It seems we all have our pet theories on why Phil Hughes lost velocity on his fastball. But as outsiders, our knowledge ends there. Few of us have connections to people who know the facts of the matter, and without the facts we cannot proceed beyond speculation. Newspaper writers are degrees closer to the situation, in that they know people within the organization that possess the facts, or some of the facts. But that doesn’t mean it always adds up.
Joel Sherman dropped a curious tidbit on his Hardball blog yesterday. Apparently Hughes showed up to camp overweight, but the media was so focused on Joba’s gut that they overlooked, to borrow a term from Sherman, the doughy Hughes. The team knew, and sent him to what they call “The Fat Farm,” which conjures all sorts of images. The problem, according to Sherman’s source, was that Hughes needs that extra bulk to be effective, and that his trips to The Fat Farm cause him to lose too much weight. Hence, lost velocity.
It’s an odd theory, sure, and it doesn’t sound much different than many of the pet theories I’ve heard during the past few weeks. Brian Cashman scoffed at the notion, which is to be expected. But he also offered up that Hughes was “just a little out of shape.” That’s a bit more damning than “lost too much weight,” which lends it a little more credibility. Then again, “in shape” is such an ambiguous term that I really have no idea what someone means when they say “just a little out of shape.” If the definition of in shape varies from person to person, the degrees of shape vary even more.
Anyway, Sherman then dropped a line that he’s dropped before, and so far as I can tell he’s the only one who has dropped it: “there has been worry about [Hughes’s] work ethic in the past.” I did a quick search for this, and the only negative mention I found was from Sherman himself, in a column from December, 2007. In discussing a potential Johan Santana trade, Sherman cut to the chase: “Hughes is the surest thing, and he has a questionable work ethic and more of an injury history at 21 than Santana at 28.” Through a few queries and pages of results, I didn’t find any other first-hand mentions of Hughes having a poor or questionable work ethic.
(Admittedly, that might be because most newspaper sites rank lowly in Google results, because they do things like move article URLs after a period of time. Let me tell you that one of the most annoying things is trying to Google a story from a few years ago, finding a link on a blog, and then getting an article not found message on the newspaper’s website. If they kept the articles in the same place all the time, maybe I’d have found the newspaper article itself in the search results and not the blog linking to it. End rant.)
What turned up were two mentions of Hughes having a strong work ethic. In a column from early spring training 2008, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch wrote a short feature on Hughes, in which Joe Girardi praised his work ethic. “He’s in great shape,” said Girardi. One year later John Harper wrote that, “The Yankees don’t have issues with Hughes’s work ethic, but privately they worry they haven’t seen the same dominating stuff he showed a couple of years ago.” Sherman’s statement did come first, so perhaps Hughes had slacked off at one point in the past. But he clearly had righted that by early 2008.
(And, if I remember correctly, though I can’t find it, there was some attribution to Hughes’s poor start in 2008 to his showing up to camp lighter than normal.)
There is definitely disappointment in Hughes. It’s pretty clear that he showed up to camp out of shape — why would Cashman say that if it weren’t true? — in a year when the Yankees really needed him. But beyond that we just have pet theories. Maybe one of them is right. Maybe he’s undertrained, or overtrained, or improperly trained. Maybe he needs to be heavier in order to pitch effectively. Maybe he just needs to be in proper physical shape. Whatever it is, he and the Yankees have put together a plan to help him recover, and things appear to be going well. He threw 30 pitches in the bullpen on Wednesday, and will throw another today. When he comes back is anyone’s guess. I’m just a little disappointed it got to this point in the first place.