Charting Hughes’s truncated season

Profiling Pat Venditte
MLB starts initiative to help Veterans

Josh Kalk, proprietor of the PITCHf/x blog from small ball to the long ball, has authored a piece on The Hardball Times about our one and only Phil Hughes. Kalk talks about a number of things regarding our favorite former prospect, leading off with the velocity issue. Spoiler: He doesn’t have an answer.

What’s more interesting is Kalk’s look at Phil’s release points from 2007 and 2008. Many people believe that Hughes needs to go more over the top to enjoy success in the majors. It appears he’s gone the other way, at least relative to last year. It’s not a big move, but if you look at the graphs in the piece, his arm angle has moved to the right, from his view, meaning he’s coming from more of a side angle.

Despite this change in arm angle, Phil has been remarkably consistent with his release point this year, with all of his pitches. He tends to release his fastball a bit higher than the curve, but for the most part, according to Dan Fox, his release point is “about the size of a postcard.” Kalk wonders if this consistency is actually problematic; that is, does Phil allow for the hitter to concentrate on one area and pick up the ball better because of it?

I’m not so sure about that. Clearly, there were plenty of things going wrong with Hughes earlier this season that had nothing to do with his release point. He wasn’t getting nearly as many swings and misses as last year, and he wasn’t throwing as many strikes. Perhaps his new arm angle had something to do with that — not necessarily that it isn’t working, but that he was still adjusting to it. Maybe it was because of the injury. Or maybe he’s a headcase in disguise who can’t handle guys getting hits off him. Some might say he plain sucks, but I think that’s a premature diagnosis.

With Wang out and Rasner falling back to earth, the return of Hughes could play an integral role in the latter months of the season. He and his pal IPK certainly haven’t performed even close to expectations. But they’ll certainly get another shot in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks to Glen for sending in the article!

Profiling Pat Venditte
MLB starts initiative to help Veterans
  • Glen L

    a point the article makes that I think is a fair one is that Hughes has a good slider and should use it a bit more … i think this would help obviously in a few ways, and while i’m certainly not a doctor or a pitching coach, it sure seems like plenty of guys have long, outstanding careers using the slider as their primary breaking ball – but maybe it really is that much harder on an arm

    it would be nice to see him throwing the slider in there with the curve though

  • Bo

    I’ll chalk up Hughes’ terrible yr to the rib injury.

  • Chris

    The loss of velocity is a myth. Go back and look at his no-hitter against Texas last year. He never threw a pitch at 95mph (and this was before the injury was an issue).

    His average velocity in that game was 92.37. His average velocity for the year was 92.27 and his average velocity this year was 91.98. (that’s for fastballs only). A drop in velocity that small could easily be caused by the cold spring that we were having, and clearly shouldn’t cause the struggles that we saw earlier this year. Now, if Hughes was worrying about the supposed lack of velocity, that could have played a part…

    As for real issues with his fastball, there seem to be two problems with Hughes this year. First, his control was much worse. Last year, he threw his fastball for a strike roughly 68% of the time. This year, it was 62%. Second, he wasn’t getting many swings and misses this year. Last year, when a batter swung, they missed roughly 15% of the time. This year, it was 10%. That doesn’t even count the decrease in foul balls (last year 51% of swings, this year 43%).

  • Adam

    for those interested in PitchF/X, josh kalk’s hardball times page is one to bookmark. he is in my opinion, the best and most prolific pitchf/x’er out there.

  • mustang

    Loved the thread I think Hughes will be fine.

    • Reggie C

      I think Hughes has to put up a half-season of solid league average pitching before I make a “he’s gonna be fine” statement. Before that sneeze… i mean .. rib injury , Hughes had one of the most hittable FBs in the league. He’s got alot to prove.

  • Tripp

    Hopefully, the Yanks let him start throwing the slider a bit more. Sounds like he needs it.

  • Bo

    He needs to throw strikes with his fastball and locate before he goes trying to throw other pitches.

  • the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusiness

    Sorry to be completely off topic, but Chris Russo just put on a stunning display of ignorance. To kick off the stupidity, he called the following trade proposal not bad and reasonable: Yankees get Erik Bedard, Raul Ibanez, and Richie Sexson Mariners get Ian Kennedy, Hideki Matsui, “that kid who pitched Saturday” aka 31 year old Dan Giese, Jeff Karstens, Wilson Betemit, and Shelley Duncan. Then a caller asked “What’s happening with Humber from the Santana deal?” Mad Dog condescendingly said, “No, no. He was part of the Sheffield deal.” Next, one of the b squad dudes told Doggie that he was wrong. And he said, “Oh. Philip Humber. I thought you meant Humber Sanchez.” Then the caller asked who else was involved in the Santana trade besides Carlos Gomez and Russo had no clue. The same dude from earlier told him Mulvey but neither one of them had any clue that Deolis Guerra (sp?) was the final guy in the trade. This after a winter in which they spent over 2 hours a day talking about potential Santana trades and a spring in which they talked about Santana constantly. Chris Russo is obviously completely uninterested in anyone not playing in the big leagues. Yet, he’s convinced that Joba Chamberlain will never be an ace because he lost a game to Manhattan when he was in college. I couldn’t come up with more ridiculous stuff if I was writing a parody of idiot sports personalities.

  • http://mehmattski.blogspot.com mehmattski

    In my opinion the article was a little light on analysis. Pretty graphs, for sure, and the amount of data you can get out of Pitch f/x is truly astonishing. However, you actually have to do some analysis rather than just guessing at the causes. Hughes’ release point may have absolutely nothing to do with his struggles in 2008. The author could have done some analysis of pitchers with similar repertoires, or similar ages, and see if any of them showed a change in release point associated with reduced effectiveness.

    Instead we’re left with a guess that something normally considered good (consistent release point) may actually be bad, without evidence. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat a box of Mallomars, because they may actually be good for me!

    • Adam

      sometimes good research is about fostering discussion rather than claiming to have all of the answers. the nature of pitching in this kind of study is that the science really only takes you so far. i mean, say for instance that hughes’ arm angle was drastically different this year. would that definitively then be the cause of his struggles? maybe, but clearly not necessarily so. maybe the new arm angle could have actually helped him, but its effect was being masked by some other factor not so easily isolated. i think what kalk is doing here is presenting some interesting information and allowing the reader to make their own judgments on clearly incomplete data.

  • mike

    Ironically, with Hughes I think its all about confidence, where a guy who didnt give up a hard hit ball through the minor leagues has a hard tme making the transition to the pros.

    I think he can be a fantastic pitcher, but this year, for the first time in his life, he got the sh*t knocked out of him – last year, even though he had a bad start mixed in every now and then, he at least had a few good starts earlier in the year/ coming back from injury etc mindset to get through the poor start.

    This year, he was getting clubbed like a baby seal start after start, and with each start the pressure got worse – especially with IPK doing poor as well, a pitching coach brought up for him, not being traded for Santana….

    I would like him to come back in mid-August with the Yanks rolling along , either up in the wild card or within spitting distance where there are no worries about the inevitability of the playoffs, and see him pitch a few games before I’m ready to slide him from a consensus #1/1A to a #3/4

    • Reggie C

      mike,
      That’s a slide i think few could’ve predicted. hughes ended last year on a good note. in a couple weeks i expect Hughes to start pitching to some live batting. i wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see him back in the majors for the rest of the year. hughes gotta throw at least 10 games in the minors (AA/AAA) to show he’s ready.

      He’s lost that much development time.

      • mike

        Reggie:

        You are tight – there is no one in the Baseball world that would have predicted anything less that a #3 starter from Hughes this year, and improving each year thereafter to a #2 or beyond.

        However, if he cannot throw his slider because his fastball is not being thrown for strikes or is getting tatooed, and his curve is thrown out of the zone to get people to chase, it seems he does not have the ability to pitch off his fastball – thus a slider is not the pitch he can throw until he gets the fastball back in line.

  • question mark

    Where is it that Darrell Rasner’s “come back down to earth?”

    Much like the great big Melky lie, this site seems to follow the “Bush Administration” policy of getting its point across. Say something enough times, over and over, and people start believing it.

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

      Yes, because Darrell Rasner’s recent starts have been every bit as good as his first three or four. And Melky’s numbers are improving from last year.

      • Heidelberger

        Four of Rasner’s last six starts have been quality and only one of his bad outings was terrible. “[F]alling back to earth” implies that he has somehow fallen off to a sub-optimal level which clearly is not the case. A stretch like Rasner’s last few starts for RAB favorite Ian Kennedy (aka the second worst starting pitcher in the AL) would be an exponential improvement as Kennedy has had only 2 quality starts all year.

        • Joe

          “Falling back to Earth” implies that his numbers have regressed from stellar back to what can/should be expected of him. I think it’s pretty clear that that’s what has happened.

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

            Thank you.

          • Heidelberger

            The phrase was used in the context of describing why Hughes coming back would be helpful and prefaced the statement that he and Kennedy would “certainly” get another shot this season. The clear implication was the injury to Wang and Rasner’s recent performance indicated a role for Hughes later this season. If Rasner continues to pitch as he has, Hughes would have to have one hell of a rehab tour of the minors before he could take Rasner’s spot on the merits.

    • steve (different one)

      uh, what are you talking about?

      when this was said, Rasner had an ERA of 1.80.

      it is now 3.64.

      that is the definition of “falling back to earth”.

  • Axl

    I still don’t understand how the biggest sports organization in the world thought they could get by with 3 of their starting pitchers being under 24 years old…without that much experience either.

    The whole reason they stunk so badly and are now both injured is because they have been trying to do too much. That’s what’s happening with all these young pitchers who go quickly to the DL. They’re trying too hard. Hughes has been on the DL several times for an array of different things…and it’s all due to him being so young…not ready…and trying too much.

    The management should have thought about that as I’m sure they didn’t…before they were just totally content with starting those 2 at the beginning of the year.

    Not that they should have traded them for Johan Santana…but we could have inquired about a few lower tiered experienced pitchers or something. Especially with anticipations of Mussina not being able to cut it…or even go over 5 innings…
    We could have tried to grab an innings eater like Joe Blanton or something. Starting a season with 3 pitchers you didn’t expect to pitch a lot of innings (Hughes, IPK, and Mussina)…why would you do that?

    • Rich

      Who would you have offered in exchange for Blanton?

      • Realist

        An inning eater like Blanton would certainly help ease the BP’s load and possibly take away some of the sting of losing Wang? Blanton would be fine in tat role but Beane would probably want a small ransom for him….one that would be better kept or spent wiser ;-)

        • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

          The nicest thing you can say about Blanton is that he’s an innings eater. All that means is that he can suck for 7 innings instead of 5.

          • Realist

            Sure but he gets you 7 innings and doesn’t suck, average at best…we have had “can’t misses” give us 3 and suck, BIG time…huge differance.

            I am not for getting Blanton as his price would be crazy for what he gives back. But to say he sucks for 7 innings isn’t correct either.

      • keith

        Hughes and IPK of course!

    • steve (different one)

      i love posts like this:

      We could have tried to grab an innings eater like Joe Blanton or something.

      as is any of us know everything that was tried or not tried.

  • Realist

    “Getting on top”….or lack of…. of his pitches has been a recurring theme the past two years, when he has struggled. It makes perfect sense and also makes me wonder if injuries were the cause or were caused by not getting on top of his pitches? Maybe or maybe not but food for thought….

    Now get healthy Phil and gain some needed confidence in AAA…..

  • Ivan

    Hey I am not worried with Phil. Young Pitchers are not allowed to struggle. Look no further than Edinson Volquez.

    Hey, Once he improve his game, you will see the real Phil Hghes. I seriously don’t it’s mental because I think he has the mentality to be a great pitcher.

    • Chip

      I agree a hundred and ten percent. He needs a bit of time to figure out how to get major league hitters out

  • A.D.

    Makes me wonder if the arm angle change led to the hittability of the fasball, last year Phil was settled in the 92-93 zone with the FB, but it had great movement, seemed to be less so this year, maybe getting more on top gives him his movement.

  • dan

    I posted this article in the comments a few days ago (forgot which thread).

    It’s kinda strange that Hughes’ #4 comparable in Kalk’s sim scores is Joba Chamberlain. Kalk will be the first to say that sim scores say nothing of actual pitching ability (Felix’s #3 comp is Doug Mathis), but it is interesting nonetheless.

    I think the bottom line is that Hughes needs to throw the slider and change each a bit more. They don’t have to replace the fastball and curve as #1 or #2, they just have to be used. And wtf happened to the 2-seamer?

  • blah

    What’s the argument against leaving Hughes in the minors to develop his secondary pitches. If he cannot get by in the majors with just a fastball and a curve, why not let him develop the slider and change in AAA. What’s the rush?

    • dan

      While I am for him spending some time in the minors this season (if only so he can go 7+ innings regularly to get innings), I do see the argument for having him in the majors. The Yankees are starting Giese, Rasner, and Ponson in 3 of 4 games this weekend, which isn’t something to be proud of. Second, he was able to “get by” last season just fine with how he was pitching, being exactly league average at 21.

  • Steve

    Sorry Joe, but I drew two completely different conclusions from reading the article. First, his arm angle didn’t change much from 2007-2008, as the graphs clearly showed. What they didn’t show (that Carlos Gomez pointed out in his earlier HBT piece) is that his arm angle DID change significantly from 2006-2007. It got HIGHER, not lower. The Yanks largely scrapped the slider in favor of the curveball (to put less stress on the elbow) and went with an over the top delivery to get a 12-6 break on the curve. It was soon thereafter that his velocity was down. He was still mowing down AAA hitters, but when he got to the major leagues he struggled.

    Second, the side view graph shows that Curve and Fastball travel on two very different planes. The fastball is straight and down, the curveball jumps out of his hand immediately. So what does that mean? The hitters can pick up his curveball almost immediately out of his hand.

    My conclusion was similar to that of the author, with one major difference. He needs to use the slider more and I would DROP his arm angle to his old pre-2007 delivery to get a good break on the slider, even it means less break on the curve. Which he can afford since his curve has so much break on it to begin with. I also think he needs a change of speed pitch, if he can’t get the feel for circle change maybe he can try a different grip or even go with a splitter, which I think would work well as an out pitch with his all too predictable-max effort approach.

    Sorry Joe, but I think you really misread this article. Go back and reread the Gomez piece(s) this author referred to and I think you’ll see what I mean.

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

      I’m sorry, but I didn’t really draw any conclusions on the article. I talked about the release point, because I thought it was an interesting and not-often-talked-about subject. And I brought up the swing and miss stat on my own volition, not on account of the article.

      I’ve read the Gomez article plenty. The flaws have been noted in his analysis — that is, basing his conclusions of very small shreds of evidence (just the Futures game in 06, and one start in 07).

      • Steve

        OK, wasn’t sure if you read both pieces. I think his analysis still stands despite the small sample size, just based on what we do know.

        1-We know he was drafted as a fastball-slider pitcher
        2-We know he was injured (a few times) in the minors
        3-We know he picked up the curveball a few years ago
        4-We know sliders are generally best thrown 3/4 and curveballs generally best thrown over the top.

        Its not a big leap to say he changed his arm angle when he picked up the curve. If you’re one of the people who thinks (as the Yankee front office has been selling) that the velocity drop is imaginary and/or he always threw 91-92, then thats just not supported by the facts. NoMaas did some research and dug up the old scouting reports and they had him sitting 92-96, some even going as high as 97 MPH. Not just anyone with a blog, but sources like Baseball Prospectus, Scout.com, etc. Not just one guy with a bad gun, it was across the board. They can’t all be wrong.

        Here’s the NoMaas post about the past reports

        http://www.nomaas.org/hughesminorsreports.html

    • Chip

      I can see where you’re coming from but I’m gonna go with the Yankees pitching coaches understand this whole issue better than we and I trust that they’re going to set him right