Phil Hughes and uncharted waters

Yankees shut out of Baseball America's top 20 GCL prospects
Joba, Aardsma, and lessons learned
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

When Phil Hughes throws his first pitch tonight, he’ll set all sorts of new career-highs. In fact, pretty much everything he does from here on out will represent some kind of new personal best. Phil has already set career-highs in starts (30), innings (180), batters faced (764), pitches thrown (3,027), strikeouts (157), and yes, homers allowed (34) this year. The various WAR metrics ding him hard for the homers, but I still feel comfortable saying this season is better than his 2010 campaign.

With all of these new career-highs comes a lot of uncertainty. If Hughes manages to throw at least six innings in each of his final two regular seasons starts — something he’s been able to do in five of his last seven outings — he’ll have thrown as many innings this season as he did in the 2010 regular season and postseason combined. The workload has started to manifest itself in Phil’s fastball velocity, which has gradually declined from 93-95 earlier in the year to 91-93 nowadays…

Fastball velocity isn’t everything, far from it, but it sure is a nice thing to have in your back pocket. You’re more likely to get away with mistakes throwing mid-90s than you are low-90s. Hughes still isn’t walking anyone (2.15 BB/9 and 5.6 BB%), so he hasn’t shield away from the strike zone as the season has progressed. In fact, his pitches per batter faced has dropped from the 4.0-4.2 range in April and May to around 3.9 in August and September. Not a huge drop, but it actually runs counter to what I expected. It feels like he’s needed more pitches per batter lately, not fewer.

Hughes is one of only two starters to remain in the rotation all season, and the Yankees haven’t babied him at all. Sure, they have given him an extra day of rest here and there just like they have everyone else, but he hasn’t had a start skipped or anything like that. Hughes isn’t a kid anymore at age 26, but it’s still fair to wonder how well he’ll hold up now that he has more single-season mileage on his arm than ever before. Tonight’s start is important not just in the standings, but also as a sort of check-up on Phil and how he’s throwing the ball this late in the season.

Yankees shut out of Baseball America's top 20 GCL prospects
Joba, Aardsma, and lessons learned
  • Better off Eddard

    We need him. This nonsense about Nova being a #4 starter was put to rest Saturday when he failed to get through 3 innings. Phil is the #4 and that is often the swing game in a 2-1 series so he will be a huge factor in the postseason. We only need 5 more good starts out of him.

    • CS Yankee

      I thought you stated that nova was the real deal?

  • Robinson Tilapia

    He’s also both looked downright dominant at times and more able to recover from tough innings (eye test there.) That being said, I doubt he gets the rope to work himself out of trouble from here on out.

    Putting the awful April and, pretty much, everyone giving up on him, aside, I sometimes wonder if we’ll be waiting forever for the other shoe to drop with Hughes. I still think it’s fair to wait and see as to what he looks like next season, but that will probably not be enough for many.

  • DM

    I’d be more focused on Kuroda who’s in the same situation at age 37 with a lot more mileage on his arm/shoulder.

    • Sayid

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Except DM’s been stopping by for years.

  • Kevin

    What in the world do you think is the reason that he simply cannot get righties out anymore when he used to be excellent against righties?

    Prior to 2012 against RHB
    .233 BA/.281 OBP/.361 SLG

    2012 vs RHB
    .309 BA/.343 OBP/.595 SLG

    Which is a shame because his old weakness against lefties has been fixed:
    Prior to 2012 vs LHB
    .266 BA/.343 OBP/.441 SLG

    2012 vs LHB
    .205 BA/.265 OBP/.340 SLG

    Maybe this is an oversimplification and in fact Im sure it is. But doesn’t it seem like if we could figure out the way he attacked righties earlier in his career and combine that with how he’s figured out how to attack lefties this year we could really have something.

    • B-Rando

      I would venture a guess it has something to do with his cutter and basically getting rid of the pitch. Maybe he found success against RHB in the past with it, but he is a better pitcher without it.

      He’s now relying on legitimate off-speed offerings with his (what appears to be) 2 different curve balls, and the new slider-like pitch.

  • MannyGeee

    so V-Lo is down, bb% is still low, but his batters faced has gone down and he seems to be holding steady (results-wise) this late in the season, even with all the innings.

    This sounds like the kid has found his confidence, and in turn, his command of the plate. this in turn will spurn very very good things.

    damn, its hard to type with every finger toe and any ohter applicible appendenge crossed….

    • jjyank

      I wonder if it the slider/”slutter” has been brought back to adapt to a drop in velocity? I’m too lazy/mildy busy at work to look myself, just thinking out loud.

  • Mike HC

    Good points. Also, when he struggled earlier in the year, I think I remember him saying he adjusted by just throwing the ball with full effort like he did in the pen, rather than try to conserve some arm strength. Maybe that decision will have an effect late this year and next year? I hope not.

  • mark

    What is his WAR?

  • Nick

    1.7 fWAR and bWAR

  • TomH

    He goes 5 innings against Baltimore this month and gives 5 ER. He does 6 innings against them next time out and gives up only 2. Then follows that with 5 splendid shutout innings against the Sox. Then the AAAA Jays manhandle him for 4 ERs in 5 innings (although he strikes out 9 of them!).

    I don’t know what to expect from him any longer. I probably would expect him to lose an important playoff game, but wouldn’t be surprised if he won. Looking at his numbers solves nothing.

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    “Fastball velocity isn’t everything…..”. Gregg Madux can attest to that. He never threw above 89 at least when I saw him ,yet he was a winner. Why? Because he put the ball exactly where he wanted with some movement.Location and movement trumps velocity.That is what Hughes has to do locate with some spin.

    • John

      Movement is just as overrated as velocity. Location and changing speed are the key.

  • Rich in NJ

    The failure to have accumulated a typical starter’s innings due to injury and (misguided) bullpen use may be a large part of what has held back Hughes’ development.

    So yeah, his arm strength could be a problem for the remainder of this season, but the workload could also enable him to be a better pitcher next season, with the increased stamina to maintain his velo longer.

  • Steve (Yes Another One)

    If Phil had been brought up with Nova like hype (none) then the MSM (and most of us fans) would be sining his praises. The problem is we were told that we were getting a future ace and that is not what we have. We can all remember that night in Texas when our view of Phil went from potential #1 to the enigma he has been ever since. That being said I hope he continues to be an integral part of the Yankees.

    • jim p

      So many great pitchers, Koufax and Gibson come to mind, didn’t really shine until they were 26 or 27. I figure Phil will only get better after this season.

      • Scully

        I Think that has to do with your brain catching up with your body maturity wise. It makes a lot of sense. We do tend to write Hughes off due to the hype he received as such a young pitcher, but he could have 10 excellent years ahead of him for all we know.

  • The Moral Majority is Neither

    To be a legit starter Phil needs to have 200 IP penciled next to his name at the start of 2013. He needs these innings to continue that progress.

  • CS Yankee

    Hughes has owned the Twins (or so I recall) so i don’t think this start makes him the 4th starter. However if he imploids, it makes the 4th starter worrisome come October.

    Use the changeup Phil and throw away the splitty…you should be able to get away with the high cheese against the Twinkies, just don’t try that in g4 against the Rangers in the ALCS.

  • Tom Morea

    Not too much to get excited about with two starting pitchers in the rotation, one leads with 34 home runs and the other leads the world in extra base hits!

  • Dicka24

    I posted last year, and earlier this year, that the Yankees might be wise to buy low on Hughes in trying to sign him to an extension. Sure there’d be risk in doing so, but there’s the potential that he takes the next step in his walk year next season, and drives the price up significantly. Or worse, he takes the next step and leaves via free agency. The kid is what, 26 or 27? Would you guys try to extend him, or play next season out and see what shakes?