Why can’t Hughes put away batters after getting ahead?

Curtis Granderson's Missing Steals
40 Days Until the Deadline: Yanks Watching Wandy
This pitch probably resulted in a homer. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Big ups to Moshe Mandel for coming up with the foundation for this article.

With his four home runs surrendered yesterday, Phil Hughes sits behind only Jason Vargas for the MLB lead in home runs allowed. Of course, Vargas has pitched 24 more innings, so Hughes has the lead in home runs allowed per nine innings pitched (2.18). This wouldn’t be so surprising if it weren’t for Hughes’s other peripheral statistics.

Hughes has both a low walk rate and a relatively high strikeout rate. While he’s not fanning batters at a Strasburgian rate, he still ranks 7th out of 47 qualified AL starters in strikeout rate. At the same time he’s shown good control, ranking 14th lowest in walk rate. That’s good for a 3.85 K/BB ratio, which ranks fourth in the AL. How is someone dominant enough to strike out more than his share of hitters, while at the same time showing enough control to avoid giving them free passes, manage to allow so many home runs?

Losing while ahead

One result of Hughes’s control is that he often works ahead in the count. He has faced 341 hitters this year, of which 83 have gone to an 0-2 count. That’s 24.3 percent of all hitters he’s faced. The AL average is just 19.3 percent of all PA. Yet hitters have had a field day once they’re this far behind. The average AL hitter has a .166 BA and .250 SLG in PA when they’ve seen an 0-2 count. In PA when Hughes has gotten ahead 0-2 hitters have a .253 BA and .494 SLG. Even worse, when the count is 0-2 AL hitters have a .146 BA and .222 SLG. Against Hughes with an 0-2 count they have a .294 BA and — I’m not even kidding — a .618 SLG. When Hughes is ahead in the count, opponents have hit .236/.242/.394 against him. The average AL pitcher holds opponents to a .201/.210/.300 line while ahead.

Fastball heavy

Unsurprisingly, Hughes ranks near the top of the leader boards in fastball percentage. He’s used his for more than two-thirds of his overall pitches. That does not include his cutter usage. The names ahead of him are all known for the movement on their fastballs. Bartolo Colon has the two-seamer we loved last year. Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello, and Henderson Alvarez get ground balls due to the sinking action on their fastballs. Matt Moore does have a two-seamer. Yet Hughes throws a relatively straight four-seamer.

It is unsurprising, then, that Hughes has allowed 12 of his 19 home runs on the fastball. That’s 63 percent, which is slightly below his fastball usage rate, but given the sample size it’s close enough. At the same time, Hughes has used the fastball as a swing and miss weapon. Before yesterday’s game batters missed once every five swings. It’s clear that while seemingly straight, Hughes’s fastball can sneak up on a batter and cause him to swing and miss. It is easily his best pitch.

Cutting out what doesn’t work

After giving up many long balls early in the season, Hughes did make an adjustment. He had been throwing his cutter, but it wasn’t an effective weapon. He threw it 62 times, and three times batters took it out of the park. That looks even worse when we see that batters swung at it only 26 times. That’s more than one in 10 swings resulting in a home run. The cutter just wasn’t working.

Hughes threw the cutter 47 times in April, but only 15 in May. It’s pretty clear that he cut it out at some point during that month, because he hasn’t thrown it once in June. That happens to coincide with his string of very good starts, yesterday excluded. In fact, before yesterday he’d given up just one home run on his fastball in June, of 244 pitches and 130 swings. Unfortunately, he did surrender three homers on the fastball yesterday.

Trying something different

Yankees’ pro scouting manager Will Kuntz noted two changes in Hughes’s secondary arsenal, aside from scrapping the cutter. “He’s using his curveball as a first pitch,” says Kuntz. Second, Kuntz says that he changed his grip on his changeup recently — before a start against Kansas City, he estimates. “It’s a great pitch for him,” says Kuntz. “He’s getting more comfortable with it.”

Hughes’s adaptation to his fastball, curve, changeup arsenal might take some time. He had indeed worked on a changeup in spring training, and did try to work it into his arsenal. He threw it 12 percent of the time in April and May. He’s throwing it about half as frequently in June. He was at six percent coming into yesterday’s game, and threw the changeup just six of 83 pitches yesterday. Getting comfortable with it, it seems, is a process.

Hughes did ramp up his curveball usage from April, 12 percent, to May, 21 percent. Yet in June that had dropped to 16 percent going into yesterday’s game. In a way that makes sense. As Kuntz said, he’s using it more early in the count, setting up his fastball. We saw how frequently Hughes works ahead of hitters. If he’s using his fastball as his biggest attack weapon, it does seem that he’d be throwing it more frequently than before (when he was presumably trying to use his curve as a weapon to finish off hitters).

Yesterday, however, Hughes went curveball heavy, throwing it 31 times (37.3 percent). Six of the 19 batters he faced saw it as a first pitch. Nine times he threw it with an even count, and just four times he threw it when behind in the count. I’m honestly not sure what this amounts to, but it’s interesting that he increased his curveball usage in a start where his average fastball was stuck in the low 90s in the first few innings. He didn’t hit 94 until the fourth, and then only twice. It was mostly 91 to 92 on the day.

Still no explanation

While there is plenty of information here, it still doesn’t paint a clear picture of why Hughes’s results line up as they do. “Some guys are wild in the zone,” says Kuntz. “It’s a matter of command, usually. They’re supposed to be down and away.” So Hughes can keep it around the zone, but not necessarily where he wants it in the zone. When he hits, then, it’s a whiff. When he misses, he might not get the ball back.

Kuntz also spoke of Hughes’s bulldog mentality. We’ve heard this term used to describe many pitchers. RAB readers will remember that those who favored Joba Chamberlain pitching out of the pen often cited his bulldog mentality. What does that mean for Hughes, though? Does it mean that he attacks too hard when ahead in the count and is therefore more prone to mistakes? Does it mean that he’s better fit for the bullpen, where he can really unleash his fastball and need only one other pitch?

It’s difficult for experienced members of the Yankees’ organization to answer this question, let alone you or me. Hughes is, by statistical standards, turning in a unique season. Looking at all pitchers with at least 50 IP from 1901 to 2012, only three other pitchers have had a K/BB ratio of 3.5 or greater, with a HR/9 of 2.0 or greater. The other three aren’t exactly power pitchers, though. If we look at pitchers with a K/9 of more than 8.5 per nine and a BB/9 of lower than 2.5 per nine, Hughes stands alone. Yes, using a mere 50 IP qualifier, he is the only pitcher in modern history to feature his current statistical profile.

Maybe this is why he’ll continue to get chances. He clearly has good stuff. He’s shown signs of life at times. And no one can really explain what’s going on. Hughes is really in a world of his own right now.

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Curtis Granderson's Missing Steals
40 Days Until the Deadline: Yanks Watching Wandy
  • Stevis

    I think he should visit the Wizard of Oz and get a Heart

  • Robinson Tilapia

    The stuff is there. The velocity is there. He’s healthy. This is about making continued adjustments. He’s going to need to do a lot worse, for a lot longer, than yesterday for me to go back to leaving him for dead again.

    Either that or Phil is just trying to needle Jimmy McNulty.

    • Jimmy McNulty

      Honestly: If he wasn’t a number one prospect in the past or he pitched for any other organization would you still cut him this much slack? I agree players deserve some credit for their former prosepct status and some of that still matters, but he doesn’t have the same curveball that he used to have. He’s not the same pitcher he was when he was a prospect, so in his case it doesn’t matter. The guy isn’t really good enough.

      • Jim Is Bored

        I have to ask again, do you really think he’s going to maintain a SIXTEEN percent hr/fb percentage? There’s no possible way.

        He’s never had one above 10.1%, even when he was awful last year. Given that everything else has improved this year, I find it hard to believe that it’s going to stay at 16% the rest of the year. As that comes down, so will his HR/9.

        I’m cutting him slack because I’m taking his name out of the picture and looking at his performance, not because he’s some super prospect immune to criticism.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Probably not a 16%, he’s never had one above 10.1 but he’s also never put together a good first half and second half. Sixteen is pretty high but you’re starting with a flawed premise. He’s only managed one full season as a starter in five years too. So does that mean that you think he’ll never have a good first half and second half and he’ll only have a full season once every five years? Of course not. It could be that the league finally is getting a chance to see him on a regular basis and they’re taking massive shits all over his face. It’s been about two years since he’s been a good pitcher, and that was inflated by an unsutainably low HR/FB ratio.

          Sure his HR/FB ratio should go down, but a lot of those HRs will turn into screaming doubles, and a guy might sit on a pitch instead of crush it. Also, keep in mind that this K rate is awfully high for a guy with shitty secondary pitches. He’s never had a K-rate this good as a starter either. Nor has his K/BB ever been this good, it’s possible that will also suffer when his HR rate goes down too. However, he has struggled with keeping the ball in the park his whole career, and he’s struggled with keeping the ball down. He’s in uncharted waters through an 80 inning sample size. I suspect that his peripheral stats will change but his ERA will likely still remain terrible, though.

          • Jim Is Bored

            You’re starting with a flawed premise too, by dividing the season into arbitrary endpoints.

            • Jimmy McNulty

              His one “good” season as a starter was an all-star first half and a bad second half. Since his all-star first half of 2010 he hasn’t been a good pitcher. I wasn’t trying to draw arbitrary end points, I was merely demonstrating the awfulness of your premise.

          • Jim Is Bored

            And Hughes’ LD% is actually down this year, so they won’t turn into screaming doubles either.

            • Jimmy McNulty

              Fly balls that just miss the fence but land for a double are screaming doubles. His LD% is down but his HR rate is way the fuck up…that’s why he’s not allowing as many line drives, hitters are too busy hitting balls that leave the park.

          • Jim Is Bored

            Do you know how the hits are classified? A lot of his HR’s are already classified as LDs, at least the “screaming” ones. Most of the non-LD HR’s will not be reclassified as LDs, they’ll be classified as, wait, fly balls! Exactly the same as they are now.

            So no, not all of his home runs will turn into screaming doubles. And you know what? I’d MUCH rather him give up some screaming doubles in the places of those home runs.

            I’m not convinced he’s a 1/2/3 type, but I fully believe he can pitch to a 3.8, 4.0 era over the 2nd half. That’s all I ask from my 4/5 starter anyway.

            And no, I’m not sure I want to re-sign him when he’s a free agent. I’m not a HUGHES IS AWESOME freak, but good lord you are incredibly and unrealistically pessimistic.

            • Jim Is Bored

              His SIERA, for the record, is 3.51 right now. His xFIP is 4.16. I’ll take either of those numbers ROS over his current ERA/FIP.

            • Jimmy McNulty

              Do you know how the hits are classified? A lot of his HR’s are already classified as LDs, at least the “screaming” ones. Most of the non-LD HR’s will not be reclassified as LDs, they’ll be classified as, wait, fly balls! Exactly the same as they are now.

              Fly ball/line drive scoring through 80 innings tends to have a lot of variance. I’m not sure where his ball distribution is. Do you work for BIS or something and know where to find that? To my knowledge that isn’t published.

              So no, not all of his home runs will turn into screaming doubles. And you know what? I’d MUCH rather him give up some screaming doubles in the places of those home runs.

              I never said that. Learn to read, nor did I imply that doubles are worse than allowing a home run. Way to set up a strawman though, I appreciate you conceeding the argument.

              I’m not convinced he’s a 1/2/3 type, but I fully believe he can pitch to a 3.8, 4.0 era over the 2nd half. That’s all I ask from my 4/5 starter anyway.

              Why do you think that? He’s never done that once in his career? Using your logic that the 16% HR/FB ratio is unsustainable because he’s never done it in his career, by the same token he’s never had an ERA under four as a starter either.

              • Jim Is Bored

                We’re gonna argue semantics, Mr. “conceeding?”

                I’m projecting based on his first half numbers, and being optimistic in that he’ll make some adjustments, or that, simply, 16% of his fly balls will stop being home runs. I figured that was obvious, since you’re so keen on harping about my using small sample sizes, while you’re obsessing over his 16% Hr/fb in the SAME FUCKING SAMPLE.

                I’m done. Good day, everyone, sorry for dragging you all into the mess that is Jimmy McNulty’s Hughes hatred. I have learned a valuable lesson today, to stay the fuck away from Hughes threads, because reasonable expectations are not welcome.

                • Jimmy McNulty

                  I never said he’ll continue this wreched streak of HR/FB ratio, I think he’ll regress from being miserable to just merely bad. As far as reasonable expectations I’d say an ERA+ around 95 or so is reasonable.

      • Jim Is Bored

        And moreso, who else do you want taking those starts at this point? Freddy? Phelps? Warren/Mitchell? I’m OK sticking it out with Hughes right now.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Someone not in the organization.

          • Crime Dog

            And who? And how do you plan on getting them?

            • Jimmy McNulty

              Teams rarely live and die by their fifth starter, so I don’t think replacing him is priority numero uno. I think the playoff rotation behind Sabathia is shaky and improving the two is the bigger priority which would probably bump Hughes from the rotation. But I think the biggest problem is probably the outfield if Gardner can’t come back.

              • Get Phelps Up (formerly Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat)

                CC, Pettitte, Kuroda is a perfectly fine 1-2-3 for the playoffs.

              • Crime Dog

                So, you don’t have a more viable 5th starter solution than Hughes?

                • Jimmy McNulty

                  I don’t think I ever claimed that he was a bad fifth starter. I just don’t see him anything more as a back of the rotation starter.

      • RetroRob

        Honestly: If he was an unknown and just a prospect filling in the #5 slot in the rotation, would you care as much?

        Expectations work both ways.

        If I knew nothing about Hughes, I’d see his peripherals and I’d judge him against his likely replacement (Phelps), and I’d leave Hughes in the rotation. As Noesi is showing this year in Seattle, holding down a rotation spot is a lot different than getting three or four outs out of the pen.

        If the Yankees can upgrade the rotation down the stretch and replace Hughes, I won’t have a problem, because that means the pen will be even stronger. Hughes may just be another example of a failed starter making a good reliever. Yet until they have a replacement, he stays in my rotation.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Honestly: If he was an unknown and just a prospect filling in the #5 slot in the rotation, would you care as much?

          No.

          Expectations work both ways.

          Agreed. Is what pisses me off isn’t so much his performance it’s all the homers trying to make him out to be better than what he is. It’s everyone constantly giving him a chance and expecting something more out of him.

          If I knew nothing about Hughes, I’d see his peripherals and I’d judge him against his likely replacement (Phelps), and I’d leave Hughes in the rotation. As Noesi is showing this year in Seattle, holding down a rotation spot is a lot different than getting three or four outs out of the pen.

          If the Yankees can upgrade the rotation down the stretch and replace Hughes, I won’t have a problem, because that means the pen will be even stronger. Hughes may just be another example of a failed starter making a good reliever. Yet until they have a replacement, he stays in my rotation

          I agree with most of this. I’d definitely look for a better starter and considering the injuries in the bullpen he could surelyfind some use there. I wouldn’t replace him with just anyone though, I’d be cautious about acquiring Wandy and I’d stay away from Vargas and those types. Ideally they’d trade Baunelos and Betances for Cole Hamels and an extension period. They’ll likely need more in the rotation in the future anyways, and Hamels would be a nice fit and a great upgrade.

          • Jim Is Bored

            So do you want us to never expect more out of people? I am so confused by your hatred of Hughes.

            Of course I’d take an upgrade over him. I’m not convinced he can even survive with a 10-11% hr/fb, given how many fly balls he gives up, at Yankee Stadium. But to hear you, one would think he’s pitched to a 10+ era, can’t get out of the 2nd, and shouldn’t be playing baseball anywhere.

            • Jimmy McNulty

              I want people to stop pretending he’s anything more than what he is and I want people to stop pretending like there’s a decent reason to expect more from him. He’s a fringe major leaguer starter. Definitely more of a big leaguer than a guy that would wash out, he’s a poor man’s Scott Baker at this point.

              • Jim Is Bored

                But an xFIP of ~4 and a SIERA of 3.51 are pretty justifiable reasons to think he can pitch better than his results have shown.

                • Jimmy McNulty

                  Read Mike and Joe on xFIP.

  • NJ_Andy

    Isn’t there a decent chance that this sort of off start is just going to be Hughes’s thing going forward?

    He throws a lot of high fastballs which lead to a.) strikeouts and b.) flyballs. The same thing was happening to Nova earlier in the year. In a Stadium like YSIII, those flyballs will go for HR’s. We’ve always known this about Hughes. In a game like yesterday, when balls are just flying off the bat, of course Phil gets slammed.

    On a cooler day, or with a breeze blowing in he’ll look much better.

    He has made a number of improvements (ditching the cutter, pitching backwards with the curveball first), but somethings will always be his.

    It’s not perfect, but if he alternates a couple of great starts like his last few with an explosion or two like this, I’ll take it. That’s fine for a #3.

    • Jeff

      Hughes is another in a long line of over hyped Yankee prospect. As a fan I’m sick of hearing about prospects. It’s like the game is played too much in the future. These guys couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.

      As for Hughes how far will the guy go with a straight FB and an average CB. Two pitch guys don’t become stars unless they have lights out stuff. As a hitter u have a fifty percent chance of guessing the right pitch

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Here’s the thing: he’s a flyball pitcher at Yankee Stadium in the AL East that doesn’t have a secondary pitch. That typically spells disaster (yet another reason I hated the Pineda trade) unless you can throw in the high 90s. (which is why I’m giving Pineda another year before I label the trade a franchise killing bust). He can’t throw anything besides a 55 fastball and he can’t keep the ball down. I guess this is just a long version of saying: he’s not good enough.

    • art vandelay

      franchise killing bust ? come on the yankees aren’t a small market team if pineda never pitches again it wont’ be a franchise killing bust, a normal bust yes, awful trade yes, but not gonna kill the yankees. technically this year they lost montero and pineda and they are in first place.

      • Jimmy McNulty

        The ramifications of acquiring young talent go beyond one season. If the Yankees traded Sabathia, Tex, Jeter, Swisher, Alex, Nova, Cano, and Granderson yet were able to wind up with Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Dustin Ackley, Brandon Beachy, Stephen Strasburg and Dylan Bundy sure they’d probably suffer this season but they’d likely be in a very good position for 2014 and beyond.

        The problem with that trade is that the offense is aging and will soon need an injection of youth. Pitching has always been a problem, and since there’s nine spots where an elite young hitter can go but only five for a pitcher I get trading the hitter for the pitcher. However, if the elite young hitter turns into a pitcher that can’t stay healthy then not only do you still have the pitching problems you also still need the young hitter. Now if you want to say that Montero is struggling, well fine…he is. He’s still not even old enough to legally rent a car, so he still needs time just as Pineda does. However, as a hitter he’s inherently less injury prone than Pineda and he’s still playing baseball whereas Pineda is not.

        • Dan

          A couple problems with your last paragraph. You say that the trade was horrible because of its impact on the offense, but it became clear that the Yankees viewed Montero as a DH-only and as you pointed out the Yankees offense is aging, so they need the DH to rotate their older players to give them time off. I don’t see why you bring Pineda into your argument with Hughes either. Pineda is still young and the Yankees will have control of him for a number of years so there is no way to know what he will be. The Yankee offense will also be able to use their money to upgrade their offense and as the A-Rod, Tex, Jeter contracts come off the books they might start seeing some of the low-A players being able to take their place.

          • Jimmy McNulty

            A couple problems with your last paragraph. You say that the trade was horrible because of its impact on the offense, but it became clear that the Yankees viewed Montero as a DH-only and as you pointed out the Yankees offense is aging, so they need the DH to rotate their older players to give them time off.

            Definitely a justifiable trade. Montero can also likely play first and serve as a back up catcher. I’d rather just give the vets a full day off rather than lose a bat like what I expect Montero to be. The guy’s catching is underrated by the organization, IMO…he already caught a no-hitter.

            I don’t see why you bring Pineda into your argument with Hughes either

            Because he’s an example of the type of fly ball pitcher that can succeed pitching in the AL East and half of his starts in Yankee Stadium.

            The Yankee offense will also be able to use their money to upgrade their offense and as the A-Rod, Tex, Jeter contracts come off the books they might start seeing some of the low-A players being able to take their place.

            I agree there’s that chance but there’s also the chance some of those Low-A players can Betances themselves in the upper levels. Relying on 18 year olds is typically a bad strategy.

            • Dan

              I agree that I think Montero was under-rated by the organization, but it wasn’t just within the organization as many scouts and other executives didn’t see Montero as a catcher long-term. I understand the Pineda analogy.

              I agree the prospects can play their way out and I am not saying the Yankees should rely on them. However, by 2014, once the Yankees get under the luxury tax they will also likely start spending much more and should be able to bring in free agents to replace the aging players that can’t be replaced through the minors.

              • Jim Is Bored

                how can you possibly just assume pineda will succeed as a fly ball pithcer when youre so blind to hughes’ potential. i dont think hes a savior but a 3.8-4 era is not out of the question if his hr/fb normalizes to his career. and fly balls that would have been screaming doublea are classified as line drives. i dont know where you got a different idea.

                • Dan

                  Pineda and Hughes are not the same pitcher, Pineda was a flyball pitcher for about two months last year. He had higher groundball rates before that. Hughes has always been more of a flyball pitcher.

                • Jimmy McNulty

                  Several problems here. First and foremost, you responded to the wrong comment.

                  Second, I never said that Pineda will succeed just that he’s the type of pitcher that can have success.

                  Third, blind to Hughes’ potential? What potential? The kind he had in 2007? He hasn’t been a good pitcher in two years, and it’s always something with him. There’s always an excuse for his shitty performance. Here’s the reason why: he’s fucking terrible. Coming from a guy that got a Phil Hughes rookie card and a Phil Hughes jersey shirt.

                  Fourth, if it’s a fly ball that just missed the wall it’s still a fly ball. Besides, you’re being dumb for taking LD% after 80 innings like it fucking means anything when the pitcher in question has a 2.18 HR/9.

                  • Jim Is Bored

                    No, I combined two comments into one.

                    “I don’t see why you bring Pineda into your argument with Hughes either

                    Because he’s an example of the type of fly ball pitcher that can succeed pitching in the AL East and half of his starts in Yankee Stadium.”

                    Dunno how else to read that. Hughes is the type of pitcher who can have success too, given how often Pineda has pitched in YS.

                    What? You’re taking HR/9 after 80 innings and I can’t take LD%?

                    …wow

                    • Jimmy McNulty

                      Dunno how else to read that. Hughes is the type of pitcher who can have success too, given how often Pineda has pitched in YS.

                      Hughes has a weak fastball around 92 and shitty secondary pitches. Pineda throws 95+ with movement and has a plus slider. There’s the difference.

                      What? You’re taking HR/9 after 80 innings and I can’t take LD%?

                      19 HRs in 80 innings is utterly fucking terrible. If he was leading the majors in LD% I’d say you have a point, but he’s not. Besides LD% is a VERY myopic stat, Barry Zito leads the majors in LD% allowed. If you allow 19 home runs in 80 innings you suck, period.

              • Jimmy McNulty

                I think he’s good enough to catch about 40-60 games a year and play first base for about 30 giving Teixeira and Swisher their full days and half days off. Still a valuable bat…didn’t mean to rehash all of this.

              • Dean Winters

                by 2014, once the Yankees get under the luxury tax they will also likely start spending much more

                ——————–

                Not to be a prick but why would they though? We can all play the guessing game but if the team remains competitive there is no desire to spend big money.

                • Dan

                  They aren’t going to risk not putting up a competitive team, so if players are starting to decline they will look for improvements via free agency. They also will see that in a few years many of those aging veterans will end up coming off their books most likely so they can go over the luxury tax knowing they will have money coming off in a few years.

    • The Guns of Navarone

      Did you imply that Pineda doesn’t have a secondary pitch? His slider was absolutely filthy and, in my own opinion, he looked to be making more progress with his changeup in one spring than Hughes did in four years.

      • Jimmy McNulty

        No, I was implying that because Pineda throws 95+ and has the filthy slider that he might be able to make it in the AL East as a fly ball pitcher.

        • The Guns of Navarone

          Gotcha. Agreed.

        • j

          Pineda has been a fly ball pitcher for two months out of his entire pro career. June-Sept. of 2011 he was in the 40% range and throughout his minor league career he was a ground ball pitcher. Its a moot point now that he blew out his shoulder, but we really don’t know what type of pitcher he is.

  • The Guns of Navarone

    I think the “Trying Something Different” section says it all.

    His secondary pitches (and mostly that means his curveball) simply aren’t good enough to be legitimate, put away, strikeout pitches. So he’s very wisely (I think) chosen to use his curveball to get into the count and use his fastball (his best pitch) to put away hitters later in the count. The problem is that a fastball is a pitch any hitter can hit out of the park if they’re expecting it, no matter how good it is. The league knows Hughes is a fastball heavy pitcher. Also, and I think most importantly, I don’t think anyone will argue that Hughes has any above average command. He has good control at times, but he’s not a command pitcher.

    He missed his spots pretty badly at times yesterday and what you saw was a result of that. Add in a crazy humid day during a heat wave at Yankee Stadium… and it’s almost like it was the perfect storm yesterday.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Maybe Hughes is just going to throw a stinker out there every 5 starts or so, bracketed by 4 really good starts.

    The SLG against is downright obscene. You could live with seeing eye singles and hitters getting defensive-swing bloopers. It’s quite another to see ringing doubles and homers when you are ahead of them 0-2, 1-2.

    Until Phil fixes that, he’ll never be a really consistent guy.

    • MannyGeee

      I will take 80% success rate from a a #5 guy under team control… every day of the week.

  • nsalem

    Just reading a Seattle paper and Noesi seems to have similar issues
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.c.....tests.html

  • DM

    “Kuntz also spoke of Hughes’s bulldog mentality.”

    Bulldog mentality? I wish. He’s more bark than bite. He struts around when he’s got the heater working, but his tail curls up between his legs when he doesn’t. That’s when the “Oh no — not again.” look comes across his face as the baseball rockets into orbit. If he was a real bulldog, maybe his manager might give him a chance to grind another out or two when he’s only thrown 82 pitches. Bulldogs fight to the death. I’d like to see Phil hold on to the ball for a second or two when Girardi comes out rather than instantly plopping it into his hand with his head down. This pitcher doth protest not enough.

    • eephus_pitch

      Every pitcher makes that face when they give up a homerun.

      • DM

        Not really. Some look frustrated and angry, some grin like the hitter got lucky; others ignore with a “just give me the fucking ball so I can get this next clown out” attitude — and a few show a distress that doesn’t instill confidence in the manager who’s watching him. Phil exhibits the last — a lot.

        • Gonzo

          According to Yu Darvish, no hitter has ever squared up perfectly on one of his pitches.*

          *May not be entirely accurate.

          • DM

            It may not be entirely accurate — but I love the confidence. Mike once posted that Nova quote about being “the best pitcher” (though slightly out of context) as though it was funny or outrageous — or something in between. I like that so-called cockiness. You need to believe you belong out there. If the opposition senses that you don’t, you’ve already lost. Like Torre used to say about Jeter, “He thinks he’s the best player on the field.” in any given game. Is he? Nope. But I’m glad he thinks that way. Or a better quote from Reggie about Leyritz, “He’s a good player who thinks he’s a great player — and for that reason he falls somewhere in between.” Something like that.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Maybe he stopped getting mad after allowing a home run because he’s had plenty of time to get used to the feeling.

          • DM

            When you see the shoulders slump, the head turned up, the eyes close for a second then the sigh, Phil’s outing is over. I don’t need to see the numbers. He never continues on in a game after that reaction.

  • NYYROC

    Great article, lots of info. Much of it is positive and gives reason for optimism for PH. But the 0-2 stuff is scary. Seems to me, and many others, he lacks that swing & miss offspeed pitch..like Nova/Joba/CC have sliders. If he ever gets one he could be really good.

  • nsalem

    Who are the 3 pitchers with the 3.5 K/BB rate and 2/9 HR rate?

  • Dan

    As far as his low walk total, I wonder if it might help Hughes to purposefully try to be a little more wild. Not walking more batters necessarily, but when you get ahead 0-1 instead of trying to get to 0-2 throw a pitch inside and make the hitter move his feet. If hitters start to fear getting hit they will probably be less comfortable and it might influence their swing.

    • Gonzo

      Believe it or not in a 1-1 count, hitters are hitting better than the 0-2 count this year. .912 OPS vs 1.025. SSS and all that jazz.

      • Dan

        Ah, ok. I didn’t check his statistics with each count… Even still I haven’t watched his starts closely enough to see how he ends up in that 1-1 count. I am saying he should purposefully throw up and in and knock them off the plate. I don’t think he does that. I would think when he goes to a 1-1 count its most likely because he tries to catch a corner and misses or goes to the curve and bounces it.

        • Gonzo

          I like the idea of Philbert using the brush back more. If onle just to shoot off a couple of rounds and seeing what happens.

  • Gonzo

    I wasn’t a Hughes fan coming into the season. He’s surprised me this year. I don’t think he’s great or anything, but he’s serviceable to the Yankees this year and next. That’s better than almost all prospects give you in the grand scheme of things.

    If I were him, I’d hightail it to Petco when he becomes a FA for one season then hit up a team for a decent contract.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    I was at the start Friday in DC when Phil did not give up a HR. He was putting hitters away that night with curves in the dirt with 2 strikes. They couldn’t lay off it. Just an observation.

    • Gonzo

      It was also the Nationals. They have scored less than anyone in the American League. Jus sayin.

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com Eric

    Nice work Joe. I’m not going to get too worked up over one start because it was hot as hell yesterday and the ball was flying out of the yard (9 homers combined between the 2 teams). He has looked very good recently, and I probably won’t panic unless he has a few more outings like yesterday’s in a row. This will happen periodically because Hughes is a flyball pitcher who pitches half of his games in a very homer-friendly home park, but as long as he can keep the strikeouts high and the walks low, he can limit the damage by ensuring that the inevitable home runs are solo shots.

  • mike

    Hitters are likely siting FB on him, and are willing to give up on off-speed or sliders which he can’t throw for strikes on a consistant basis.

    Its one thing to have secondary pitches, but the key is to put them where the pitcher /catcher wants to either set up the primary or to help change the hitter’s approach

    Same as Joba – the slider is a plus-pitch when he can throw if for strikes – otherwise the hitter sit FB and are disciplined enough to lay-off the pitch.

  • rogue

    Career HR/9:
    Home: 1.69
    Away: 0.78

    2012 HR/9:
    Home: 3.03
    Away: 1.36

    The rest of his numbers are close to fairly close.

  • ragsNpags

    He still lacks the knockout curveball that he had when he was a prospect. At the beginning of the season (and really the two previous seasons) he would get ahead with his fastball and not have anything to put guys away with. Then he tried to make the cutter that pitch, which we all know it was never going to be. Then he just started throwing fastball on top of fastball, and while that worked in the first half two years ago, it eventually caught up with him. Then last year he employed a similar approach, only he was throwing about 88-90 and getting obliterated.

    He has done better this year because of the uptick in velo, and his CB has gotten better. But he still can’t use it consistently as an out-pitch. Thus, he has recently started to pitch backwards more (hence the first pitch curveballs). It’s certainly not ideal, but a better alternative than being a one-pitch pitcher. He had poor command and mediocre velocity yesterday, and you saw the result.

  • nsalem

    Phil’s problems and results remind me of Javier Vazquez,

    • eephus_pitch

      So you’re saying you think Phil would dominate the NL?

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    His fastball is not complemented by secondary pitches. You can’t capture your ability by pitching in the minors or from the bullpen. He has way too much talent to be saddled in the bullpen. Thus we will suffer through games such as yesterday. But I would stick by him. With patience it will come together. Plus “Wild in the Zone” says it all.

  • MayorKoch

    Like the fact that he dropped the cutter and is continuing to experiment. Didn’t he have a slider way back when he was drafted that the Yankees had him drop? I understand the reasons for doing it at the time but it seems like now might be a good time to try it again and see if it would work. Hitters seem to be able to lay off his curve with two strikes so he needs something else he can throw other than his fastball.

  • http://none GrandyManCan

    It’s actually pretty simple. He doesn’t know how to pitch. You can’t just expect to blow your 93 mph fastball by these guys. They can hit.

  • eephus_pitch

    I wonder if Phil has the same problem David Wells had. It always seemed to me that Wells gave up a ton of 0-2 homers. He’d get ahead 0-2, then groove one right down the middle. I think Wells was just such a strike-throwing machine that he couldn’t be bothered to throw waste pitches out of the zone. Maybe Hughes has the same problem.
    Of course, this is all anecdotal.

  • Brian S.

    Will Kuntz? LOLOLOLOL

    • Gonzo

      What do you think his nickname is?

  • Buddy

    Whoever this McNulty character is who called the Pineda trade a possible “franchise killing bust” is either 12 years old or a troll.

    The Yankee franchise was relying on a 21 DH/C prospect or the franchise would be “killed”???

    LOLOLOL!

    What happens if the didn’t do the trade and Montero totally busted as a prospect? According to your logic the franchise would also be “killed”!

    LOLOL!

    Good stuff.Whoever this McNulty character is who called the Pineda trade a possible “franchise killing bust” is either 12 years old or a troll.

    The Yankee franchise was relying on a 21 DH/C prospect or the franchise would be “killed”???

    LOLOLOL!

    What happens if the didn’t do the trade and Montero totally busted as a prospect? According to your logic the franchise would also be “killed”!

    LOLOL!

    Good stuff.

    • Buddy

      i dont know how that doubled up… must’ve been laughing too hard….

      • LiterallyFigurative

        It’s funnier when read the second time.

      • BigDavey88

        Laugh Out Loud Out Loud!

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Have Freddy Garcia teach Hughes the Splitter. There was a pitcher on the Astros in the 80s that became an overnight success with that pitch. I forgot his name. It is said, however. that the splitter puts too much strain on the elbow and perhaps that is why it is hardly taught any more since Roger Craig stopped being a coach.

  • V

    I can’t read anything into yesterday’s outing. I have to assume it’s hard to grip a ball when sweat is dripping down your arm in 95+ heat.

  • jg233

    His slider and change-up are below average and he doesnt throw hard enough to just blow everyone away. He gets ahead and they just foul everything off until they put it in play.

  • Betty Lizard

    Hughes confounds me. And makes me vexed and peevish.

    He’s even driven me back to Ludwig Wittgenstein:

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

  • benj

    Phil isn’t agressive on the mound. I woshed Cashman would’ve traded him last off season. He would help out the A’s, Reds, Brewers or the Pirates. AL East is too much for him.

  • Tom

    Righties are smoking him. They have a .400BABIP against which I don’t think is merely a luck issue, his HR rate against righties is also higher (which would normally depress BABIP)

    He has 2 main issues:
    1) Lefties have to worry about fastball/change/curve. Righties have to worry about fastball/curve and Phil’s curve is more of a 12 to 6 curve (his horizontal movement on it this year is the lowest it’s ever been for him), so it’s not like it’s particularly tough on righties vs lefties.

    He’s going to have to throw his change to righties… yes the pitch is more effective movement wise to lefties, but part of the effectiveness of the changeup is the change of speed. In order to do this he needs to be able to command it down in the zone (which I’m not sure he can consistently).

    2) He needs to work down in the zone a little (all pitches) to keep hitters honest.

    Yesterday he threw 3 pitches below the zone. If you look at his previous 2 starts he was working down more often (In his start against the Mets he probably had >20 pitches below the zone, including some fastballs). At some point you have to change the eye level of hitters and it can’t be just on one pitch type.

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    Day games are a bitch at the Stadium from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Let’s chalk this one up to poor game plan in not accounting for such.

    Let’s see what happens next time out. Yes, if you pitch during the day at YS3 and sport anything less that 95MPH db, you’re susceptible to the gopher ball. Night games are a bit different – Little more leeway.

    If Phil has another day game, he will have to get extremely efficient with hid secondary stuff (throw it for strikes).