Phil’s first real test

Four tickets available for tonight's game
Link Dump: Hughes, WPA, Draft Hype
Huuuuuuuuuuughes. (Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP)

I don’t know about you, but the best part of the 2010 season for me has been watching Phil Hughes take the ball every five days. Oh sure, a 24-13 start is great, but watching Phil deliver on all his promise has been far, far more rewarding. We dealt with the ups, the downs, the injuries, the doubters, and now our patience has been rewarded with watching him blossom into a true frontline starter.

We all know how spectacular he’s been this season, with a 1.38 ERA (1st in the AL), 2.50 FIP (3rd), and 3.61 xFIP (9th), but Hughes’ first real test of the season will come tonight against the Red Sox. It was just ten days ago that he limited that same team to two measly runs over seven innings in the most hostile of environments, but now the element of surprise is gone. Boston’s hitters have had a first hand look at Phil, so adjustments come into play.

In his first start against the Red Sox, Hughes threw 61 four-seam fastballs, 29 cutters, nine curveballs, and just one changeup. Let’s break it down a little further though…

First of all, disregard the fourth time through the order data. It consists of two pitches to Marco Scutaro to end the 7th inning. However, the pattern is obvious. Each time through the order, Phil threw fewer and fewer four-seamers and incorporated more and more cutters and curveballs. Granted, we’re talking about a small amount of curves, so perhaps we should just ignore them. But replacing those relatively straight four-seamers with a moving cutter disrupts the hitter’s timing, and that’s the name of the pitching game.

So now that the Red Sox will dig in against Hughes for the second time in a little over a week, and you can be sure they’ll dig into their memory banks to remember how they were attacked. Fastball heavily early on, more cutters later.

As always, the success doesn’t come from one individual pitch, it’s the separation between two pitches. Part of the reason why Hughes’ cutter has been so effective is because hitters also have to respect his four-seamer, and when both pitches come in at 90+ mph, there’s just not much time to adjust. However, most big leaguers can handle a fastball if they’ve seen it enough times and know it’s coming, so the first time through the order tonight will be particularly telling. Perhaps Hughes should switch it up and go with some more cut fastballs early on to “change up the scouting report,” so to speak. You might see a few more curveballs and (gasp!) changeups than last time just to mix it up a little more as well.

At this point though, the ball is in Boston’s court. Their hitters have to adjust and prove that they can handle Hughes’ fastball-cutter combo before the Yanks’ young hurler must make any changes to his approach. There’s no need to fix what isn’t yet broken. Like everyone else though, the second time through the league is going to tell us a lot more about what kind of pitcher Phil Hughes is than his first time through.

Four tickets available for tonight's game
Link Dump: Hughes, WPA, Draft Hype
  • Angelo

    Hughes will go 9 innings with 12 strike outs, walk none, and will allow 1 hit.

    Book it.

  • Jake H

    I do think this will be a telling start for Hughes. I do have 1 major concern. I was reading baseball america’s latest magazine and they have a story about the cutter. Seems that some guys throw it cut off their motion and it can lead to more stress on the arm. They said one of the key factors to know if the pitcher is cutting off the pitch instead of finishing it is if the fastball comes in 4 mph slower than their fastball. So I just pulled Phil’s velocity from Texas leaguers pitch f/x.

    Phil’s fastball’s average velocity is 92.8 with his 4 seam fastball. His cutter comes in at 88.5. I do wonder if this is going to cause Phil to come up with an arm injury. Phil is throwing his cutter 27.5% of the time with his 4 seam fastball 5.37. I do think Phil should use his curveball more along with his change in this start.

  • pat

    I wouldn’t be suprised, and I’m kind of hoping he drops a few more changeups to their lefties.

  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime (Optimovelist Primus)

    Hughesday is my favorite day of the week.

    That said, I wouldn’t be shocked if he struggles. He’s a young pitcher; it’ll happen. Hell, if CC can struggle, so can Phil.

    But if that happens I’ll just look forward to the next Hughesday.

    • rek4gehrig

      Well said. Mine too. Seems like every time he’s starts its a test. If that’s the case he is getting 100% for each “test”

  • larryf

    Locate the fastball and throw it inside for strikes. The rest will take care of itself….

  • rek4gehrig

    How many tests does Hughes need? I thought the start in Boston was his first real test?

    • vin

      That’s what I first thought too. But if you think about it – beating the Sox in Fenway is a big deal, but shutting down that team for the 2nd time in 10 days is a VERY big deal. Hopefully he can respond to the challenge.

      What’s so encouraging about Phil is that he’s shut down teams even on days when he hasn’t had everything working for him – poor command, ineffective curve, etc. That’s a good sign. Kind of like what AJ’s done this year as well.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        This game is the most important Phil’s ever thrown. You know what this game is? A playoff preview, that’s what.

        You pollyanna morons.

        Andy from last year

    • Claudell

      Agreed that Hughes could start 10-0, with 4-5 wins vs. the best in the AL East, and we’ll still be talking about how his next start is his “first real test”…

  • Guest

    This website is wonderful. Great post. Hopefully, Phil can get the job done.

  • ernesto

    I only Phil’s changeup once in that Boston game, but from what I remember, that thing had tailing movement like some crazy 2-seamers i’ve seen (like from park or mitre) Anyone else think he could use his changeup more often and be even MORE dominating? I know it’s a sss, but if he could throw that kind of change consistently, that puts him in lincecum/santana territory to me.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Extreme SSS but his wCH/C so far in 2010 is -5.54. For comparison’s sake Johan’s best changeup is ranked at 4.35 and CC’s best one is at 3.59.

      • ernesto

        I really want to say something if only I knew what w/CH/C is. Help please?

        • bexarama

          It’s runs saved per 100 pitches based on the pitcher’s changeup. Johan Santana’s best changeup is worth 4.35 runs saved above average for every 100 changeups he throws. So far this year in an extremely small sample size, Hughes’ change has been of negative value.

          If I’m not explaining this right, feel free to correct me, guys.

  • nathan

    The Sox got shutdown by Armando Galaragga, AAA journeyman in last night’s game against Tigers without the little one. Look for the Sox to come out swinging today.

    I expect a 8-6 type of game more than a well pitched game.

    P.S: Been 3 years, still waiting for that 8th pitch from Door Mat. You know the one that swerves 135 degrees like a saucer. Wonder how DoorMat’s era would have been portrayed had he played for us. Lol.

  • Double G


  • Matt

    Definitely agree with you Mike. Tonight’s start is a big one for Hughes. I previewed and took a look at some of the similar data on him so far. He has to keep attacking the zone and Boston hitters have to prove that they can hit the hard stuff.