Phil Hughes, Sudden Changeup Pitcher


Changeup! (Jason Szenes/Getty Images)

A usable changeup has long been Phil Hughes‘ white whale, that reliable third pitch he’s been unable to develop to help take his game to the next level. Outside of his injury-plagued 2011 season, Phil’s fastball-curveball combination has been strong enough to allow him to survive as a league average starter in the AL East. The kind of guy you’ll take towards the back of the rotation but will leave you wanting more.

Hughes, not so young anymore at 26, has ridden his fastball and two curveballs to a 4.15 ERA and 4.70 FIP in 149.2 innings this year. He’s maddeningly homer prone, but outside of a disastrous April — how stupid does this look in retrospect? — he’s pitching to a 3.70 ERA and 4.46 FIP in his last 21 starts (133.2 IP). Last night’s outing against the White Sox was about as it good as it gets, seven innings of two-run ball against a club with the sixth-highest runs per game average in baseball. The Yankees lost, but not because of their starter.

Against the ChiSox, Phil threw that white whale changeup a total of 17 times out of 98 pitches according to PitchFX. A dozen of those 17 changeups were strikes, including a pair of swings and misses. The last batter he faced, former Yankee Dewayne Wise, saw nothing but changeups in a five-pitch at-bat. Five of those 17 changeups were thrown to right-handed batters, which is notable because Hughes threw a total of four changeups to right-handers in 12 starts from mid-June through mid-August according to Will Cohen.

This isn’t a one-start blip either. Against the Red Sox last week he threw a whopping 29 changeups (106 total pitches), the most he’s ever thrown in a single outing during the PitchFX era. Nineteen of those 29 were strikes and six were thrown to righties. As a result, Hughes threw just seven curveballs. Last night it was a much more normal 18 curveballs. Perhaps all these changeups is an adjustment he’s made after getting shellacked by the Tigers and Blue Jays in back-to-back starts two weeks ago, when just seven of his 182 total pitches were changeups.

Hughes doesn’t need a knockout changeup, just a serviceable third offering that will keep hitters off the fastball and curveball. I feel like I’ve been saying that for five years now. He has really emphasized the pitch these last two times out, and not just against left-handers either. Whether he continues to use the pitch this much in the future remains to be seen, but the fact that he’s been able to use it this heavily and remain effective against good offenses these last two times out is encouraging.

Categories : Pitching
  • blake

    I’ve been saying for awhile that I thought Hughes’s CU as a pitch by itself was good enough now to help him….he just needed to learn how and when to use it.

    Hughes has a pretty significant reverse split this year….lefties are hitting .202/.255/.344/.599 against him….some of that may be small size…but I think a big reason why is because until recently he was actually using 3 pitches against lefties and only 2 for the most part against righties…..

    the last 2 starts have been a nice step in the right direction as he’s got some swings and misses and some weak contact against RHH with his CU….so maybe now instead of 0-2….foul, foul , foul, foul, foul, foul….he’ll get some 0-2 swing and misses or weak contact by using that other pitch….also will help keep guys off his fastball… where Hughes is heading.

  • CountryClub

    It’s really encouraging. He mentioned after the R Sox game that he had just been stubborn previously when it came to not throwing it and especially vs righties.

    It’s a solid pitch and every once in a while it’s nasty. You’d have to thik that the more he throws it, the more consistent it’ll become.

    • jjyank

      Yeah, they say the change is a feel pitch, right? Hopefully he gets into a groove with it going forward.

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    Good to see good vibes about Hughes and not the usual “you should trade him” stuff. If he had been traded for Santana, we all would be cursing that trade. I have always liked him and supported him ever since he placed the “I don’t want to be traded” add in the Times. So far he has had his ups and downs but pitchers enter their primes at about age 27-28. Warren Spahn did not win his first game till age 25(or 26) and he was in WW2 and still won over 360 games.

    • your mom

      Hughes is no Spahn.

  • Dicka24

    I think we all sometimes forget that Hughes is still only 26 years old. Some guys don’t come up until they’re around age, or at least have that unwritten 400 inning marker under their belt by then. I almost wonder if it isn’t wise for the Yankees to consider an extension for Hughes. Next year is his final year of arbitration, and then it’s free agency. If the numbers are favorable, an extension might make some sense. Of course, if I’m Hughes, my fly ball tendencies might want out of Yankee Stadium, and in to a more spacious park. He’s a SoCal kid if I’m not mistaken. Lots of big parks on that side of country.

    • CountryClub

      I have a lot of patience for him because this is only his 2nd full season as a starter in the majors. I could end up being wrong in the end, but I see improvement from him all the time. I think he’s going to be a legit #3 starter in a yr or 2.

    • jjyank

      Right, isn’t Phelps-The-Rookie 25? Hughes has been around forever, but it’s worth noting that he’s still young enough to build on some success this season and carry it forward.

      • Laz

        What I keep saying. Phelps is only 4 months younger and he is just breaking in. There is still time for hughes to turn into an good pitcher. Just for reference randy johnson didn’t become an elite pitcher until he was 29.

        • DM

          But RJ had an elite FB and an extreme body type – with a less than 3/4 delivery. He just needed to improve his control but the plus plus stuff was always there. Phil’s 92-93 doesn’t really compare. In fact most comparisons to an anomaly like RJ are dubious.

  • blake

    The obvious issue with Hughes is that if he finishes this season with say 15 or 16 wins and an ERA at 4 or below…..then back that up with another solid season next year then what will that be worth for a 27 year old in free agency? and will that fit into Hal’s budget?

    I dunno….I’m glad Hughes is pitching better and starting to show promise….but what that means for him long term with the Yanks is somewhat TBD

    • Rich in NJ

      That’s why it’s a risk to allocate any money in 2014 to Swisher, and especially Martin, that would potentially reduce the dollars available for Hughes, who may be a far more important asset over the next five years; a time period during which Hughes may still be improving while the other two may well decline.

      • LiterallyFigurative

        After this season, I don’t think Martin is much of an issue come 2014.

        I’m not in the re-sign Swisher camp.

        Hughes still has to show me another year of consistency before I think about him long-term.

      • Laz

        I wouldn’t mind keeping swish around for a few years on the right deal. They really don’t have anyone to fill in rf, and if they say trade for upton he is still already expensive and would require prospects. I would rather resign swisher than grandy, because I don’t see grandy being worth 20M aav. If hughes can become a solid pitcher I definetely think it would be worth keeping him around.

    • CountryClub

      It’s a gamble, but I’d offer him 3/18-21 after this season. Makes sense for the Yanks. Have a back end pitcher at a fixed rate for 2014 & 15. And, worst case, the deal is fair enough that they could trade him to the NL without having to eat anything (or very little) if that becomes necessary.

      He’d be set for life and still in line for a big deal (if his performance dictated it) heading into his age 30 season.

      • DM

        I was thinking the same thing — and I’m not a Hughes fan. If the Yankees are going to be more conservative in 2014 and beyond, they have to change the way they approach retaining their own players. In the past they would just wait for the FA showdown and pay up if they had to. Not now. I’m not sure if I’d offer a 3rd year to Phil — and I’m less hopeful that he’d bite at all. But to me 2014 is much more about the starting pitching than the Cano/Grandy stuff. You can’t count on Andy and Kuroda coming back on 1-yr-team-friendly contracts and performing at high level next season and the season after. You’ll need bodies to fill out that rotation. A mediocre Phil Hughes might be better than dumpster diving for a starter in 2014.

        • CountryClub

          Keep in mind, for them to get the full advantages of being under 189 mil, they need to be under in 14 & 15. At least that’s what I’ve read on the subject.

          • DM

            I don’t know all the details either — but giving Phil too much security scares me too. I’m just trying to get thru 2014 so we can find out if Pineda and Banuelos are actually going to contribute. My views would be much different if Pineda had been healthy and pitching this year in the bigs, and if Banuelos was already pushing his way out of AAA.

          • Laz

            I believe it resets once you go under the amount, and then for every year in a row you are over the percentage you pay increases.

      • blake

        Assuming he stays healthy I’d probably offer him that as well….but he may want to gamble on himself knowing that another good season would put him in position to get a much bigger deal than that after 2013….

        • CountryClub

          Possibly; but like you said, it would be a legit gamble. Hard to turn away from a guaranteed 18 mil.

  • DM

    He’s needed a legit 3rd pitch since forever. His fastball doesn’t have enough finish to challenge hitters. The swings I see from RH hitters are HR derby vicious b/c there’s no late movement or consistent plus speed with his FB. When he gets in deep counts, he tries to finish hitters with 2 pitches (FB and slurve) that can be handled when he was to throw them for strikes. When he was beaten by Cabrera, Encarnacion, Pedroia, etc, it wasn’t b/c of some great piece of hitting on their part. It was b/c they had no respect for either pitch when he’s forced to throw them for strikes after losing the count; and Hughes doesn’t have the command or guile to try to thread the needle in those spots.

  • Frank

    He definitely needs to use the change more than he did last night- more in line with the Red Sox game. He or Martin are too dependant on the FB- last night Rios hit it hard each AB, including the game winner. Plus, I counted at least 3 where Hughes didn’t hit his spots and the hitters just missed squaring it up. He also needs to use it when he’s behind in the count- otherwise, hitters are just sitting FB.

  • Brian S.

    Hughes or Phelps for game 4 starter? Assuming we make the ALDS.

    • Eddard

      Unless Hughes implodes the last month it’ll be Hughes. Joe will go with the guy who has postseason experience. Phelps will be needed in the pen in the event Joba doesn’t turn it around.

    • blake

      Hughes. Phelps has all of what 3 big league start?

    • Mike Axisa

      Would depend on the opponent, no?

      • blake

        I don’t think so….Phelps has very little experience starting in the big leagues….unless they leave him in the rotation and he really performs well (much better than Hughes) down the stretch then I don’t think it’ll even be a consideration.

        • Robinson Tilapia aka Melky’s Webmaster

          I’d say it’d depend more on where the chips fall between now and October. If Phelps continues to look solid, and the situation favors starting Phelps, then its an option.

          Like I said before when I vehemently argued against Phelps as #3 starter when he was still in the bullpen, there’s still much that needs to go badly for the rest of the team and well for David Phelps before any of this come close to fruition….although some of it already has potentially started to do so….

    • CountryClub

      Hughes. Heck, he could end up starting game 3 (depending on Pettitte).

  • Murderers’ Row Boat

    OMG! You mean he’s learned how to pitch? How dare he not learn how to pitch to major league hitters in high school! It’s almost like the Yankees brought him up too early and he could have used a few more seasons in the minors learning how to pitch.

  • Robinson Tilapia aka Melky’s Webmaster

    So you’re saying that burrito may actually be ready to come out of the microwave soon?


    • jjyank

      I sure hope so. I had a burrito for lunch.

      Argh! *runs to toilet*

      • LiterallyFigurative


        • jjyank

          Just kidding. My burrito was delicious.

          • Jim Is Bored

            All burritos end in the same place. Delicious or not.

    • Rocky Road Redemption

      Great. Now you’re just making me sad.

      How I miss him.

      • Robinson Tilapia aka Melky’s Webmaster

        He had a knack for pulling out random links of the net as replies that always cracked me up.

        It really is too bad he was eaten by piranhas like he was.

        • Rocky Road Redemption

          Those piranhas are a bitch.

  • Rocky Road Redemption

    The FIP is not encouraging, but I wonder if he’s always going to be a FIP-defying guy because he’s a flyball pitcher.

    Time will tell, I guess.

    • Robinson Tilapia aka Melky’s Webmaster

      Erica always finds FIP encouraging. #didiusethatright?

      • jjyank

        I don’t care how you use it, it’s alive!

        Erica is FIP defying, much to Plouf’s disappointment.

  • CapitalT

    anybody have the speed differences between his FB and change?

  • Bababoey to ya’ll

    Why does the media keep talking about Hughes as if hes having a bad season? Hes still developing and I think hes ready to find himself.