Scouting Phil Hughes

Rivera expects to be ready for Spring Training after surgery...
Report: Yankees offered Nakajima $1M

When long-heralded prospects make it to the major leagues, the exciting scouting reports on them tend to stick around long past their expiration dates. We hear about potential based on a perception of the player that is no longer reasonable or based on existing attributes. We cling to those old scouting reports, hoping that the player will eventually reach the level of performance that they promised, not willing to accept that circumstance and lack of development have altered the player’s ceiling.

Phil Hughes provides a good example of this phenomenon. While many of us have moved on and have lowered their expectations when it comes to Phil, we still cling to him as a guy who has long had potential and could eventually capitalize on it. However, his myriad injuries and the stunted development associated with them have altered Hughes such that the previous scouting reports no longer apply. He was a guy with a fastball at 91-94 that he had stellar command of, an excellent curveball that he could finish hitters with, and a changeup that always seemed to be on the cusp of being a usable pitch. However, the updated scouting report reads differently:

Hughes, turning 26 in June, has a classic power pitcher’s build, coming in at a solid 6’5″ and a listed 240 pounds. However, he seems to have put on a bit of weight in recent years, and the Yankees sent him to their fat camp last spring to try and shed those extra pounds. The Yankees have long liked his makeup and believe he has the mental ability to be a successful pitcher in this league, but his conditioning is something worth keeping an eye on.

As for his stuff, he is primarily a two pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball and a curveball. While he has used a cutter fairly often in recent years, he seemed to have slowly removed in from his repertoire over the course of 2011, a smart decision considering its ineffectiveness throughout the season. He occasionally mixes in a changeup, but it is not much of a pitch and is unlikely to become a major part of his arsenal.

His fastball sits at 89-92, and is pretty straight. However, he does have very good command of the pitch in the zone, and he uses that ability to draw plenty of foul balls and get ahead in counts. His curveball, once a pitch that he could throw for strikes and use to finish hitters off, has become adequate at best. It was always a bit loopy, but it had a lot of depth and hitters would swing over it. It has lost some of that depth and just tumbles up to hitters, who can usually catch up to it and foul it off or drive it somewhere. He has also struggled to throw it for strikes in recent seasons. Hughes tinkered some with a spike curve last season, but did not see great results and is unlikely to lean on it in the future.

This two pitch combination allows him to get to two strikes by way of his fastball, but once he is there he has nothing to finish hitters off with. He cannot throw the fastball by them, and they are not swinging at the curveball out of the zone. Eventually, Hughes makes a mistake and hitters are ready to pounce.

Outlook: Hughes did have a major jump in innings from 2009 to 2010, so it is possible that some of his 2011 struggles could be attributed to overuse. But unless he recovers some of his velocity, has his command go from good back to great, or recaptures his old curveball, Hughes profiles as a #4 starter or possibly a good reliever. His fastball command is still good enough to keep him in a MLB rotation, but he needs to find another positive attribute in his arsenal to surpass his current back-of-the-rotation ceiling. As he nears his age 26 season, the likelihood that he does that grows ever more slim.

That is my scouting report on Hughes at this point. I’ve discarded the one that marked him as the next Yankees ace, as those expectations simply do not match the skills that Hughes currently brings to the table. I hope to be forced to pull that old one out of the trash, dust it off, and use it once again, but I do not expect that to happen. It is time to stop judging Phil Hughes on what he could have been, and start addressing what he is.

Rivera expects to be ready for Spring Training after surgery...
Report: Yankees offered Nakajima $1M
  • Russ has a last name


  • Steve S.

    This two pitch combination allows him to get to two strikes by way of his fastball, but once he is there he has nothing to finish hitters off with. He cannot throw the fastball by them, and they are not swinging at the curveball out of the zone. Eventually, Hughes makes a mistake and hitters are ready to pounce.

    Outlook: Hughes did have a major jump in innings from 2009 to 2010, so it is possible that some of his 2011 struggles could be attributed to overuse.

    I don’t buy the overuse/innings jump argument. He’s displayed the same trouble finishing hitters off for his entire career, not just in the 2nd half of 2010 or in his disastrous 2011. The only exception was in 2009 when he was in the bullpen, where his stuff was much better than it is as a Starter.

    What’s most disappointing to me about Phil is how predictable he is. We had heard that as a prospect he was a thinking man’s pitcher, setting hitters up, steel trap memory for who hit what and when. At the MLB level, he’s been anything but the dominating virtuoso. He always appears to be trying too hard, compensating for an inability to deal with advanced hitters. Maybe that’s his whole problem, as Don Mattingly said “Trying to live up to being Phil Hughes”. Forcing things is a great way to make your stuff straighten out. IPK was recently interviewed on MLBN and he said he was overthrowing when he struggled with the Yanks, and a tiny mechanical adjustment he picked up by watching Cliff Lee on where he keeps his glove in his windup turned his career around.

    Phil’s in a desperate search of an elusive, effective 3rd pitch that would allow him to go back to missing bats like he did in the minors. Barring that he should focus on changing speeds and keeping the ball on the ground more, which would represent a complete turnaround from his current mindset and GB/FB rates. Needless to say, I’m not optimistic.

    Phil’s future is in the bullpen, at least as long as he’s a member of the Yanks.

    • David K.

      He needs to throw a two seam sinking fastball and/or develop a split finger fastball. I don’t care if he risks injury, I’d rather see a guy with put away stuff. If they move him to the bullpen, then he can just rely on the four seam fastball but, ideally, there also he could use a splitter as a dominant put away pitch. In recent years, the Yankees seem to be discouraging their pitchers from developing splitters. This is a mistake, as the benefits of developing an effective put away pitch far outweight the injury risks.

  • Soriano Is A Liar

    Plenty of teams have 4/5 starters with ERA’s above 4. People are just mad because they expect that the yankees should never have to use an average or below average player.

  • DontChaKnow

    He’s more frustrating to watch than Burnett. He’s gone from an exciting young guy to someone I dread watching. It seems like every batter has a 7 – 10 pitch at bat with him. I hope for the best in 2012, but expect nothing better than the same.

  • Since_77

    He does have a problem finishing off hitters but there is still room for growth. He needs another pitch or he is a middle reliever.

  • Steve S.

    The Yanks as a win-now team certainly have issues in developing pitchers. The biggest problems are allowing a pitcher to take his lumps, the other being the endless pressure to win.

    I’m not sure IPK would have been able to develop here the way he did in AZ, for a variety of reasons. Yet Wang and Nova (who weren’t overly hyped) did just fine. If there’s one thing I’d like the Yanks to do more of, it’s lowering expectations on prospects, who have enough to deal with getting their feet wet in the bigs.

    • Short Porch

      I’m not sure I’d say Wang and Nova did just fine. If any thing they both look like they’ve gotten very lucky on middling peripherals. Nova has the stuff, and the creativity, to perhaps improve. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s gone quickly either.

      Still, I agree with you. When prospects aren’t hyped, the Yankees seem to treat them as they should – cannon fodder that either sticks or blows up in your face.

      • Steve (different one)

        Did Wang get lucky for 3 years? There ARE exceptions to FIP/DIP. Wang did not have middling peripheralS, what he had was a low K rate. That is only one peripheral. He rarely walked hitters, had a great GB rate, and never gave up HRs.

        Until he got hurt, he was not a fluke. He wasn’t an “ace” as his win totals implied, but he was a legit middle of the order starter.

  • Short Porch

    Is it just me or are comments being deleted here?

    It seems to me that the problem is the Yankees vastly misread which prospect should be a starter and the keeper of the bunch. It does call into question their ability to develop young pitching. Joba is easy to rail about but the bigger miss was how much rope they’ve given Hughes in contrast. What explains the difference?

    • Steve S.

      Yeah, in my 2nd comment I was responding to someone that somehow disappeared. The guy referred to Mo as a “homer” but other than that I didn’t see anything outlandish. He clearly wasn’t a Yankee fan, but I hope that isn’t enough to get a person deleted.

      • Moshe Mandel

        He’s someone who has been blocked many times. He has this obsession that we are all trying to cover for the Yankees, even in an article where I called a once great prospect a 4th starter or a reliever.

        • Steve S.

          I’m not familiar with his previous posts, but I’ll just reiterate that I didn’t see anything outlandish or obvious trolling on this occasion.

          • Moshe Mandel

            I didn’t do the deleting, but the point of blocking someone isn’t so they come back under another name.

    • Kevin Winters

      What explains the difference?


      Everyone points to Joba’s as being a reason why he is no longer starting. Imo the Yankees messed up by making it one or the other but not both. If they didnt want Joba to pitch in the 2010 rotation that’s fine but why banish him to the pen at age 24.

  • icebird753

    Oh please…I still see Phil as having a boatload of potential. For some reason people love to really come down on a player when he is struggling, but when success comes, everyone says they had a feeling, deep down, that the player could do it. The guy was an All-Star in 2010; we all saw that he can be amazing. Patience

    • Steve S.

      He’s been in the league since 2007. If 5 seasons of performances isn’t enough for you, at what point do you think it’s appropriate to draw a conclusion?

      • Steve (different one)

        I’m not particularly high on Hughes, but this quote implies 5 years of consistently bad pitching, which isn’t really accurate.

        2007 – coming back from injury he was above average as a 21 year old and a good playoff appearance – pretty positive

        2008 – season lost to injury. Totally ineffective early, later revealed he had broken ribs. Don’t know if he was pitching hurt or what

        2009 – lights out relief season. Totally dominant, though not starting obviously

        2010 – good first half, poor second half. One great playoff start, 2 poor ones

        2011 – disaster

        Again, I am not that bullish on Hughes, but considering his entire 5 year track record, I have no idea what to make of it. People keep pointing to his record, which is very much a mixed bag as proof he’ll never make it, but I dont see that. I think there is still an ok chance he makes it as a mid-rotation guy. The future ace dream is dead, but it’s not like he’s never shown the ability to get outs for long stretches.

        If we are arguing semantics, ignore me.

        • Steve S.

          Nah, I’ll just rebut by saying he’s had exactly one good half-season as a starter. The rest was either inthe bullpen (where I think he belongs) or was middling, whatever the excuse.

    • Kevin Winters

      If this was his first or second year in the league then I would agree but he has been starting since 2007. When it comes to Hughes it’s not just about the 2011 season but his entire body of work.

  • Craig Maduro

    I’m willing to keep expectations relatively high for one more season. The list of young, touted pitchers to figure things out after age 25-27 is longer than the list of pitchers who figured it out before then. With that said, he’s got his work cut out for him.

    • Steve S.

      He’d have to fundamentally reinvent himself as a pitcher. He’s an extreme fly ball righthander that pitches his home games in YS3. His approach is to challenge hitters and miss bats, yet he only misses them at a high rate when working out of the bullpen. Getting in shape is nice, but unless his stuff consistently looks like it does out of the bullpen I don’t think it will make any difference. He needs to sit at 93-95 in order for him to match his bullpen stuff.

      • Craig Maduro

        Eh, I’m as big a sucker for velocity as anyone, but I don’t think he necessarily needs to sit at 93-95. He needs to learn how to pitch is what he needs to do. That and add a reliable change-up (for like the 3rd straight season). It’s an up hill battle if he’s going to develop into a top-of-the-rotation arm, but he’s still relatively inexperienced despite seemingly being around forever. I’m giving him another shot.

        • Steve S.

          Phil’s FIP declines as his FB goes up. Ideally, I’d agree with you about him learning how to pitch, change speeds, generate more grounders, etc. But as I said above, that would require him to reinvent himself as a pitcher. That’s a lot to ask of someone, and foolish to expect.

          • Craig Maduro

            The FB and FIP improvement would probably hold true for most pitchers in the game. Even though I don’t think he necessarily needs to sit at 93-95 to be successful, I don’t think it is a great stretch to think that his FB – or at least the “zip” – will return in 2012 and that will absolutely help him.

            At some point he may need to reinvent himself or make a return to the ‘pen, but I’m on board with the Yankees giving him another shot to excel as Phil Hughes and not some tinkered and altered version of himself.

  • Gonzo

    Too late to overhaul him in the minors?

  • Gil L

    I definitely believe we are at a point where it is not a given that the yankees extend hughes long term… The fact that he has not adapted in the majors, but rather regressed is quite telling.
    It is really a shame.

    • Steve S.

      Not really. Maybe a change in scenery is the best thing that could happen to Phil. From a Yankee fan perspective you could decry what might have been, but from Phil’s own perspective and in terms of his career it might be the best thing that ever happened to him. Just like IPK getting a new lease on life in AZ, or the way Vazquez could never cut it here. Some guys aren’t cut out to pitch for the Yankees, and that’s OK. If they cut ties with him, I wish him well and won’t regret it even if he finds success elsewhere.

  • Jake H

    I think this is a make or break year for Phil. I hope that he has a very big year and establishes himself as a big league starter. It’s funny how we throw around #2 or #3 starters. He just needs to be an MLB level starter.

  • parmesan

    His cutter was actually very effective in 2010, to the point he became over-reliant on it. I think it’s definitely a viable weapon in his arsenal, he just needs to mix it in better.

    I agree this is a make or break year for Phil The Starter. Ultimately, I can still see him as the Yankees’ next closer due to his ability to consistently throw quality strikes with his fastball.

    • Moshe Mandel

      If I recall correctly, it was extremely effective in the first half, and got progressively worse as the season went on. It is very close to his fastball, so maybe hitters just adjusted to it.

      • parmesan

        I think hitters adjusted to it in the sense that they were constantly looking for it because it became a focal point of scouting reports due to Phil throwing it so often. I don’t think the pitch got progressively worse or less effective, his usage just became more predictable.

        I don’t know how to look at splits of pitch-type data, otherwise this might be interesting to look at (i.e. how he used the cutter and it’s relative effectioveness as the season progressed).

      • Steve S.

        That’s my take. He only started throwing the cutter in 09, where he spent most of the year in the bullpen. First half of 10 was the first year batters saw the 3 pitch Hughes, and saw him multiple times in the same game.

        Look at what happened to Phil in 2010 the 3rd time an opponent saw him in the same game. He got clobbered. Its not unusual for those number to go up some, but Phil’s splits are extreme. SO/BB rate also plummets each time through the lineup.

        • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

          Which was also the problem Nova had, which he somehow seemed to figure out, at least in terms of results if not supported by peripherals.

          • Steve S.

            Not really. Nova was just running out of gas, he was called up late in the minor league year in 2010 and was at a personal career innings high. Plus, as a rookie he was likely getting overly amped and then running out of steam all at once. Phil’s numbers go down steadily as a starter. It’s more likely the hitters in Phil’s case.

  • JohnnyC

    I’m disappointed. Was expecting to hear more about which persons and objects Fill Hughes has eaten to satiate his voracious appetite. Weekends are for whimsy.

    • Moshe Mandel

      Haha, I’ll work something up on that. But notice that we haven’t heard anything about Bartolo this spring. Almost like he has vanished into fat air.

      • Mike Axisa

        I think everyone’s scared of the stem cells.

    • Steve S.
  • Steve

    I don’t think his potential is that high simply because he can’t throw more than 1 pitch effectively. Other than a FB, his other pitches are useless. Plus, he really is not the smart pitcher he was made out to be coming out of the minors. I’m glad he’s now putting in the work and I’m sure he’ll come to camp in good shape, but that won’t help him actually become a good pitcher. He’s a reliever – and maybe he can be a good one based on this past post-season – but either way, he won’t be the Yankees’ problem. I said last year that he wouldn’t be in the teams’ long-term future.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Bartolo at 38/39… a better option than Phil to give us quality 6 inning starts?

    • Mike Axisa

      Yeah, as long as August and September was just fatigue for Colon and not the stem cells coming apart.

      • Monteroisdinero

        Well he did pitch last winter but not this winter so he might last a bit longer this year but it is a risky move. I say we go with Bartolo Hughes and get 3 quality innings out of each of them every 5 days.

  • Jeter’s Souvenir

    Why do you guys have a Goldman Sachs sign in your banner?

    • Mike Axisa

      It’s just a short-term ad. I thought it was supposed to come down at the end of December, but I guess I’m wrong.

  • Steve H

    If his name wasn’t Phil Hughes, you wouldn’t have even needed to write this post. Knowing what we know now (and your scouting report nailed it), he’s just another guy. The pedigree he once had is gone.

  • JU

    Phil has never been the same pitcher since his second start in Texas. I watched him pitch at least 15 games (in person and on MiLBTV) before his ML debut, and then obviously his debut and second start. This guy lived at 93-94, commanded the outside corner to Righties with his FB, and threw a true power CB. I have never seen that pitcher again since that pitch to Teixeira.

    People cry about his ChUp, but that’s the least of his issues. The loss of velocity is a problem that has led to a command issue by him trying to generate more power on his FB (and possibly the arm problems). But I think all of that could be manageable if he still had that CB. That lollipop trash that he throws now? Hitters spit on it. As Moshe points out, u can’t be a flyball pitcher with mediocre velocity and no out-pitch. The whole thing is very sad.

    • Paul


    • RetroRob

      Texas, where Yankee prospect pitchers go to die?

  • Craig Maduro

    Let’s see what his velocity looks like in Spring Training and early on in the season before we dig in either way. It’s not uncommon for pitchers to go through periods – even a full season – of diminished stuff. Hell, even Justin Verlander saw his FB velocity take a significant dip in 2008. Not trying to compare the two, but it clearly shows that one season of diminished stuff isn’t a death sentence.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    In my book, Hughes should be in the pen and Noesi in the rotation to start the season.

    One of those guys has a chance to be an effective starter part of our team for a long time, and it isn’t Hughes.

    • Steve (different one)

      As long as Noesi is starting in AAA, I don’t see the need to make this decision NOW. Noesi WILL make starts this year in the Bronx, teams don’t make it through the year with 5 starters. There is still a little upside there for Hughes, why pull the plug before you absolutely have to?

      For the record, I’m not sure I disagree with your basic premise, but Noesi has options. Use them.

  • Jamey

    Out Pitch, Out Pitch, Out Pitch. The velocity falling off is a panic point just because of the troubles typically associated with it but since it seemed that Phil’s arm/shoulder were perfectly fine it only continued to be a topic of discussion because he lacked a pitch(es) to finish off hitters. In a MLB where even the most widely & openly used “performance enhancers” are banned, I don’t think its all that unusual for power pitchers’ stuff to just not be as consistent as we got used to prior to steroid paranoia. Phil’s problems were all about not being able to finish off hitters because he compensated for his lack of an out-pitch with better velocity. An out pitch isn’t necessarily a strike out pitch either, a ground ball or pop up pitch works just as well, just as Mo. The trouble as well is unless you’re one of the game’s better pitchers, even a fairly effective out pitch loses its bite when you’re desperately trying to avoid walking your 2nd or 3rd batter of the inning, nibbling.

    So it sounds cliche as hell, but Phil Hughes needs to work on getting ahead & staying ahead in the count & a couple of “cards up his sleeve” pitches he can use to get out of jams, like Pettitte had. I think the visions of Hughes anchoring the staff as a power pitcher are long gone, but I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a valued, dependable 2-3 starter. Assuming his body can handle the work of course, while I hate the “HE’S BETTER IN THE BULLPEN!” scarlet letter that every Yankees’ prospect has to deal with eventually, in Hughes’ case it might be a valid point if ST, opening day rolls around & he’s still struggling to dial up & command his fastball.

  • Nathan

    Yes yes, the Jays would never have traded Halladay within the division but Hughes/Joba + ____________ for Halladay, in hindsight, looks like a steal.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Based only on my opinion and on what I have observed from young pitchews in the past( Cliff Lee as an example) I believe that Phil will come into his own in 2012 and will put the doubters to rest.

    • Kevin Winters

      What happens if he doesn’t? He could turn things around but it’s also possible for him to continue on the same path

      • Monteroisdinero

        When Mo retires we can keep The better of Phil/Joba for the 7th and DRob/Soriano for the balance.

        • Kevin Winters

          That’s not a bad idea especially with the rotation being a question mark both now and going forward.

  • Dave

    Overhyped. Not a starter, he’s a seventh inning man. The year he won 18, his ERA was over 4 and the offense was putting up an average of seven runs per game. That’s why I laugh when they say he has to get back and throw like 2010. Bring up one of the rookies.

    • Kevin Winters

      Valid point he has to get back to what he was in the first six weeks of 2010.

    • Craig Maduro

      Perhaps that will end up becoming Phil Hughes’ final chapter as a Yankee, but I think fans are too quick to banish a prospect to the bullpen. Not all prospects come out dealing the way Lincecum or Kershaw have.

      • Kevin Winters

        True fans can react to quickly when it comes to prospects but Hughes has been given a number of chances over the years.

  • Dave

    Overhyped. Not a starter, he’s a reliever. The year he won 18, his ERA was over 4 and the offense was putting up an average of seven runs per game. That’s why I laugh when they say he has to get back and throw like 2010. Bring up one of the rookies.

  • Jerkface

    I want Hughes to ditch the curve (unless he is going to throw a power curve, and last season he said he needed to throw it harder but then ended up back with the 74 mph pos by the end of the season) and go with the slider/splitter. Pick 1, throw it hard, pair it with the good fastball, get hitters out.

    His inability to throw a curve ball that consistently fools major league hitters is embarrassing for a guy that supposedly had one of the best curves in the system.

    • RetroRob

      According to some talent evaluators, it’s the splitter which caused him to both lose velocity on his fastball and bite on his curvevall. Some are suggesting that it’s the splitter he ditch, because he fell in love with it, not just hurting the development on his other pitches, but causing a regression.

      Not saying it’s true, but it illustrates the problem with diagnosing the development problems of pitchers.

      • Jerkface

        I think you mean cutter. But Hughes had a crappy curve ball before he had the cutter, but whatever, if its the cutter ditch that too. He just needs a secondary offering that actually works.

        It was crazy with how good his fastball was in 2010 that hitters were sitting back on his curve and lining it for singles/doubles and rarely swinging and missing at it.