Assessing Hughes’ stay

About last night's RAB outage
Peavy-to-Chicago the season's first blockbuster

The Yankees are being very coy about their plans for the fifth spot in the rotation. Currently, it belongs to Phil Hughes, but Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ deposed number two starter, is waiting in the wings. Wang, recovering from some sort of an injury and unsightly 34.50 ERA in 6 innings this year, wants that spot.

Wang last threw on Sunday for AAA Scranton. He arrived in the Bronx on Tuesday to throw a side session in advance of a weekend start somewhere, and before the game, Joe Girardi refused to comment on the Yanks’ rotation. Channeling Linda Richman, Girardi simply said, “We’ll talk amongst ourselves.” He did make it perfectly clear that Hughes’ outing last night would in no way inform the decision.

After the game, speculation seemed to be on Wang’s side. Anthony Rieber anticipated that Hughes will be bound for AAA to rejoin the Scranton rotation and that at some point soon, Wang will make his return to the Bronx. It will not, however, be Friday. The Yanks do not seem enthusiastic about the idea of tossing Wang against a hard-hitting, lefty-dominated Philadelphia Phillies lineup.

So Wang sits in limbo, awaiting word on his fate. If he pitches in AAA on Friday, Phil Hughes will live to pitch another day in the Bronx. If Wang sits out, all bets are off. For the sake of this post,though, let’s assume that Wang will be activated and Hughes sent down within the next five days.

If Hughes is destined to return to the minors, at least for now, how did he do in his 2009 Bronx debut? On the surface, the numbers aren’t pretty. He leaves with a 2-2 record but a 7.06 ERA. He allowed six home runs, has a WHIP of 1.94 and opponents are hitting .326 against him. But his is a small sample of just 21.2 innings, and small samples can be corrupted by even smaller samples.

Take, for instance, Hughes’ start in Baltimore on May 9. There, he lasted just 1.2 innings and was Wangian in his pitching futility. He gave up eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks. He didn’t record a strike out and was nothing like the pitcher who had dominated the Tigers ten days earlier.

If we remove those numbers, though, his season to date doesn’t look too bad. In 20 innings, he has allowed nine earned runs on 21 hits and 11 walks. While the 1.60 WHIP is far too high and the five home runs are a concern, he struck out 19 in 20 innings.

Overall, we saw a lot of inconsistency and inefficiency from Hughes. When he was on, he was nearly dominant, and when he was off, he couldn’t finish off hitters. He threw just 59.6 percent of his pitches for strikes and had trouble both inducing swinging strikes and putting away hitters with two strikes.

However, Hughes is just 22 years old. Just six starters with as many starts as Hughes this year are younger than he is, and for a 22-year-old, a 2-2 record with a 4.05 ERA — as he would have without that Baltimore start — is quite respectable. Right now, we don’t know what Hughes’ ceiling will be, but he can get outs at the Major League level. He will only get better, and if last night’s outing was his last start for now, he went out on a positive note. He has a clear sense of what improvements he must make, and I am encouraged by the young right-hander.

About last night's RAB outage
Peavy-to-Chicago the season's first blockbuster
  • kunaldo

    While I agree that this may be Hughes’ last start, I really really hope that they don’t start Wang tomorrow. The Phillies have an excellent offense, with a lot of left-handed power. This does not portend to an easing in of sorts for Wang. Not only that, it would push our best pitcher OUT of the series(who is lefty by the way, and could neutralize all the aforementioned left handed power hitters).

    I have to look at the schedule to see how they could fit him back in, but I definitely hope they don’t start him tomorrow.

    • kunaldo

      Oh and staying on topic with the post, I think Phil has certainly progressed. He just seems to get rattled if he gives up a big hit. If he can just battle through some rough spots and not nibble so much and trust his stuff, he should get better. His stuff seems better now than it was last year.

      • kSturnz

        he got rattled after the Adam Jones non punch out, also. and left a hanging cutter up

  • A.D.

    Promising, still needs to work on the control, especially being able to throw the curve for strikes, all in all, looking forward to him as the #5 next year.

    • mustang

      Agree 100%.

  • jonathan

    I think there is alot to learn about phil hughes’ future by comparing it to Zack Grenike. These two guys have similar stuff, except Hughes has added a cutter and for some reason stopped throwing his Slider which was supposed to be his best pitch after his curve.
    I think Hughes needs to go back to AAA and be dominant and get some confindence in ALL of his pitches. I think they need to keep him in AAA until they take the cuffs off him and let him throw all of his pitches.
    Grenike struggled for years with the Royal until he put it all together so far this year. Give Hughes time, and support.

    • OmgZombies

      Alot of the issues with Grienke were mental. I mean he basically wanted to quit baseball because of it. Hughes stuff is much better than what he showed last year, his fb has a couple more mhp on it and his curveball has bite. Him and Joba are going to be great 1-2 if everything works out.

      As for the ot tossing Wang out against the Philles seems like a bad idea. It would be better if he made his first start against a lite hitting team.

  • bottom line

    The list of talented pitchers who struggled early in their careers is remarkably long. Everyone knows of such examples as Nolan Ryan and Tom Glavine. It took Catfish Hunter six years just to reach .500. The Red Sox were on the verge of trading Bruce Hurst after a run of bad starts and somehow held off. He became a very effective left-hander and #2 to Clemens. But they did gove up too early on John Tudor, as the Yankees did with Doug Drabek — and they became two of the better pitchers of their era.

    What’s important about Hughes is that — very much like all of the above — he has showed flashes of brilliance. That’s a pretty good sign– and he will just have to build on that.

    Everybody keeps waiting on every Hughes start as if it’s going to determine once and for all whether he’ll be good. But I think the better way to approach this is to assume that he’ll be up and down — good games and bad games for an indeterminate length of time. But overall the mix will slowly begin to shift toward the good. The key is lowering expectations for awhile. Anybody who can throw 6 hitless at 20, dazzle in long relief in the playoffs and every now and then put up six dominant innings at 21 or 22 is worth the wait.

    • Tampa Yankee

      +1

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    I think it was here that someone said in a post that it doesn’t seem like there’s a “trust your stuff” message coming to these young guys by the coaching staff. While I’ve not been privy to Dave Eiland and Mike Harkey’s conversations with the young pitchers, it’s what it seems to me they need to do. Other than guys which come up with unbelievable confidence (Joba, Aceves), our young pitchers don’t seem to have the confidence out there.

    That being said, I’m proud of Phil Phranchise, and hope he gets a whole lot more opportunities up here this year.

    • Ed

      Other than guys who have confidence, our pitchers don’t seem to have confidence. Love it.

  • http://theyankeebomber.blogspot.com Conan

    Hughes needs a third pitch. If Hughes can continue to develop his changeup, he could be dangerous.

    • UWS

      Conan = 65hughes?

      In seriousness, Hughes is already developing a third pitch: a cutter. Obviously it still needs work, as he has only been using it for less than a year.

    • OmgZombies

      He could be an Ace?

  • Randy

    The powers that be need to send Hughes to AAA and really emphasize the development of his change up. While some guys have learned well from battling it out in the majors early on in their careers, I think Hughes can gain a lot more from using this year in Scranton to really get a feel for that third pitch. It’s the one thing keeping him from being an absolute stud.

  • Whizzo The Wize

    The older Whizzo gets, the more Whizzo appreciates the apprenticeship all young pitchers must go through.

    Tools are innate, but strategy, attitude and guile all must be learned through the school of hard knocks. We’re seeing this with Joba right now, and each game seems to show an improvement in efficiency for that young man. Whizzo sees the same learning curve necessity for Mr. Hughes.

    Whizzo confidently predicts a long, productive career for Mr. Hughes. Whizzo bases this on last night’s 9 strikeouts and the arrangement of this morning’s coffee grounds in Whizzo’s mug, so buyer beware!

    • jsbrendog

      ietc, as usual

    • UWS

      Whizzo is indeed wize.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      “We’re seeing this with Joba right now…”

      You mean “Whizzo sees this with Joba right now…”

      Listen, Whizzo, we love you, you’re wise and awesome. But speaking in the third person isn’t just something to do, it’s a lifestyle. There’s no 99% third person, you’ve gotta go 100% or not at all.

      In a bacon and egg sandwich, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. BE THAT PIG, WHIZZO!

      • Matt S

        “In a bacon and egg sandwich, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. BE THAT PIG, WHIZZO!”

        ROFL this is the best comment I’ve read in my life.

  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Eric

    According to fangraphs, Hughes’ fastball was over 1 mph faster (92.4 vs 91.2) on average than it was in 2008. That certainly helps.

    • Chris V.

      The funny thing is that this year his fastball is almost exactly the same avg. speed as joba’s.

    • http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=594331910&ref=name Jamal G.

      So I guess the whole fiasco about him sitting 92-94 MPH and touching 95 MPH wasn’t a product of the infamous “Yankee Hype Machine”, as the team’s detractors would love to say.

    • A.D.

      Guess a healthy rib cage does help the velocity.

  • YankeeScribe

    Looks like the White Sox are close to a deal for Jake Peavy. San Diego just needs Peavy’s approval
    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090521&content_id=4856804&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

    • E-ROC

      What do the White Sox have to offer for the Padres to agree on a deal?

      • whozat

        Everything they have, plus salary relief :-)

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

          Let’s move Peavy trade talk to this thread.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    Inconsistency and inefficiency come with the territory when you’re talking about 22-yr old starters. I don’t know why people think Hughes, Joba, Kennedy, and every other Yankee prospect is exempt from that. Lester, Felix, Pelfrey, Verlander, Liriano, Kazmir, Garza, Ervin Santana, Cain, Wainwright, Hamels … they’ve all dealt with/are dealing with it.

    If last night was in fact Hughes last start in the bigs for the time being, I think we can all agree that he looked much, much better than he did last year.

    • http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=594331910&ref=name Jamal G.

      Lester, Felix, Pelfrey, Verlander, Liriano, Kazmir, Garza, Ervin Santana, Cain, Wainwright, Hamels …</cite

      Heh, one of these things is not like the other.

  • CountryClub

    I know right now we’re all riding this winning streak high. But I think Girardi continues to make baffling decisions when it comes to the pitching staff. First, why in the world did Hughes not pitch the 6th inning last night? He was at 89 pitches…not 109. I dont care about Aceves needing work either…Hughes is much more important than Aceves. Second, I didnt love the fact that Coke got pulled for Mo in the 8th, but I could live with it. Third, it boggles the mind that Mo pitched the 9th with an 8 run lead. There’s just no reason for it.

    • A.D.

      I really had no problem with any of the moves except leaving Mo in for the 9th, which seemed unnecessary, but perhaps Mo lobbied to go back out there.

      • CountryClub

        The only way Hughes gets better is for him to continue to pitch to major league hitters. There was no reason to pull him after 5 innings when his pitch count was fine and he was pitching well. I’m all for protecting the young pitchers when it comes to seasonl innings limits and also pitch limits. But they need to also let them pitch in situations that will only further their development. Last night was one of those times.

      • Am I the only Kevin?

        Slave to the save rule. Mo finishes, he gets a save.

        On the flip side, though, he already warmed up. He probably wanted to get a little more work in after facing only one hitter in the 8th, so no biggee.

      • JeffG

        Although I originally thought it was dumb to put Mo in a game that was in the bag, I think part of the decision centered around building up Mo’s arm strength. That was the excuse as to some of his early season woes – right?
        Also, perhaps Giardi can predict the futurer like Whizzo.. might have had a vision of Mo getting a rest tonight after we pound some more shitty Oriol pitching (knocking on wood…)? Eaton to be smoked?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Here’s a thought:

      While it’s true that Hughes had only thrown 89 pitches, the Yankee lead was only 5-3, Hughes had left two mistake pitches in the heart of the plate the resulted in absolute no-doubter crush jobs for Wigginton and Eric Davis II (the latter coming in Hughes’ penultimate batter faced) and the next hitters due up in the 6th were Huff-Mora-Wigginton, who had gone a combined 3 for 6 with a single, a double, and a homer in their first two trips up against Hughes.

      It could be simply that Girardi didn’t want to risk Phil scuffling against three pretty good hitters who could turn another of his mistake pitches from a 5-3 lead into a 5-6 deficit in an eyeblink. Sure, he could have thrown another frame, but it’s safer to sit him down, let him leave the game with the confidence of 9K’s and a lead, and get him a win against the team that shelled him earlier in the year.

      That could have been Girardi’s motivation.

      • JeffG

        Absolutely.

      • JohnnyC

        Don’t confuse ’em with logic, tsjc.

        • CountryClub

          Logic, JohnnyC? Please. I’m one of the more level headed Yankees fans you’ll find.

          Tommie, I understand your thought process…and Girardi’s, if it was his. But I don’t agree with it. Hughes needs as much MLB experience as he can get…in all kinds of situations. Just my opinion though. Doesnt make me right.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            I think both choices (leaving him in or taking him out) have equal positives and negatives.

            It’s pretty moot to me.

  • Stultus Magnus

    I hope the Yanks stop waffling and give Wang the ball, he deserves it. It seems like they will always second-guess the value of Wang even though he just goes about quietly winning games. Sure, he had a rough start, but he can recover and the Yanks need to show that they have confidence in him.

    • UWS

      It’s not about what he deserves, it’s about what’s best for the team.

  • http://www.onedayonejob.com/ Willy

    Way too often it seems that you guys remove outliers from a small sample size and then give a statistical breakdown without the outlier.

    for a 22-year-old, a 2-2 record with a 4.05 ERA — as he would have without that Baltimore start — is quite respectable.

    You can’t really determine that it is an outlier until you have a bigger sample size.

    I understand the point you’re trying to make, but giving me an ERA from 4 of his 5 starts just seems silly to me. It might make more sense to say that Hughes has limited the other team to 3 ER or less in 4 of his 5 starts. If you’re going to be statheads and criticize others for using a small sample size, I think it probably makes sense to refrain from cherry picking from statistics to create new statistics.

    I’m not trying to rip on you – just constructive criticism.

    I wasn’t able to watch Hughes’ performance because I live in Chicago with an abysmal Internet connection that is too slow for MLB.tv, but the stat line for last night’s game looks phenomenal. Obviously 3 ER in 5 IP is too much, but 9 K and 1 BB is great. He’s definitely getting things together, he just needs to be more efficient and be able to get to the 7th at least.

  • Mo

    Truth is, you guys are unfairly taking out his 1 terrible start yet keeping his 1 amazing start in mind…
    If youre going to manipulate the results and take out extremes then you should judge him fairly and forget that 1 great start against Detroit…
    9 earned runs in 14 innings (5.78 era) is a disgusting line for any pitcher in the Major leagues i dont care how old you are (thats his line w/o the great start and the shit start)

    • Stuckey

      No, what’s disgusting is making ANY judgment based on 14 inning, which is meaningless.

      It’s also highly dubious to make judgments based on anyone’s first 25 starts in the big leagues. Look up the first 25 starts (particularly if they were made at the ages of 20-22 and with injuries mixed in) of a lot of elite pitchers and you’ll see some ugly ERAs.

      Hughes may never turn out to be what the expectations for him are, but its WAY to early to make predictions either way.

      If you want to continue to debate this point I’d be glad to list a generous number of HOF pitchers and contemporary aces that struggled in their first 25 starts.

  • dkidd

    i’m sure there are other things going on, but to me the biggest difference between hughes getting shelled and hughes looking good is throwing the curve for strikes

    is he learning a change and a cutter? does he need both?