What Went Wrong: Phil Hughes

Yankees ties to the World Series
The Five Longest Yankees Homers of 2011

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The 2010 season was something of a breakout for Phil Hughes. The right-hander stayed healthy all year and performed just a touch better than league average in terms of ERA (4.19), FIP (4.25), and xFIP (4.13) across 176.1 IP, and the Yankees counted on him to solidify a patchwork rotation coming out of Spring Training a few months ago. The problem was that his velocity had vanished in March, and it never did pick up as the team expected it would after a few starts.

Miguel Cabrera and the rest of the Tigers smacked Hughes around for five runs in four innings in his first start of the season, in what would eventually become the Yankees first loss of 2011. The Red Sox battered him for six runs in two innings five days later, and through two starts, Phil had generated just three swings and misses out of 137 pitches. He had walked four and struck out just one, and the fastball was sitting in the danger zone of 87-88 mph.

The Yankees finally pulled the plug after Hughes’ third start, in which the Orioles hung five runs on him in 4.1 IP. They put him on the disabled list with what was termed a “dead arm” after originally planning to send him to the minors, and they starting pumping him with anti-inflammatories. “After 30 pitches, there was nothing there,” said Hughes. “I felt like a reliever who had thrown four straight days. Something had to be done. My velocity’s just not there. My arm feels dead. This will able me to build arm strength and get this right.”

The plan was to put Hughes on a throwing program after a few days of rest, and things went well at first. He was ready to start a minor league rehab assignment about two weeks after his start against the Orioles, but the team cut short a bullpen session after just a dozen pitches and called it a “setback.” Hughes was sent for an MRI the next day, and after some concerns about low-level thoracic outlet syndrome, it was announced that he’d miss another six-to-eight weeks with shoulder inflammation that was bad enough to require a cortisone shot. While all that was going on, a report came out that Hughes showed up to camp out of shape, leading to speculation about how it may have contributed to his arm troubles.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

More rest and more rehab followed. The Yankees put their right-hander on a Spring Training-esque throwing program, which stretched him out over an extended period of time. A simulated inning soon followed, and then a few more after that. After throwing 49 pitches in one of those simulated games, Hughes was deemed ready for a minor league rehab assignment. He made a total of three rehab starts, striking out eight and holding his velocity deep into the game the final time out. Ready to return to the rotation, the team made the decision to demote Ivan Nova to Triple-A in favor of Hughes in early-July.

The first start back was okay at best; Phil allowed two runs in five innings against the Indians, striking out two and getting just a pair of swings and misses out of 87 pitches. He looked better in his next start (two runs in six innings against the Jays) eleven days later (with the All-Star break in between), then got completely shellacked by the punchless Athletics next time out (seven runs in 4.1 IP). Hughes’ velocity had returned to the 91-92 range, and he rattled off four straight quality starts after that (five runs in 25.2 IP), but Oakland again hit him around in late-August (six runs in 2.2 IP) and the Red Sox did the same a few days later (six runs in 5.2 IP).

Hughes started September with a pair of strong starts against the Orioles and Mariners (three runs in 12 IP), but back inflammation flared up and kept him out of action for two weeks (rain contributed to that a bit as well). The Yankees brought him back strictly as a reliever and kept him in that role through the postseason. In four relief outings at the end of September and in the ALDS, Phil did not allow a run in five innings (three hits, three walks, six strikeouts). As expected, his velocity jumped into the 94-95 range in relief, and he generated eleven swings and misses with 90 pitches.

All told, Hughes pitched to 5.79 ERA with a 4.58 FIP in 74.2 IP in 2011. Even if you disregard his first three starts, when he clearly wasn’t right, he still had a 4.48 ERA with a ~3.90 ERA in 64.1 post-DL innings. His strikeout and swing and miss rates dipped to 5.67 K/9 and 6.2%, respectively, well-below-average and down considerably from 2010. Was the decline the result of poor conditioning? Poor mechanics? The 80.1 IP jump from 2009 to 2010? All of the above? Something else all together? We all have our theories, but the only thing we know for sure is that Hughes heads into the 2012 season as a giant question mark.

Yankees ties to the World Series
The Five Longest Yankees Homers of 2011
  • Kosmo

    Hughes´ track record tells me he could just be a brittle injury prone athlete. I´m sure he´s going to have to compete for a starting role. It´s not a given. He remains a huge ? mark.

    • Bummed and Rushed

      After how many career innings do we pull the plug on Phil Hughes the Starter? Dude has pitched to 4.90 ERA in almost 400 career innings as a starter.

      It’s time to send the Coach’s Son back to where he belongs – the bullpen.

      • Ted Nelson

        When you have 5 better options is when you send him to the bullpen or AAA.

        The “coaches son” stuff paints you, in my opinion, as an ignorant asshole. Again, that is how I feel when I read those comments. Maybe other feel differently.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          No, he is. Has been since he got here about five handles and eight months ago.

        • Kosmo

          At times you are a very nasty human being ! Calling someone “an ignorant A“ is an indictment of who you truly are.
          Why use cuss words ?? Grow up !

          • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

            Most of us agree with him.

          • Ted Nelson

            I made it pretty clear that was my impression of his comment and not necessarily everyone else’s. If it’s not yours fine.

            The asshole comment is based on a pattern of posts from the same individual in which that individual comes across as an asshole. If you’re offended by that word, I don’t really care. I could use a synonym, but that’s the word I chose to express myself. Who cares if society has arbitrarily labeled that word a “curse” and not others?

            • aluis


              /Ted Nelsoned

      • CP

        Roy Halladay in his first 336.1 IP: 4.95 ERA
        Cliff Lee in his first 741.2 IP: 4.64 ERA

        • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

          But whereas they were just growing and adapting and learning, Hughes has apparently had his fair share of opportunities, no injuries, no extenuating circumstances, and is incapable of learning.


          • http://twitter.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

            No injuries? no Extenuating circumstances? Have you been watching Yankees baseball since 2007?

            • Ted Nelson

              I believe it was sarcasm

              • http://twitter.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

                reply fail -1 for me

        • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

          As a fan of Hughes, that actually made my day a little better.

        • Gonzo

          Just a guy pointing out the facts, but Halladay didn’t just spontaneously become a better pitcher. It’s widely known that he was a hotshot pitcher that kind of failed and had to re-work his mechanics and approach in the minors.

          It wasn’t until he had a new 3/4’s arm slot and different approach did he become Roy “Freaking” Halladay.

          Unless Hughes does something similar can we put to bed the Halladay = Hughes bit. They are both very similar that early in their career they were both hotshot pitchers (both regarded highly by BA rankings), had somewhat of a straight fastball, and both carried no-hitters late in a game early in their career.

          However, until Hughes makes a change like Halladay did, can we put the comp to bed?

          /Mel Queen ain’t walking through those doors. #RIP

          • Ted Nelson

            “Unless Hughes does something similar can we put to bed the Halladay = Hughes bit.”

            That’s not the bit. The bit is just that Hughes’ career is not dead at 25. He *could* improve. That doesn’t mean he will.

            “It’s widely known that he was a hotshot pitcher that kind of failed and had to re-work his mechanics and approach”

            You know who that describes to a t? Hughes. Will he pull it off? Who knows? Is that the situation he’s in? Yes.

            • Gonzo

              I am not aware of Hughes reworking his mechanics. I am also not aware of plans to do so either. Let me know if he has or there are plans.

              Halladay was able to work on his new mechanics in the minors. Something that Hughes has not done yet.

              I am well aware that his career is not dead at 25. However, I have pointed out what made Halladay different than other pitchers like James Baldwin, Alan Benes, Matt Clement, Kris Benson, etc…

              • Gonzo

                To clarify, I am not saying Hughes’ career is dead. That’s something that you said, not me. I am not saying he can’t do what Halladay did either. I am saying that there are clear marked differences between to the two at this point in their career (unless Hughes has reworked his mechanics and worked on them in the minors, that I am not aware of).

                That is, Halladay changed his mechanics in his year 24 season. Hughes just finished his year 25 season. That’s a marked difference in my eyes so far. It’s also a factual one. That is, if Hughes has worked changed his mechanics which I am not aware of at the moment.

                • Gonzo

                  That is, unless Hughes has worked changed his mechanics which I am not aware of at the moment.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        “After how many career innings do we pull the plug on Phil Hughes the Starter?”

        He’s been given a number of chances even with everything that has happened I doubt they are going to pull the plug anytime soon.

  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Phil Phuckin’ Hughes

    I still have Phaith in Phil! I know he can do it! He’s gotta come into camp in better shape instead of being Phat! C’mon Phil, have a bounce-back 2012!

    • Adam B

      honestly I cannot remember what his stuff looked like before he got hurt in his 1st stint but Hughes came into this league vastly overrated.

      He has a good fastball but he does not sit comfortably at 94 like the scouting reports said.

      his curve aint bad, but it is not the knockout deadly strikeout weapon like the scouting reports said.

      According to the scouting reports Phil Hughes actually threw a changeup…

      and even more importantly that everything I stated above, Hughes was supposed to have better command than he has shown… Dude makes too many mistakes over the plate and gets mashed as a result. I don’t know if it was crappy scouting or if the injuries are just that severe…

      • Ted Nelson

        You don’t remember what he looked like, but you know he was overrated? How does that work?

      • Bryan

        Yankees have made more changes to Hughes’ mechanics than a surgeon to Joan Rivers’ face.

        I remember people griping about Hughes’ over the top mechanics in 2008 in order to get that 12 – 6 break on the curve, causing a drop in velocity.

        Then the shift to the knuckle curve.

        Then the drop in arm slot which led to more velocity.

        The dude has also had injury after injury: hamstring, ankle, ribs, shoulder, even concerns over his eyesight.

        I still have faith in Hughes. We’ve got to, cause there’s no way we resign CC AND sign CJ or Darvish. No way our payroll goes up anymore to accomodate both.

        • Ted Nelson

          “cause there’s no way we resign CC AND sign CJ or Darvish. No way our payroll goes up anymore to accomodate both.”

          I don’t know if they will or will not do any of the above, but the payroll would not have to go up by much. Jorge’s $13 mill comes off the books, which would probably wipe out Yu’s salary right there and over half of CJ’s. They were reportedly willing to sign Lee last off-season, so I’m not sure why you would assume the Yankees’ are so tight with their payroll.

  • jon

    hughes hasnt been right since the all star break last year


    Phil needs to get in shape,and improve his secondary pitches (to get hitters off of his FB). If he does that I believe he’ll bounce back.
    He knows 2012 will be his last real shot at starting for the NYY. I’m sure he’ll give it all he’s got. I expect a good year from Phil in 2012.

  • Scout

    If he is with the team, he should be considered nothing more than one of a number of competitors for the back of the rotation. I am sure the Yankees will bring back Garcia or bring in another veteran starter for the same role, and youngsters such as Warren may get a shot, too. It would not surprise me to see Hughes end up in the bullpen permanently, like Joba, as th eroganization makes room for the next wave of would-be saviors. If I were Hughes, then, I would become obsessed this off-season with my physical conditioning.

    • Ted Nelson

      “the next wave of would-be saviors”

      Why paint them this way, instead of simply as prospects like every other team brings up?

      • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

        For real. It’s not like the Yankees need “saviors” as if we were the O’s/Pirates/Royals et al.

  • whocarestom

    I think/hope Hughes will turn it around next year. We’d actually have a decent 1-2-3 with C.C., Hughes, and Nova.

  • craig

    Just throwing around idea here, but would Hughes make sense as Mo’s replacement? He has good control, misses bats (out of the pen at least) and has shown the ability to handle pressure situations. Obviously more value as a 200 inning starter, but if he cannot do it physically or due to bad performance, maybe this puts him in a good spot.

    I am not done with Phil yet, this was just a thought, as Mo can’t go on forever (I cry a little as I type this).

    • Ted Nelson

      If he doesn’t last in the rotation and can earn it, sure. At this point, though, I would say he has to prove he can be a decent reliever before jumping ahead of D-Rob, Joba, Soriano… even Wade, Logan, and Noesi. The way he pitched in 2011, I don’t see his stuff “playing up” particularly in the pen.

      • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

        Yes a short sample size (and I know how much you particularly love those)

        But he looked legit out of the bullpen in the playoffs. He looked like the kid we hadn’t seen since early 2010/late 2009.

        • Ted Nelson

          He got the job done, but that delivery was still painful to watch… Bullpen might be the solution ultimately, but a real motion would be ideal to me.

  • Bummed and Rushed

    “We all have our theories, but the only thing we know for sure is that Hughes heads into the 2012 season as a giant question mark.”

    There’s no question any more. He can’t stay healthy and his stuff is diminished. He’s a reliever.

    Save the Big Three!

    Tommy John Reliever
    NL “Ace”


    • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

      “There’s no question any more. He can’t stay healthy and his stuff is diminished. He’s a reliever.”

      Nope. There’s still a question, sorry.

  • Johnny O


    Except for Manny Banuelos.

    • Bummed and Rushed

      True dat. At least the Yankees got 300 innings from Bartolo Garcia this year. Who needs pitching prospects!?

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        So let’s get this straight … the Yankees were wrong with Joba, Kennedy, and Hughes, and your solution was to put Banuelos in the rotation out of Spring Training?

        • Dave B

          Word. See post on Halladay/Lee. Too soon to give up on Phil as a starter.

          • Jose M. Vazquez..

            Agree on that. The Yankees have a long history of giving up too soon on young pitchers: Drabek, Tewksbury, Leiter, and more recently, Kennedy. Of course he brought us Grandy. I say Hughes will make a comeback and be good thereafter. Just be patient.

  • UncleArgyle

    The lack of a secondary pitch and the fact that he can’t hold his velocity over 7 innings makes it clear to me that Hughes is a relief pitcher. Put him in the bullpen full time where he’s clearly an asset to the team.

    • Ted Nelson

      Who is starting?

      • UncleArgyle

        Someone better suited to starting pitching

        • Ted Nelson

          Who is that someone? Every team wishes it had 5 aces, but not every team does. Sometimes if you don’t have 5 better starters you have to go with the best you’ve got and hope they improve. Maybe that will be Hughes, maybe not.

          At the same time, Hughes is still young enough that giving up may be premature anyway. Why make this decision before giving Hughes a chance to earn it this off-season and in spring training?

          • UncleArgyle

            I don’t “give Hughes a chance” to start because what I’ve seen of him (which is his entire ML career) he doesn’t have the physical ability to start. His fastball losses velocity around the 50 pitch mark.. He lacks any sort of reliable secondary pitch despite that fact that the Yankees have tried to teach him one since they drafted him. Conversely, in relief his fastball plays up to 94-96 and becomes a swing and miss pitch. I personally feel his skill set translates to relief much better and the sample size has been big enough to make that determination.

            • The Big City of Dreams

              I personally feel his skill set translates to relief much better and the sample size has been big enough to make that determination.


              So you don’t buy into the whole 2nd full yr starter thing?

              • UncleArgyle

                I don’t. I can’t see him being able to hold his fastball velocity for 100 pitches. And if your throwing 88 mph fastballs in the 5th with no useful secondary pitches, and a lack of pinpoint control….well lets just say its probably not going to be pretty.

                • The Big City of Dreams

                  True his velocity does seem to dip the deeper he goes into games. Maybe it’s a conditioning issue or maybe he just can’t hold up due to the injuries.

            • Ted Nelson

              “despite that fact that the Yankees have tried to teach him one since they drafted him.”

              That’s incorrect. When they drafted him he already had a knock-out curve… in fact, that’s a big reason why they drafted him.

              He’s gotten worse, and the question is why? You are acting like recent performance is his entire career. It’s not.

          • Cris Pengiucci

            Every team wishes it had 5 aces, but not every team does.

            Unless you’re the Red Sox. Then you have 8.


  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    The Fried Chicken and Beer Diet is not a sound work-out method.

    • Yank The Frank

      It’s always worked out well for me…


      • UncleArgyle

        Don’t forget John Lackey

        • CP

          Didn’t work too well for him, though.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      We’re going to drive the chicken and beer jokes to the ground, aren’t we?

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        They’re the new binder jokes.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

    I’m calling shanaigans on this entire post. No one puts Hughes in a corner, I mean nobody!

  • Buck

    Fat Phil needs to push away from the video games and hit the treadmill this winter.

  • craig s

    Phil Hughes 2009: lights out reliever, 94 mph fb, hammer curve

    Phil Hughes first half 2010: Excellent starting stats, although WL record inflated by yankee run support

    Phil Hughes second half 2010: out of gas, mediocre, only yankee offense keeps him afloat most of his starts

    Hughes 2011: Ineffective

    Isn’t it obvious that Hughes is meant to be a reliever at this point? Ironic that after all the debate about Joba, Hughes and I Kennedy, it’s Kennedy who’s the blue chip starter and the other two are big question marks ……

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Joba had TJ, his arm didn’t fall off. He wasn’t a question mark before the injury, and is very unlikely to be one after.

      • CP

        Just wait until Joba blows a game in his first game back after TJS and everyone declares his career over.

  • S

    I’m not sure how many of you remember, but around the start of the season there was a story circulating about how Phil had to have a cyst removed from his shoulder during the 2010-2011 offseason. I think that may have been the reason for the velocity loss and the shoulder inflammation. I think that as he gets further away, and with a full offseason to get back in shape, he’ll be back to what we saw in 2010.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      Hope you’re right.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Really? I don’t remember this at all. I would think that would be a pretty big deal.

      • S

        I read it on lohud, but the original story was from Pedro Gomez of ESPN. Cash has apparently denied it being true but Gomez; who had interviewed Rothschild and Phil; only found out about the cyst and procedure when they told him (Gomez)about it.

  • FIPster Doofus

    Hughes’ stuff looked great in the ALDS. Whether that was because he came out of the bullpen, we’ll see, but it was an encouraging way for him to end the season. If Phil can just be a league-average starter, it’ll be a big boost.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      If Phil can just be a league-average starter, it’ll be a big boost.

      This. It is quite possible that 2011 was a product of the “Verducci Effect” from the additional workload of 2010, with the addition of not enough focus on coditioning during the off-season. I am quite hopeful that Phil will come back and have a decent 2012 as a starter. He’s still young and there’s still a possibility (fairly strong, I would think) that he can be a league-average starter next year and progress form there.

    • David, Jr.

      “If Phil can just be a league-average starter, it’ll be a big boost.”

      It would be of great value to the team if he can do that, and there is no reason that he shouldn’t be able to do it. They need to tell him to prepare for next year as a starter, period, end of story. They can always make a different decision if it doesn’t work. All he needs is something to keep them off balance, meaning a good changeup, not just a waste change. If he can do that, everything plays up, similar to Ian Kennedy this year.

  • E-ROC

    I think the spike in innings had a lot to do with Hughes ineffectiveness. I don’t think he recovered from that season. I think Hughes will be fine next year.

  • ADam

    What I could never understand is why the Yanks didn’t handle this correctly in Spring training. Late-ish in spring training when he couldn’t hit 90 on the gun, why not immediately send him for test? find out that he had the low thoratic issue then shut him down? An not have him further damage his arm (or possibly damage)

    Furthermore when he told the yankees that his arm was tired, I’m pretty sure they immediately put him on a throwing program(Maybe after a few days off like mike said) instead of shutting him down.

    The yanks seem to have a hard time with two things with young pitchers. 1. Determining the severity of their injuries 2. Handling them when they are injured.

    Its a little scary to think about when you have all the young guys potentially coming up, hopefully they have learned from Phil and Joba and earn how to somehow get out of their own way when dealing with young arms

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Its a little scary to think about when you have all the young guys potentially coming up,


      Based on their track record…say a pray from the B’s

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    My thoughts are Phil Hughes needs to come to camp in different shape. He was out of shape and not prepared to compete for a spot. He won the spot based on 2010. I hope a lesson learned. My other thought is 92-93 is fine but his secondary pitches need refinement. He should pitch in winter ball. Third, Phil may eventually end up in the bullpen. He has a different confidence level with bullpen assignments.

  • ItsATarp

    Hughes was terrible the second half of last year. His first half of 2010 was more a fluke considering his past displays of “dominance”.

  • Anthony Murillo

    I’ve lost faith in Hughes

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

    Rooting against Phil Phucking Hughes is rooting against America, damnit.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Phil Phuckin’ Hughes

      Phuck yeah!

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Steve S.

    FWIW, I spoke to Gene Michael on a radio show a month ago and asked him about Hughes, and his answer was revealing:


    Finally, I want to pass along a little tidbit I think you folks might be interested in from earlier this evening. I spoke to Yankee super scout Gene Michael (on Ed Randall’s WFAN show) and we had the following exchange on Phil Hughes.

    Steve: “I wanted to ask you for a quick scouting report on Phil Hughes. It seems to me that his biggest problem is he’s just too predictable, and he’s still trying to miss bats the way he did in the minors. That he would be better off if he would just pitch more, change speeds and let the strikeouts happen..”

    Gene Michael: “That’s a good point, but Phil is better when he does his work. And his stuff was better when he pitched out of the bullpen. Not just the fastball, if you look at the cutter, it was much better when he worked out of the bullpen.”

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Good stuff Steve. I always like hearing Gene give his opinion on guys from the system. I wish we could hear him more.

  • hawaii dave

    What first worried me about Hughs was in the 2nd half of 2010, when he began missing the catchers target glove by 2 and 3 feet on regular basis. Jorge would be targeting low and away and the ball would be up and in, or vice versa. That really bad location continued this season but no one commented about it I suppose, due to his lack of velocity. I’m no expert on inflammation, but I think Phil eats too well for a guy who is out of breath by the 2nd or 3rd inning. He visibly was huffing and puffing on the mound by the 10th pitch, usually after hitting 94 in the 1st. His face has increased in size and he looks flabby. I think he is out of shape. I think he tires on the mound too soon for a young pro athlete. Tired pitchers lose mph on the fastball, and lose location cause they lose the fluid motion trying to throw harder. I have mentioned this on the Yankee blog as far back as April and periodically since on various sites. Only now am I reading about “rumors” that he came to spring training out of shape. You think?