There has been a much discussion around Phil Hughes and his lack of secondary pitches this year. Sure enough, he has primarily relied on the fastball and cutter, rarely broken out the curve, and the changeup we read about all winter is seemingly non-existent. There’s certainly some concern here as he starts to see teams for the second, third and fourth times this year, but if he can get by without mixing his pitches too much, should he?
We all remember Hughes’ start against the Red Sox where he couldn’t put anyone away and the Sox were fouling off pitches left and right. It was concerning, and was prefaced by a post that was questioning how Hughes would do the second time around. The post turned out to be spot on for that appearance. While that start seems to stick out amongst a ton of great starts, I think we as fans are coming back to that start a little too often. I have read and heard a bunch of people talking about Hughes’ lack of mixing his pitches and that Sox start is being used as an example. He certainly struggled that night without being able to put batters away, but what do the stats tell us about Hughes’ ability so far to get people to swing and miss?
In researching this, I came across some pretty interesting info, but Hughes certainly isn’t struggling with foul balls and getting batters to swing and miss. He is inducing swinging strikes right up there with the best pitchers in the game (a group he may be on the way to joining). So far Hughes has managed to get swings and misses on 9% of his total pitches. Without context that’s somewhat meaningless, but let’s take a look at how some other pitchers are doing.
In the AL, Verlander and Burnett possess some of the most lethal, swing and miss stuff in baseball, and yet Hughes is getting more swinging strikes than them. He’s also ahead of Price, and just below Boston’s duo of Lester and Buchholz. John Lackey, (not to be confused as having great stuff or being a great pitcher despite being paid like one) has garnered swings and misses on just 6% of his pitches this year. Clearly the guys in the NL have an advantage in that they are facing weaker lineups, but Hughes’ is getting as many swing and misses as Jimenez, who is off to a historic start, and is just behind Halladay and Wainwright.
I think a lot of the concern with Hughes’ pitch usage so far stems mainly from that Red Sox game, and sure enough that was his worst game all year in terms of swings and misses with just 5. We, as people, do a great job of remembering the outliers, not the norm. Is there a chance that the Yankees and Hughes have decided to try to get by early in the season on a limited repertoire, only to unleash everything else as the season goes along? It’s pretty far fetched, but if he’s having so much success with primarily two pitches, what’s the use of using the curveball and change? The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want to lose the feel for those pitches, though maybe he is focusing on those pitches in his side sessions. Again, I don’t think that was the plan, but he may be comfortable enough, and having enough success, that it’s not worth throwing the kitchen sink at the Detroit Tigers in a game in May. I don’t think Hughes will continue to have the same success going forward without mixing in more curves and changes, but in the meantime, I don’t mind the pitch selection. As soon as he starts getting hit (and that could mean within a game), they need to switch it up ASAP. He’s not always going to have his best fastball, in terms of location or velocity, and while he hasn’t had major struggles yet, when the time comes, Hughes and the Yankees will need to respond.
For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.