Arguably the biggest knock against Phil Hughes in 2010 — aside from giving up 8,000 home runs to the Toronto Blue Jays — was Hughes’ difficulty in putting hitters away with two strikes as the season wore on. I thought it might be instructive to look at how Phil fared with regards to OPS-against depending on the count, and compare his numbers against the league average to see where we might be able to expect improvement.
Of course, it’s important to remember that the AL average sample draws from every pitcher in the league, not just starters. If the data were broken out by starters and relievers I imagine the findings would be a bit more favorable to Hughes, given that relievers typically accumulate better stats due to the whole less-batters-faced thing.
Hughes’ OPS-against numbers in the various two-strike counts were slightly better than I’d expected, though his cumulative two-strike OPS-against was .568, compared to a league average of .531. Not great, although not atrocious. By comparison, his rotationmate CC Sabathia‘s two-strike OPS against was .396. Cliff Lee? .407. Jon Lester? .428? As we’ve harped on time and again, clearly Phil has some work to do in this area.
Of course, Phil’s problem wasn’t a lack of strikes — he threw the 12th-most 0-2 strikes in the AL. But too many of those 0-2 strikes were too good, as Hughes’ 34% Foul Ball Percentage led the league by a decent margin (four tied with 31%).
Getting back to the chart, Hughes only bested the league average in OPS-against in four of the 12 listed batting states — First Pitch, 2-0, 3-1 and 2-2. The league outperformed Hughes in 1-0, 3-0 (Hughes’ mark here was infinity — hence the lack of a data point on the bar graph — as all nine batters he faced that got to 3-0 counts eventually ended up walking), 1-1, 2-1, 0-2, 1-2 and Full Counts. They were dead even on 0-1 counts (.799 OPSa).
The largest discrepancy between Hughes and the average AL pitcher was on 1-2 counts, a .603 OPSa against .409, which means the league outperformed Hughes by nearly 200 points of OPS in these instances. This further underscores Hughes’ tendency to live too close to the strike zone with two strikes, and it’s particularly concerning that he got hit this hard compared to the league in the second-best pitchers’ count. The second-biggest discrepancy was on 2-1 counts, with the league registering an OPSa 185 points better than Hughes’ 1.027 mark, which was also his worst number of the 12 batting states by more than 50 points of OPS (the second-worst? 1-1 counts, with a .964 OPSa).
It’s encouraging that Hughes still had a fine season in spite of these two-strike concerns, and if he’s going to continue to improve — and as a 24-year-old there’s still plenty of room for him to get even better — he’ll almost certainly take greater care in not leaving hittable pitches in the zone with two strikes.