What Went Right: Post-April Phil Hughes


(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The 2011 season was a nightmare for Phil Hughes, who battled shoulder and back injuries after logging a (by far) career-high workload the year before. He came into the 2012 season not necessarily as a virtual lock for the rotation, but he definitely had a leg up on Freddy Garcia for one of the final spots behind CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda. Michael Pineda‘s shoulder injury took care of the rotation logjam and Hughes had himself a rotation spot.

Phil was terrible in April, but we’ll talk about that a little bit later today. Right now we’re going to focus on his season starting in May, when he turned things around and became a key cog in the rotation. It all started in Kansas City, a few days after Mariano Rivera blew out his ACL on the warning track. Hughes put together his best start of the season (to date) against the Royals, striking out seven while allowing three runs in 6.2 innings. It wasn’t great by any means, but compared to April, he looked like Cy Young.

That start against Kansas City was a jumping-off point for Hughes, who followed up with 7.2 innings of one-run ball against the Mariners and five total runs allowed in his next three starts. The Angels pounded Phil in his hometown in his first June start (seven runs in 5.1 innings), but he rebounded to allow just one run in a complete game win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers his next time out. After that win over the Royals, Hughes allowed no more than two earned runs in eight of his next ten starts and in 14 of his next 20 starts to drop his ERA to 4.02 on the season.

At the end of the year, after logging a career-high 191.1 innings in a career-high 32 starts, Phil posted a 4.23 ERA and 4.56 FIP. His strikeout (7.76 K/9 and 20.3 K%) and walk (2.16 BB/9 and 5.6 BB%) rates were both better than the league average, and his 3.59 K/BB ranked tenth among qualified AL starters. From that start against the Royals through the end of the season, Hughes pitched to a 3.82 ERA (4.26 FIP) with 7.53 K/9 (20.0 K%), 2.07 BB/9 (5.5 BB%), and a 3.64 K/BB in 169.2 innings across 27 starts. He threw a strong start against the Orioles in the ALDS before exiting his ALCS start earlier this a back injury to close out the year.

Was Hughes the ace-caliber pitcher he was promised to be during his prospect days? No, of course not. That ship has all but certainly sailed. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable contributor though. Hughes was a rock solid mid-rotation starter for the Yankees this season, especially following his disastrous April. He has two big league seasons as a full-time starter in the AL East under his belt (2010 and 2012) and has been roughly league average both times while making a bit under $4M in the process. He could improve going forward, but what he did in the final five months of the season was enough to help the Yankees win another division title.

Categories : Players
  • Drew

    I think that last paragraph said it all. That being said I am really looking forward to see how Hughes pitches in not only a contract year but coming off from a career high workload, not that one has any sort of impact on the other of course.

  • jjyank

    2013 will be a huge year for Phil. Free agent after the season, this is his shot to show us (and other teams) what Phil Hughes is the one to expect going forward.

    • Jamey

      103 career GS and almost 600 innings pitched and you’re still confused on who he is?

      • jjyank

        Um, yes. He’s only 26, he spend a year as a reliever, had dealt with several injuries. You really don’t think he has any potential to take another step? Or does every age 26 season define someone’s career?

        • Jamey

          Those are his career numbers as a starter with a 4.63 ERA. Given the HR rate, Hughes is not a long-term bet for anything other than middle relief, most especially as he loses mph off his already weak fastball. He’s starting at 92 mph. In three years he’ll be out of the league given his HR rate.

          • Knoxvillain

            It’s time to stop posting.

            • Jamey

              Yeah cause that meatball is going to look really good once he loses a tick or two.


              92 mph. Good luck with that on a multi-year deal.

              • Knoxvillain

                He’s 26. Why do you think he is going to start losing velocity now? He could be at 92-93 for the next six years and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Have you never heard of Greg Maddux? Andy Pettitte?

                • jjyank

                  My point exactly. If Hughes was 30, I would say he is what he is. But he took a big step forward in my opinion this year. Will he improve? Will he regress? Will he end up in the bullpen someday? I don’t think anyone can look at Hughes and just say “yeah, we know exactly who he will be for the rest of his career”. 2013 will be an important year for him. Can he do what he did in 2012 two years in a row? If he does, his value will go way up.

                  • G

                    What are you talking about, clearly a pitcher’s performance in their mid to late 20s is indicative of exactly what kind of pitcher they are. Like Cliff Lee when he was 28. He pitched to a 6.29 ERA and was demoted to AAA.

                    I wonder what happened to that guy.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        Some ppl still are.

        He looks great at times and bad in other starts. Some fans feel he could end up being a 2 at best going forward while others view him as a back end starter.

  • Frank

    Coming off a good year- now is the perfect time to move him. I see it happening this off-season.

    • j

      Was interested in a Choo/Hughes swap (both have one year left) a while ago but don’t know if he’s still on the market

      • Mike Axisa

        Why would the Indians do that?

        • G

          Because the entire league exists solely to make the Yankees better?

          Seriously Hughes plus a prospect, given they have a chance to extend Hughes, might get them talking, but odds are it’d take a cost controlled guy like Phelps or Nova.

    • Rich in NJ

      Except for the fact that if Kuroda goes back to Japan, and Pettitte opts for retirement, they would then be pathetically thin in the rotation.

    • Get Phelps Up

      They shouldn’t even consider that until Pettitte and Kuroda sign.

  • Eddard

    Phil is the ideal #4 starter which is why it’s so important to re-sign Hiroki and Andy. If Phil is a #2 like he was in 2010 it won’t work. If Nova is a #2 like he was in 2011 it won’t work. These are back end starters and that’s the best we can hope from them.

  • Reuben Sierra’s Chains

    When is it finally going to be make or break for Phil? It seems like going into every year people expect big things from this guy and he shows flashes but that is generally all it he shows. I think what he has shown is who he might be.

    • Mike Axisa

      This was the make or break year.

      • Reuben Sierra’s Chains

        So did he make it or not? I guess based on the fact he is in the “What went Right category” he made it. I mean I am fine with giving him the ball every fifth day as long as he isn’t trusted to be any higher then a number 4 in the rotation.

        • Rich in NJ

          Given that serviceable #4 starters make about $10m per year, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that he made it.

          • Jamey

            Given that they are on a budget in 2014, I’m going to bet he didn’t. Not at that price for his performance and not with other, equally good options emerging each year from the farm.

            • Rich in NJ

              I actually meant that he is now an established ML starter.

              As to the point you raised, who is the last pitcher they have developed who has demonstrated that he can do that? It’s not Nova, and it’s less than certain that Phelps can do it as well.

              • Jamey

                I’m not at all convinced he’s as established as you say he is. This piece leaves out his HR and that marks him as really quite bad. This year he did better pitching around the HRs, but his career ERA as a starter (103 GS) is 4.63. That’s barely a #5. A bad month or two and he’s quickly a mop up arm.

                As to the question? Id sooner have bet on Wang or Nova and now Phelps than Hughes. None are what you say Hughes is.

                • Rich in NJ

                  #4 starters have flaws. Hughes’ changeup now appears to have developed to the point where it is a reliable pitch. When you add that to a very effective FB (which has been effective, as long as he can command it, even when it has been virtually his only pitch in a given start), two types of curves, and an occasional slider, I think you have a pitcher who has moved beyond the limited repertoire that once characterized his career.

                  Wang was a very effective pitcher for a while. But for the injury, maybe he could have continued his outlier-ish effectiveness.

                  Neither Nova nor Phelps have shown as much as Hughes over a season.

                  • Jamey

                    Not true. Nova’s 2011 was far better than any season Hughes has given as a starter.

                    As for pitches, Hughes has so little room for error with his FB, it’s exactly why it’s usually a meatball. Without a decent FB, he’s out of the league.

  • Cris Pengiucci

    Phil’s post-April numbers make him look like a possible #3 starter. He’s still young and may improve some. If he does, I think there’s a possibility he grows into a #2 (increase his strikeout rate and reduce his tendancy to give up HRs). His BB rate is excellent as is his K/BB rate. I certainly hope he puts together a full season similar to what he did post-April this year (for the Yankees. As much as I like him, if he gets traded, i don’t care if he implodes.).

    Have we heard anything more on his back injury? I suspose it was just a tightening of the muscles and nothing more since there’s really been no news on thi.

  • Jamey

    Funny how you don’t bother to mention the HR rate and how that perfectly explains his .5 run diff between ERA and FIP. That’s all the difference between Phil as a league average filler and an above average arm. And yet, the HR problem does not seem to be going away.

    Time to trade him and sell high.

    • Knoxvillain

      If you’re so bent on Hughes not even being in the league in three years because of him giving up home runs, why do you think you can sell high on him? Don’t you think the GMs of other teams know a little more than you?

      And regarding Hughes not being in the league because he gives up a lot of home runs, tell that to Bronson Arroyo.

    • jjyank

      The high FIP isn’t pretty, but there are pitchers out there who out perform their peripherals. If Hughes keeps limiting baserunners, the home run rate may not be as dire a situation.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Isn’t the correct answer, “no matter what the results say, he still sucks?”