He might not have finished with the sexiest numbers, but Phil Hughes had quite an eventful 2010. In his first full season as a starter he made his first All-Star team and started his first playoff game. He also crossed his personal innings ceiling. In 2006 he threw 146 innings, but barely topped 100 in the following three seasons. In 2010 he threw 176, plus another 15.2 in the postseason. But it wasn’t all positive. Hughes did struggle at times, especially with the home run. It makes it difficult to project him going forward.
Thankfully for him, the home run problem is a new development. It might not even be a big concern going forward. For starters, seven of his 25 homers came against the Blue Jays, and six of those came in just two games. Furthermore, 12 of those 25 game during an eight game stretch during which Hughes struggled mightily. It’s the kind of stretch that many pitchers his age experience.
Before: 11 GS, 69.2 IP, 56 H, 21 R, 21 ER, 20 BB, 68 K, 4 HR
During: 8 GS, 47.2 IP, 53 H, 33 R, 32 ER, 14 BB, 34 K, 12 HR
After: 10 GS, 59 IP, 53 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 24 BB, 44 K, 9 HR
While he did recover a bit after the homer barrage, he still did struggle at times. Is that a concern the Yankees should have going forward? I tend to say no, since he those last 10 starts were innings he hadn’t pitched in four years. But it still has to be a concern that Hughes started off so well and tapered at the end.
This got me wondering where the best pitchers in the majors this season were at age 24. It is, after all, still a young age for a pitcher. Many guys come along slowly, and considering his past injuries and journey through the bullpen, Hughes could certainly rank among them. Here are the top 10 by FIP, and where they were at age 24.
Josh Johnson: Pitched just 87.1 innings because of injury. He had Tommy John surgery and pitched only 15.2 innings in his age 23 season.
Cliff Lee: 3.61 ERA and 4.35 FIP in just 52.1 innings. He wouldn’t be a full-time starter until the next season, during which he had a 5.43 ERA and 4.97 FIP.
Francisco Liriano: After missing his entire age-23 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Liriano pitched well enough in 2008, but managed just 76 innings.
Adam Wainwright: Basically doing the same thing Hughes did at age 23, pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. Hughes actually might have been better at it, too. But all the same, he threw just 75 innings that season before transitioning to the rotation and throwing 202 as a 25-year-old.
Just to note, that’s the top four pitchers, per FIP, this season, and Hughes threw far, far more innings than any of them — the closest was 90 IP away.
Justin Verlander: Absolutely rocked, pitching 201.2 innings to a 3.66 ERA and 3.99 FIP in a super follow-up to his AL Rookie of the Year Award season.
Mat Latos: Yeah, he was only 22 this year.
Roy Halladay: He was actually very good, a 3.16 ERA and 2.34 FIP. But he pitched only 105.1 innings, because he was so bad in his age-23 season that Toronto had to send him all the way down to the bottom of the minors to start over.
Yovani Gallardo: 2010 was his age-24 season, and he managed just nine more innings than Hughes. He was pretty good, though, a 3.84 ERA and 3.02 FIP.
Felix Hernandez: He was also 24 in 2010. We need not make the comparison.
Jered Weaver: The Angels passed on Hughes in the 2004 draft in order to take Weaver. In 2007, his age-24 season, Weaver threw 161 innings and had a 3.91 ERA and 4.06 FIP. Those are pretty Hughes-like numbers.
If you want to add in some ERA leaders who were not FIP leaders:
Clay Buchholz: The Red Sox kept Buchholz in the minors in 2009. In the majors he threw 92 innings to a 4.21 ERA and 4.69 FIP. So Hughes threw more and was better.
David Price: Another age-24 pitcher in 2010. He was considerably better than Hughes.
Roy Oswalt: He was a stand-out 24-year-old.
Tim Hudson: Hudson pitched 202.1 innings in his age-24 season, but managed a Hughes-like 4.14 ERA and 4.33 FIP.
Ubaldo Jimenez: 198.2 IP, 3.99 ERA, 3.83 FIP.
There were plenty of pitchers who were already stars at age-24, but there were plenty who didn’t even spend a full season on the major league roster, or, in Wainwright’s case, were in the bullpen. Phil Hughes’s season might not have blown us away, but his 2010 performance certainly bodes well for his future.