having a good season. He is doing a good job of moving the ball around the zone and seems to be conserving himself throughout the game … He showed a good split and was adding on to his fastball in tough situations. He has enough to be a fourth or fifth starter in the U.S.”

    The report goes on to list Igawa as one of the top 10 pitchers in Japan. Nothing about any holdout or attitude problems.

    • CB

      But that’s the negative part of this whole situation. Pags wrote that Hughes article today just because he knew it would drive yankee fans crazy.

      He clearly has an ax to grind and is bitter Cashman let his firm go.

      But Pags main goal with an article like the one on Hughes is for high volume sites like RAB to write a reaction to the article and to link to it.

      Phil Hughes should be in AA? The only point of that kind of nonsense is to drive traffic to his site and to get people talking about Mike Pags who no one in baseball would otherwise care about.

      And unfortunately these tactics work – here we are talking about him.

  • Samples

    When quoting velocity, what does everyone consider the best source? There is way too much inconsistency amongst posters numbers. I don’t remember Hughes hitting 95 or anything close in his first start, at least on the YES gun. Was the stadium gun faster? What about Gameday? Which system is the best technology and should be considered the ‘default’ speed for discussion purposes?

  • Pete

    How did NoMaas get pulled in with Lombardi and WasWatching? The quote from their front page was this:

    “The only aspect of Hughes’ start which we didn’t like was his velocity. Assuming the YES guns are accurate, his fastball sat at a less-than-impressive 89-91 all night (he did command it well though). However, it was cold and it was his first start of the year. Don’t sound any alarms yet, but keep a watchful eye.”

    That’s “trying to get people riled up?”

  • Lanny

    If there are two people who have a stake in watching the Yanks not make the playoffs and Cashmans moves not workout its Steve Lombardi and Pags

  • Lanny

    Saying Hughes should be at Double A right now is beyond ridiculous. I guess they didnt watch games or check the stats from two years ago when Hughes completely dominated that level.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    He should still be at AA. Just that one sentence makes the whole thing a toss. My 4 year old nephew could write better tripe than this with a crayola and 4 newly painted walls.