A tale of two Phils

Jesus! Brackman & Heathcott!
Regression and Maintenance: The story of Gardner and Cervelli

In the span of two batters on Sunday afternoon, Phil Hughes’ start against the punchless Astros went from great to mediocre. Tommy Manzella singled just past the reach of Derek Jeter to drive in two runs; former Yankee Kevin Cash homered for just the second time this year to plate another pair; and instead of a six-inning, one-run performance, Hughes found himself tagged for five earned runs in 5.2 innings against the NL’s worst offense.

For Hughes, the last two batters served as something of a microcosm for his recent performances. He had Manzella at 2-2 but then had to throw five more pitches — four fouls and a called ball — before the weak-hitting Astros’ short stop came through. During the AB, the pitches weren’t bad, but Hughes couldn’t locate his out-pitch. Manzella battled against the fastball and fouled off a curve. The home run by Cash, on the other hand, was off an 88-mph cutter that had too much of the plate.

With the book closed on yesterday’s outing, Hughes stands at an impressive 9-1 with a 3.11 ERA, a 3.69 xFIP, a K/9 of 8.84 and a BB/9 of 2.63. Every single one of those numbers is better than Hughes’ career averages, and as a 23-year-old, he’s showing us why he’s constantly been regarded as one of the game’s top young pitchers. But complacency can come at a price, and Hughes needs to be a few adjustments. Let’s break it down.

Over his first six starts of the season, Hughes went 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA. With a one-hit, 7.1-inning performance weighing heavily on the numbers, opponents hit .165/.243/.203 vs. Hughes as the righty struck out 39 hitters in 39 innings and walked 14. Tellingly, he gave up just one long ball. Over his next six starts, Hughes went 4-1 but with a 4.95 ERA. His strike out and walk rates — 35 K and 8 BB in 36.1 innings — are where they should be, but he has allowed four home runs over this span. Opponents have hit .277/.312/.419 against Hughes.

So what’s going on here? First, we have to address the variances in Hughes’ BABIP. As the second chart on this page shows, Hughes has seen his individual game BABIP trend constantly upward. At the same time, opponents have been hitting more fly balls and fewer ground balls off Hughes than they were at the start of the season. As such, a few more of those balls have left the park, and the ERA has ticked upward.

But BABIP and its cousin, while convenient scapegoats, aren’t the only culprits. Hughes has been getting hit because teams have been picking up his pitch selections. He’s had trouble throwing the curveball for strikes — only seven of the 18 he threw Sunday were strikes and all were called. He threw 22 cutters and no change-ups, by now a routine performance for Phil. By the time Cash teed off on a cutter, the Astros had gotten a good, long look at Hughes’ weaker pitch.

As the season has gone, Hughes has been a revelation. His peripherals are fantastic; his fastball electric; his curveball devastating. He’s pitching himself toward a spot on the All Star Game and justifying the Yanks’ faith in him over the last few years. But he’s still a work in progress. He still needs a change-up he can use as an out-pitch when hitters aren’t missing the fastball. He still needs to improve his pitch selection.

If the Yanks keep the rotation as is, he’ll face the Mets — a team against which he struggled in May — this weekend, and that could be a test for Hughes, making his last starts before he turns 24. But at that age and under the Bronx glare, every start is a test.

Jesus! Brackman & Heathcott!
Regression and Maintenance: The story of Gardner and Cervelli
  • Frittoman626

    Phil needs to start using his Curve and Change-Up more, when he falls in love with a Cutter and Fastball, he really gets into trouble or he ends up throwing more pitches per AB, and your not going to get away with throwing a 91-94 MPH fastball in this league alot, guys adjust, but besides that he has done a good job, anyways I think he will win 14-20 games and K from 150-above batters if there is a little innings limit

    • Doug

      “Phil needs to start using his ….Change-Up more”

      not “more”, “some”

  • YankeesJunkie

    Hughes is 23 and will go through these growing pains. However, I agree that Hughes needs to throw more changes and curves for strikes, but he will get get better as the season goes along, or at least more experienced.

  • http://riveravenueblues Jethro

    Prior to the Manzella single and Cash homer, and with 2 outs, Curtis Granderson misplayed a routine fly ball, which was ruled a double. In this column it was called a valiant effort. The effort may have been valiant, but the execution of the play was poor. A replay clearly shows just how poorly Granderson was on this play.

  • larry

    Right about that 2-2 pitch,he was right walking off the mound.
    Memo to Tex.It didnt work for Giambi.I dont want to hear about that your swing isnt tailored for the opposite field.You are killing us.

    • Pete

      if we’re not dying, tex isn’t killing us

  • gary frank taylor bill

    When using the semi-colon, each part of the sentence separated by said semi-colon must be a complete sentence on its own. Thus instead of:

    “His peripherals are fantastic; his fastball electric; his curveball devastating.”

    you would use:

    His peripherals are fantastic; his fastball is electric; his curveball is devastating.


    /annoying grammar guy’d

    • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

      The author’s e-mail as well as the “submit a tip” section are more appropriate for this.

      /annoying procedures guy’d

      • Jammy Jammers

        Don’t criticize him. It’s a small sample size.

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

      If you’re going to be an utterly annoying grammar guy and piss the shit out of us, the least you could do is be right in your obnoxious lectures. Semi-colons can also be used to separate items in a list when either the list items have commas in them or commas would be make the sentence unwieldy. Your way adds too many words. Try this lesson, and stop leaving annoying and incorrect grammar comments. If you have a complaint with our writing style, feel free to contact us, but as per the guidelines, the comments aren’t the forum for that.

      /annoyed site-owner guy’d

  • http://yanksdraftsandprospects.blogspot.com/ Jake H

    I think the rain played a huge role in that inning. Granderson couldn’t go all out because of the rain. Also the ball is wet and it’s harder to get a good grip that might have been part of the problem. I do think he needs to use his change up. I don’t think there is a problem throwing it 5-7 times a game. Also the curve needs to be busted out around 20 times or so.

  • Betsy

    I don’t get how Phil is complacent because he’s struggling; I haven’t seen or heard any indication that Phil isn’t working hard and that he’s satisfied with where he’s at. He wasn’t happy with his performance in Baltimore and he wasn’t happy with his performance against Houston; doesn’t sound like he’s complacent at all. If he is, then CC has been all year or AJ has been recently.

    • Pete

      I don’t think the implication of complacency is in reference to his work ethic. It’s that his game-plan doesn’t appear to have evolved over the course of the season. In the beginning, Hughes was dominating while throwing 85% fastballs and cutters. He hasn’t been dominating in over a month, though, but he’s still throwing 85% fastballs and cutters, which is clearly too high a ratio.

      Complacency is often used as a synonym for laziness, but that isn’t what it means, and it isn’t how Ben meant it. Complacency is a state of content with things as they are currently configured. Based on the fact that he hasn’t changed up (pun intended) his game plan, it appears that Hughes has grown complacent about it.

      At least, that’s how I read it. I certainly didn’t see any implication of laziness.

      • Betsy

        Pete, you’re probably right, but I think Phil is using his curve more. He didn’t have a good one on Sunday, so there was no point in him using it that day. I’m puzzled at the lack of use of the change-up; I know it’s his fourth pitch, but since he felt good about it at the end of ST, he should have used it more at the beginning of the season. Now that he’s not used it, he’s lost most of the feel for it. I do think it will help to have a veteran behind the plate in Posada; Cervelli’s a good catcher, but I prefer a veteran to catch a youngster. Possibly with Jorge back, Phil will start mixing it up more.

        That said, it’s unfair to expect Phil to dominate all the time or even a majority of the time; he’s still just 23 years old. He’s really only had a couple of bad games and he’s shown the ability to win without his best stuff – that’s a fantastic development. He’s just struggling a bit now, but every pitcher goes through that.

        I don’t think every game is necessarily a test for Phil, either. He’s going to start facing teams multiple times now and yes, he needs to adjust, but mostly games are just games. I don’t think he needs to be put under the microscrope after each one.

  • nsalem

    It was the best of Phil’s It was the worst of Phil’s

  • Badabling

    Zero curves swung at and missed last start, better yet, zero swung at period? The hitters are only swinging at fastball/cutter and are laying off the soft stuff, if Hughesy throws 10 changes for strikes per game and makes the opposing team remove their bats from their shoulders on the hook imagine those results. Now I understand this is much easier said than done. My point, Hughes is still very young, I remember watching his first start live at old YS and the Jays smacked him around, that seems like such a long time ago, and he’s only 23 going on 24, if this kid can stay healthy and continue to improve, he’s going to be fun to watch and painful for the opposing team to face. Well done, so far Hughes, well done!