What Went Wrong: Phil Hughes

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Roy Oswalt
Tuesday Night Open Thread

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the end of a disappointing homegrown era.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This was the biggest year of Phil Hughes‘ career. He was coming off a disappointing but almost perfectly league average 2012 season and had the opportunity to pitch his way into a hefty free agent contract this summer. This wasn’t your average contract year. Hughes’ walk year potentially meant going out onto the market at age 27 (!) with AL East and small ballpark success under his belt. Teams would have been lining up to pay him.

Rather than capitalize on that opportunity, Phil had the worst non-injury plagued season of his big league career. The end result was a 5.19 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 145.2 innings across 29 starts and one relief appearance, a performance that was below replacement level. Outside of a four-start stretch from late-April through early-May, Hughes never really put it together for any length of time. There was only one other instance this year in which he surrendered two of fewer earned runs in three consecutive starts. It was ugly for a number of reasons. Here are a few.

Homers For Everyone
Believe it or not, Hughes actually improved his homerun rate from 2012 to 2013. He allowed 35 homers in 191.1 innings last summer, which works out to 1.65 HR/9 and 12.4% HR/FB. This past season it was 24 homers in 145.2 innings, or 1.48 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB. Obviously the sheer volume of homeruns allowed is a problem, but timing was an issue as well. Twenty-three of those 35 homers in 2012 were solo shots (66%) and 25 came when the score was separated by two or fewer runs (71%). This season, 17 of 24 homers were solo shots (71%) and 22 of 24 (!) came with the score separated by no more than two runs (92%).

Obviously there is more to consider here than just Hughes — the Yankees played nothing but close games this past season because they had a crappy offense, so he had more opportunities to give up dingers in tight games. Still, it goes to show how untrustworthy Phil was for a team that needed steady and reliable pitching to compete. Any pitcher can give up a homer at any time, but Hughes is especially long ball prone and all season we sat on the edge of our seats waiting for the #obligatoryhomer. Every start he was walking on eggshells.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Bullpen Killer
Aside from missing his very first start of the season due to lingering back problem, Hughes did take the ball every five days for the Yankees. Despite that, he failed to throw enough innings (162) to qualify for the ERA title. Hughes led all of baseball with 14 (!) starts of fewer than five full innings of work, four more than second place Barry Zito and five more than second place in the AL Erik Bedard. Part of that was Joe Girardi‘s general lack of faith in him, as the skipper rightfully showed a very quick hook late in the season.

Among the 192 pitchers to make at least ten starts in 2013, only eight averaged fewer innings per start than Hughes (5.01). The guy was a drain on the rest of the pitching staff. He taxed the bullpen when he pitched and that’s something that can (and often did) carry over and impact the next day’s game. Calling Phil a five-and-fly starter this year would be pretty generous.

Getting Ahead But Not Putting Away
There is one thing that Hughes does exceptionally well, and that’s get ahead of hitters. He threw a first pitch strike to a whopping 71.7% of batters faced in 2013, the highest rate in all of baseball (min. 100 innings). Patrick Corbin (70.2%) and Cliff Lee (68.5%) were the only other pitchers within four percentage points of Phil. Furthermore, Hughes was second in baseball by going to an 0-2 count on 26.3% of batters faced this summer. Only Lee (28.7%) was better. There’s no denying Phil did an outstanding job of getting ahead in the count and putting himself in a position to succeed.

However, he rarely took advantage of those opportunities. Hughes’ lack of a legitimate put-away pitch led to foul ball after foul ball and prolonged at-bats, so much so that he ranked 118th in pitches per plate appearance (3.97) out the 145 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings. He was 134th in pitches per inning (17.5). Batters hit a remarkable .281/.290/.409 (177 OPS+) against Phil when he was ahead in the count and a ridiculous .245/.290/.413 (213 OPS+) when he jumped ahead 0-2. The league average following an 0-2 count was .167/.197/.248 this summer. That’s nut. It’s easy to think Hughes is an out-pitch away from becoming an ace given his ability to get ahead in the count, but you can say that about a whole lot of guys. He’s not anything special in that regard.

* * *

Barring something completely unexpected, Hughes will leave the Yankees and sign with a new team as a free agent this winter. He pitched his way out of a qualifying offer — making the offer seemed like a no-brainer as recently as late-July or so — so the Bombers won’t even get a draft pick as compensation. For shame.

Hughes will leave the Bronx having pitched to a 4.54 ERA and 4.31 FIP in 780.2 innings. That’s the third highest ERA and tenth highest FIP in team history among the 88 pitchers to throw at least 500 innings in pinstripes. Only Hank Johnson (4.84 ERA and 4.82 FIP), who played a century ago, and A.J. Burnett (4.79 ERA and 4.31 FIP) are worse in both categories. Hughes was electric as a reliever during the team’s World Championship season in 2009 and he had two years as an adequate back-end starter (2010 and 2012), but otherwise he was a huge disappointment and another example of the team’s inability to turn its top minor league talent into top Major League contributors.

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Scouting the Free Agent Market: Roy Oswalt
Tuesday Night Open Thread
  • Robinson Tilapia

    *grabs popcorn*

    It’s also 1:00 PM in Las Vegas right now.

  • TWTR

    I wish he would take a smaller, short-term contract here as a reliever, if it were offered, but I know it’s not happening.

    • qwerty

      Why would he do that when he can take a one year contract on an NL team, win the cy young and get a huge contract?

  • Darren

    We’ll always have Texas.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Always.

      *raises Shiner Bock*

      • Darren

        I would drink a beer with Phil Hughes and toast the almost no-hitter, 2009, and the things that never were.

  • Frank

    Hughes just didn’t work out. It is what it is. Just move on.

    • TWTR

      Neither did Joba. Taken together, it’s a very large reason why the Yankees have not been able to continue to be a true championship contender.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        That’s a bunch of words.

        There’s a weak argument to be made that, come playoff time, the team could have used a stronger fourth starter type at one point or another, but how much do playoff fourth starters matter? Wasn’t the narrative around here that the bats went flat?

        • TWTR

          That’s what makes up a sentence, RT.

          If both of them became at least in their prime #2 starters, as they were projected to be, they could have used the money they spent on Kuroda and Pettitte, on offense.

          That would have produced a much more balanced team.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Oh Jesus Christ. You are the worst kind of fan imaginable.

            “If everything would have gone the way I mapped it out wah wah wah….”

            If everything were to go correctly here, your screenname would autocorrect and drop the “TR” for “AT.”

          • MannyGeee

            And if the Queen had balls, she’d be King.

            A lot of ifs out there. And the Yankees are NOT the only team to have two prospect pitchers turn into pumpkins (relatively speaking).

            And the fact that they didn’t live up to our dreams does NOT make for why the 2013 Yankees were not championship caliber. If anything, an argument for the opposite could be made: They were, in comparison, a relatively cheap pair of pitchers and got some meaningful innings played.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              The Red Sox never had that happen.

              In other news, Craig Hansen just pumped my gas.

              You get the credit for the punchline above, though.

            • Pat D

              But teh Cardz and teh Rayz and teh Sawks!!

        • The Big City of Dreams

          He’s not too far off though. Yes we can’t live in a world of ifs but the Yankees had big plans for Generation Trey. Hell they had big plans for their pitching overall. Maybe one becomes an ace and the other a three. Or one becomes a two and the other a four. It changes a lot. Different trade possibilities as well as free agent pitching acquisitions. Montero probably still gets traded or doesn’t but if he does do they trade him for Pineda when they already have Hughes and Joba at the top of the rotation. Maybe he gets moved for a bat instead.

      • Mac

        Not sure that you understand what the word “contender” means. In the last five seasons the Yankees have won 95 or more games four times and won a total of 24 playoff games.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Or maybe Hughes and Joba were simply overrated by the organization and by us the fans.
        Every organization overrates their prospects. Everyone. Every team thinks they have a farm system full of 5-tool players, future All-Stars, and Cy Young winners. At least, that’s what they tell the press and the fans.
        Yet how often does it really work out that way?

        Maybe Hughes and Joba are just two guys who never really had what it took to succeed like we thought/wished they could.
        This idea that the Yankees can’t develop a pitching prospect is an idea I’d really like to see some proof for. The only proof I ever hear is “well these guys pitch for the Yankees and aren’t that good, ergo the Yankees did something wrong.” What’s the logic behind that? What did the Yankees “do wrong” with Hughes? He was given PLENTY of chances.

  • Yio

    So wait. Mike writes that Hughes was going to pitch his way into a big contract until this year, which meant he was a top contributor. But later he writes Hughes is also an example of the Yankee’s inability to turn its minor league talent into top major league contributors. You can’t have it both ways.

    Mike seems to be getting sillier and more whiny with each post since the off-season.

    • mike myers

      Hughes was going to pitch his way into a big contract

      All that means is he was a free agent at the prime and rare (27). All he had to do was pitch near league average and he would have had a 4 year contract waiting. He didnt need to be “top” – just good enough at age 27.

      relax.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Average players get big contracts.

      Hughes being an average player (he wasn’t even that with NYY) is disappointment.

      • Mac

        Because every prospect turns into a star for every other team!!!

        “I want my new bicycle!!!!”

    • Havok9120

      Have you seen the contracts being handed out for pitchers the last couple years? Did you see what Lincicum just got??

      An above average year could have gotten him a 5 or 6 year deal between his age and the expectation that he’d improve in a better ballpark with lighter competition.

      He was supposed to be a key component, wound up being an occasionally useful secondary piece, and never developed any kind of useful put-away pitch. You’re looking at this in much too black and white a fashion.

  • nsalem

    Was it the Yankees inability to develop Hughes (and Joba for that matter) or Hughes’ own inability to acquire the tools to be a successful front end pitcher? Unlike Joba he did get his chance and never really succeeded. I think his only bright moments were his relief stint in 2009 and the second half of 2012 when he seemed more aggressive in trying to close out hitters when he was ahead of in the count. i regard the first half of 2010 a lucky combination of great run support and many appearances against bad teams and some good teams missing key players. A case can be made that he was brought up to early (Yankees were floundering and in desperate need of starting pitching), but beside that where did the organization fail Phil Hughes.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      There was certainly tinkering from pitching coaches I wasn’t too big a fan of. That’s for sure. Where did that curveball go?

      In the end, though, how much of it was that and how much was Hughes? Who knows. I’ve always believed he lacked confidence and that his stuff really did regress over the years.

      There’s at least a couple of narratives that can be torn to shreds here. Hughes went through the minors quickly and without taking any steps back.

      • Nsalem

        I believe it might very well have been a lack of confidence and concentration that has kept him from achieving any kind of long term consistency. Though he doesn’t have the stuff of an AJ I see many similarities in there failings as Yankees. I was at Phil’s MLB debut against the Jays. If iirc AJ dominated the Yankees that night and vernon had a pretty good night also.

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixiera – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

    Pouring out a little liquor for my fallen former prospect love. (tear) Good luck wherever you go Phil. Sucks it didn’t work out.

  • Nathan

    “You were the chosen one!”

    and…replace “force” with “rotation”.

    “You were to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.”

  • jim p

    It is puzzling that Phil never developed a third pitch. Every spring we’d hear he was working on a change-up or something else, but… I don’t know how it works. Did coaching say, ‘hey Phil, work on this’ and Phil said ‘ah, I tried it but didn’t like it’ or… what?

    iirc, this year wasn’t the first where Phil would go 0-2 and then throw a half-dozen balls hit foul. Why was there no adjustment?

  • Pat D

    You broke my heart, Phredo.

    You broke my heart.

  • RetroRob

    It’s going to painful watching him win that Cy Young Award on another team.

    • qwerty

      But funny at the same time.

  • Grover

    As bad as Phil was I am not yet ready to rule out a one year deal where he heads to the pen if he falters once again. He’s young, healthy and will be cheap. I believe he could own the eighth inning if Kelly falters and spot start…in the right ballpark.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    Hughes entire pitching style drove me nuts. The foul balls were bad yes, but not nearly as bad as all the damn waste pitches that led up to them.

    I’m not a fan of waste pitches to begin with but Phil would sometimes (often)throw two or three to a single batter, which completely negated the original 0-2 count and led to him grooving pitches to avoid a walk. Balls at the batter’s feet, six inches outside, over their head, it was all just so pointless.

    I think it stood out more because he got ahead more often, but I also contend that he just threw way more completely useless pitches than the average pitcher too.

  • your mom

    Please for the love of God let this be the last post ever about Phil Hughes!

  • 42isNotMortal

    I think Mike highlights it for me here “…so the Bombers won’t even get a draft pick as compensation. For shame.”

    Admittedly, I was never a huge Hughes fan due to his funky shot put like delivery and its correlating tendency for a straight high trajectory towards the plate. My amateur, never pitched beyond high school take aside, I had long accepted Phil’s relative bust status. So I was excited for the 2nd, possibly 1st round comp pick attached to Hughes departure.

    Sure enough, Hughes managed to disappoint, even against meager expectations resulting in the greatest prospect dud of my Yankee fandom.

    • Darren

      I take it you’re too young to remember Brien Taylor.

      • botz

        I remember Brien Taylor and to be honest he’s not as big of a dud as Hughes. Taylor never even made it to AAA. Sure he was a #1 pick who had comparisons to the greats, but he was never even that close to making the team before he got in that fight.

  • monkeypants

    Hughes’ lack of a legitimate put-away pitch led to foul ball after foul ball and prolonged at-bats…

    That’s it in a nutshell. From my layman’s perspective, he didn’t have enough pure stuff, enough movement to blow people away with his fastball (except when he was a reliever), and he was never able to develop an out pitch (the abandoned curve, etc) to work off of his fastball. Very frustrating.

    The pessimist in me assumes he will go off to a new organization and new pitching coach and rattle off a few very fine seasons.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Watching his first two MLB starts was like watching the movie you’ve been waiting all summer to see on the big screen. It was then a series of heartbreaks in which you felt you saw the promise of that second start there, but it would then dissapear. First half of 2010 and the middle of 2012 were the most frustrating examples of such. Even this season, and really only because he actually did surface from the dead after that dreadful start of 2012, he still had some of us believing change was around the corner. It never came, though.

    I thought he was tinkered with too much on the way to trying to get it right. I thought he lacked confidence in whatever his arsenal was supposed to be at the time, and that it led to those pull-your-hair out at-bats. I thought it all came too easy to him coming up in the minors, which left him naked, struggling on an MLB mound. At the end of the day, though, it’s been seven seasons, and promise doesn’t mean a whole lot seven years into your MLB career.

    I hope he finds it somewhere. I certainly don’t wish him a bad career, or anything of that sort. There’s a good pitcher in there somewhere. I just don’t know whether that pitcher ever comes out again.

  • Mac

    Very questionable to say that Hughes comes from a disappointing homegrown era (probably just downright incorrect). Cano and Wang came up two years before Hughes. Melky basically the year before. IPK and Joba the same year. Gardner and DRob a year after. Cervelli two years after. AJax was MLB ready three years layer and Nova came up that same season. Montero debuted the next season.

    By any reasonable standard the Yankees farm system was very productive in that stretch. It’s been the last 2-3 seasons it’s been disappointing. And the stretch before 2005. From 2005-10/11 it was very productive. A great team like the recent Cardinals that’s put together largely by their own amateur acquisition is not what you should expect and be disappointed if you don’t get. It’s an extremely rare exception.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He didn’t face a lick of adversity in the minors. Certainly not one you can pin on the MiLB development boogeyman.

      • Mac

        I was just thinking that just about every commenter on here who complains that the Yankees don’t promote marginal guys in AAA these days enough was probably also complaining that they promoted too liberally in 2008 (if he or she was even old enough to type). Obviously there is a balance between the two, but my point is that most of these people are just looking for something to complain about when things don’t go perfectly for them. I don’t know if that’s just human nature or if it reflects the youth of this group.

        Mike’s complaint about Hughes’ era seems to reflect that sentiment. He’s always looking for something to complain about and someone to blame when things don’t go right. That era wasn’t disappointing unless you expect every prospect to turn into an MLB star. The Yankees developed a total star, two above average starters at a premium position, another OF who has had his above average seasons and his below, 3.5 SPs (Wang having gotten hurt, so he’s the 0.5), two good RPs, a back-up C, and one of the best prospects in baseball over that time period.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Well, the bar is set way too high sometimes. We seem to think that the only successes that matter are all-star caliber players. If you can graduate a guy to being a consistent contributor on you 25-man roster, that’s an accomplishment. Hell, the Yankees gradauted guys to that status in 2013, yet get zero credit.

          What also bugs me, and I’ve said this before, is that many of die-hard fans have actually followed this farm system for a long time. I don’t get up in arms now because I’ve seen the changes, good and bad, which got us here, which means I’m not *that* surprised by it all. I also think that, when compared to 5-7 years ago, when there wasn’t a ton of positional depth in the minors, there’s actually been quite a few positive steps taken to go along with some frustrating falls. It’s certainly not where the organization wants it to be, or expected it to be, and that’s certainly a fair criticism (one even shared by Brian Cashman himself in interviews.) I do think, though, it’s on it’s way to becoming more than the middle-of-the-pack system folks are complaining about if they the course draft-wise.

          Funny how, in their frustration, some of the spoiled fans so quickly advocate for blowing the system up because they’ll all fail anyway, which would pretty much make things worse.

          • Mac

            Even if the bar is at “All-Star caliber” it’s really hard to call that era a disappointment. They graduated 4 All-Stars (Cano, Melky, DRob, Melancon), a Cy Young runner up (Wang), a 4th place Cy Young finisher (IPK), a ROY runner up (AJax), and a top 10 prospect who was traded for a rookie All-Star (Montero –> Pineda).

            I know that homegrown implies they stuck around, but at the same time Mike is the first one to advocate trading prospects for proven players. Hard to say both that they need to keep their homegrown All-Stars and constantly bring in solid veterans using prospects.

            I think it’s just a two or so season lull (if that… they traded Montero basically last season) coming after a strong 6 year run. It’s been exacerbated by injuries to many of the most promising potential contributors: Pineda subbing for Montero and Banuelos both being unable to P at all the last two years, and then two of their better position prospects in Romine and Adams having their development disrupted in about AA by serious injuries. Then by the acute need for replacements in 2013: if Adams, Romine, and Zoilo are September call-ups people are probably really excited about the signs they showed last season… as mid-season starters they didn’t look so hot. Remember that Adams and Romine have to date about 400 AAA PAs between them and Zoilo has about 300. Give those guys a full AAA season in 2013 and their debuts in 2014 might have gone better.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          As a whole Hughes’ era was a disappoint. Sure there were some bright spots but a number of setbacks.

  • John in Forest

    Maddening. Just maddening.

  • qwerty

    To this day I have no idea why Cashman continued to hang in there with Phil Hughes season after season. Ditto for Joba. I think trading both would have been an admittance of failure for his player development plan.

    • Mac

      In 3 seasons of 4 entering 2013 Hughes posted at least 2.3 fWAR. That might have been why Cashman continued to hang on to him. He was cheap, young enough to expect improvement, and pretty solid overall. In literally 2012 Hughes finished 49th in fWAR. According to that well respected stat each team in MLB had only about 1.5 guys in their rotation better than Hughes… the season before last.

      Once Joba became a mediocre RP and then got hurt twice… what were you going to trade him for? This is probably one of the few guys in history to get TJS despite a Dr. telling him his UCL was just fine.

      If he had traded them at the top of their value as prospects or new MLB Ps, sure. After that there probably wasn’t a ton of value coming back in return compared to the potential each still possessed.

      • qwerty

        Even if Hughes had the same exact season he had in 2012, he still would have been a bad bet for 4-5 more years on a new contract. The yankees were banking on him having one more good season so they could make a qualifying offer, have him refuse and then get a draft pick from whatever team picks him up. That’s just bad baseball. Hughes’s entire career has been one of inconsistence. To expect anything else was was foolish. He should have been traded immediately.