On Tuesday I looked at every home run yielded by Phil Hughes at home this season. In doing so, I was able to draw a distinction between home runs that were no doubters and ones that appeared to be squeakers. Of the 18 home runs yielded at home, 6 appeared to be slightly fluky. By that I don’t mean to suggest that they shouldn’t count, simply that they were incredibly close to not being home runs or that they wouldn’t have been home runs had the environment been ever so slightly different. For instance, Maicer Izturis bounced a ball off the top of the wall at the shallowest part of right field and it kicked into the stands for a home run. This is not the same kind of home run as giving up a 425 foot bomb to a slugger. The logical next step in this analysis is to examine home runs Hughes has yielded on the road this season. Unlike his record at home, Hughes’ list of away home runs is quite short: he’s given up a grand total of five. Let’s get after it after the jump.
Hughes’ first home run given up on the road was a shot by Matt Joyce, who owns Hughes. In 9 plate appearances, Joyce has walked once, homered twice and has a batting line of .375/.444/1.125. This home run took place on July 30th when the Yankees were in Tampa. The video confirms that this home run was a moonshot. The pitch was a fastball that Posada wanted low and in, but it drifted belt high and Joyce gave it a ride. The home run path from Hit Tracker Online confirms that this one was a solid home run.
The next home run Hughes gave up on the road was against Wilson Betemit in Kansas City on August 14. As the video shows, Betemit turned on a pitch and drove it well over the RF fence. This pitch was again a fastball that was supposed to be in on the left-hander and drifted towards the center of the plate and Betemit, who is having a very good year, didn’t miss. This ball landed essentially where Matt Joyce’s landed in Tampa:
The lesson so far is: fastballs that are supposed to be low and in to lefties that drift out over the plate mean bad things for young Phil. The next home run given up on the road by Hughes was against Vernon Wells eleven days later in Toronto. Here Hughes was supposed to leave the fastball down and it drifted up and out of the zone, almost letter high. Wells smacked it, though, and it cleared the left-field fence. This ball seemed more of a fly-ball than a line drive, and appeared to have way more arc on it than Joyce or Betemit’s home run, but Hit Tracker Online classified it as a “Plenty”:
Hughes’ remaining two home runs on the road were yielded in Tampa again to 1B/DH Dan Johnson. The first one was in the fifth inning and was classified as a Plenty by Hit Tracker Online. The video shows that the ball cleared the fence by a decent margin, maybe 20 feet, but was very close to hitting the foul pole. Despite what the Rays’ announcers said, Hughes didn’t miss by much on this pitch and it was not supposed to be away. Posada set up a little below belt high and in, and the fastball came in a little low, which is apparently right in Johnson’s wheelhouse. The flight path of the ball shows how close it was to going foul
The second home run was yielded in the seventh inning of the same game to the same batter. This home run was a no-doubter, jumping off Johnson’s bat like a Home Run Derby ball and traveling 420 feet, well towards the back of the Rays right-field seats. The issue here was Hughes’ placement of, you guessed it, the fastball. Posada set up away and Hughes left it low and over the middle of the plate. Seriously, don’t throw Dan Johnson anymore low fastballs.
There are several lessons to be drawn. For one, Hughes has given up more “fluky” home runs at home than on the road. It’s hard to know why this is exactly, but it does seem that his fly-ball tendencies produced more situations this year in which he was bitten by a short porch or bad weather in Yankee Stadium than elsewhere. This makes sense: he gives up a lot of fly balls and Yankee Stadium isn’t always hospitable to fly balls. Something else we learn is that Hughes tends to give up home runs when he misses with his fastball. Of the 24 home runs Hughes yielded in 2010 so far, only two were on curveballs, and five were on cutters. The rest were on fastballs that missed badly – rising up in the zone when it was supposed to be down or moving towards the center of the zone when it was supposed to be on the corner. Like any other pitcher, Hughes being able to command his fastball better and prevent batters from making solid contact on his fastball might result in less solidly-hit fly balls, meaning that he’d be less likely to give up both fluky and solid home runs.
Of course, there’s a missing piece to the puzzle. In looking at every home run he’s given up we are only seeing which home runs were unlikely and which ones were legitimate. This process necessarily restricts the number of home runs that we consider legitimate. In other words, looking at the video of each of Hughes’ home runs isn’t going to result in the analyst concluding: “Hughes gave up 24 home runs, but really should have given up 32”. By restricting the parameters to balls that went out of the park, the end-result of the analysis is a range of 0-24 and is accordingly an analysis favorable to the pitcher. What is missing is the number of fly balls that were converted to outs that perhaps should have been home runs. These fly balls were converted to outs because, say, the air was thin that night or the wind was blowing in or because the outfielder made a spectacular catch or because the particular park in which the ball was hit has a ridiculous deep alley not present anywhere else in baseball. This information is hard to find, unless one were to rewatch the video of every at-bat or fly ball against Hughes this season. The advent of Hit F(x) in 2011 may help us in this regard, and would represent a quantum leap in terms of information and analysis. It can’t get here soon enough.