A tale of two Phil Hughes

Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News

On the heels of his disastrous 2011 campaign, former Yankee phenom Phil Hughes is at something of a crossroads in his career. At 26 years old and entering his 6th season of professional baseball he’s no longer someone who we should advocate patience for, or is too young to draw any conclusions about. Thus far he’s been hurt 5 times in 6 years in the pros (3 more times in minors) including two lengthy DL stints in 07 and 11. Gene Michael told me firsthand that there are questions about his work ethic, which could go a long way towards explaining why his stuff has been so inconsistent and he’s been hurt so often. For those who missed it the first time, here’s what he said:

Gene Michael: “…Phil is better when he does his work. And his stuff was better when he pitched out of the bullpen. Not just the fastball, if you look at the cutter, it was much better when he worked out of the bullpen.”

Indications are he’ll have to (once again) earn a spot in the starting rotation in Spring Training, competing with the likes of Hector Noesi and Adam Warren. Neither of whom were ever as highly touted as Phil was as a minor league player. Noesi and Warren are considered to be back of the rotation starters at this level, Hughes was at one point the #1 pitching prospect in the game. But as we know that guarantees nothing, even the pitcher right behind him on the BA 2007 list Homer Bailey has struggled every bit as much as Phil has to find success at the MLB level. Outside of a strong 1st half in 2010 followed by a poor second half where he appeared to run out of gas, the Phil Hughes the Starter experiment may be in its final stages. We’ve heard Yankee officials say his stuff plays up in the bullpen, which is exactly what they were saying before they banished Joba to the middle innings. For an indication of why they may be leaning in that direction, check out Phil’s career role splits:

I         Split  G   PA   AB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  BAbip tOPS+
     as Starter 71 1663 1487 .260 .326 .425 .751  .292   109
    as Reliever 49  215  198 .172 .237 .232 .470  .254    33
I         Split  W  L W-L%  ERA  G GS  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
     as Starter 30 21 .588 4.90 71 71  1.361  7.0  2.14
    as Reliever  6  2 .750 1.44 49  0  0.905 11.2  4.12


It’s as if you’re looking at two completely different pitchers. Strikeout to walk rate nearly doubles, and strikeouts per 9 climbs from 7 to over 11. BABIP drops almost 40 points, OBP almost 100 points and SLG almost 200. One guy is dominant and the other mediocre. What’s more, Phil Hughes the MLB reliever more closely resembles the pitcher he was in the minors.

Here’s his MILB totals:

 W L  W-L%  ERA  G GS  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
32 8  .800 2.35 68 65 0.927  6.1  0.3  2.2 10.1  4.53


The trouble with this is twofold. First, the Yanks really don’t need another reliever. The bullpen is already stacked leading up to Mo with David Robertson, Rafael Soriano and Joba on the mend. Barring injury there’s no way he supplants the highly effective D-Rob or the highly paid Soriano. What’s more, the Yanks have let it be known they will be shopping for a Lefty this winter which could further crowd the bullpen picture. Especially if its someone with ability like Mike Gonzalez, who the Yanks have targeted numerous times in the recent past. If he loses a Spring Training battle for a rotation spot he’s going to be relegated to picking up crumbs in the 6th or 7th inning. But if they have any plans on trading him for an upgrade to the rotation, his stock couldn’t be any lower. He’s coming off the worst season of his career and entering his 2nd year of arbitration where he figures to get a bump in salary based on service time. Throw in his spotty health history on top of that, including an aggravation of a 6 year old back injury at the end of this year, and there’s no way Phil could be the centerpiece of a significant deal if the player coming back is any good. Chances are Phil will be back next year, and I for one will be paying close attention to what the beat reporters are saying about his level of conditioning.

0 thoughts on “A tale of two Phil Hughes

  1. That quote from Stick is vague and it takes a lot of reading into to say absolutely that he is questioning Phil’s work ethic. Clearly there is an issue, however, since it was apparent from day one of ST that Hughes was flabby and out of shape. It still bothers me very much. Coming out of HS, his attitude was considered a major plus – guess that wasn’t on the mark.

    The bigger part of that quote is that Stick thinks Phil is better out of the pen – I’m not sure why that has not made any noise in the media. The cutter may have been better out of the pen, but I think that’s because as a starter he was completely obsessed by it and he overused it (it’s not like it was a great pitch for him either). One of Phil’s problems is that he likes his new toys/new pitches while he’s basically given up on his change. The biggest problem is a complete inability to develop a good and consistent curve…….but again, that gets back to him being better out of the pen.

    I think Hughes gets half a year to start and if he’s not good enough, he gets sent to the pen for low leverage work (he did look good in the pen this post-season). Cashman needs to admit that he’ll never get anything of value for Phil; once he does, he can trade him for whatever someone will give him – which will be better than the nothing he’d get for letting him leave as a FA.

  2. Funny thing happened in Texas when Nolan Ryan took over. He let it be known that his pitchers were going to run, and a lot of it. Same for throwing a lot. When a pitcher doesn’t have leg strength and overall body conditioning they tend to tire in a game. I may “appear” that Joba and Phil’s stuff plays up in the bullpen. But maybe if they lost the doughboy look their stuff would “play” better as starters. The Yanks staff looks like they would be perfect for a bowling league, with a few exceptions…….

    • It doesn’t appear his stuff plays better in the pen, everyones stuff does indeed play better in the pen. Look at Ogando, in the rotation he touches 97 on occasion and lives in the mid 90’s, in the pen almost every other pitch is 99.

      Joba had no problem reaching a 97 MPH average out of the pen in 07 with his bowling league body, and he was still throwing in the mid 90’s as a starter until he got injured in 08. I for one don’t think his velocity issues have anything to do with how his body looks. Sure Joba could stand to lose a few, but his velocity woes go much deeper than that.

      • “Everyone” is a bit of an overstatement. Power pitchers can expect their stuff to play up in the bullpen. I don’t think an Andy Pettitte, IPK or Freddy Garcia would see a big difference if they suddenly became relievers, because they’re not trying to overpower hitters, rather change speeds and set them up.

        Which leads me to what I said to Michael in the original post. I’ve always felt Phil just doesn’t have the stuff to overpower hitters at this level as a starter and never has from day 1. He thinks he’s a power pitcher like he was in the minors, but he only looks like one when he’s been a reliever. If he stays in the rotation I think he should change his approach, changing speeds on his fastball and curve and using the cutter and change with 2 strikes off the plate. But Phil has never learned this. Every fastball is the same and every curve is the same. He’s just too damn predictable and always has been.

  3. Steve, I guess you’re right, but either way, it was apparent Phil did not do his work coming into last ST. I thought during the season that Phil really ticked off the organization by showing up unprepared and I also thought that he had little rope left with them. What’s most disappointing is that the Yankees really loved this kid – not just his talent, but his attitude. I’m sure they expected him to headline, or at least be a solid member of, the rotation for years. You can sometimes see trouble ahead with kids, but you couldn’t see it with Phil. Anyway, while it sucks that he hasn’t turned out all that well, I think the organization will be fine if they continue to develop other youngsters.

    • There’s a lot of organizational sentiment behind wanting Phil to succeed. He was the poster child for the youth movement Cashman wanted to employ when he took control of baseball ops. He was the supposed to be the best of the Big 3 (Hughes/Joba/IPK) the guy who was off limits in trades, and supposed to be the total package for a pitcher.

      But the results speak for themselves. His career ERA as a starter is a tad below 5. He’s never developed that 3rd pitch that he feels confident in throwing. You can’t argue that the Yanks or fan base hasn’t been patient after 5 seasons.

  4. Well, your starter vs reliever comparison doesn’t include innings so it’s hard to really know how meaningful it is.

    Hughes was obviously injured this year and, yes, his inability to stay healthy is an issue, but the snide remarks about his conditioning are a bit below the belt in my opinion. Was Bartolo Colon in shape? Was David Wells back in the 90s? If Hughes hadn’t been hurt and did produce results then I doubt we’d be hearing this kind of character assassination about his work habits from the Yankees.

    If Hughes is not maintaining his conditioning did the organization due anything to address the situation or just throw up their hands and say, “Yep, Hughesie’s a slacker, nothing to see here … move on”? With a young player they have such an investment in it seems that they would confront him, either through the manager and pitching coach or through his peers (where’s that clubhouse leadership?). If they didn’t then it’s as much on the organization as it is on Hughes.

    Isn’t it possible that Hughes was in less than great shape because of his injuries instead of the other way around? And let’s not be so fast to consign him to bullpen mop-up work when he’s obviously displayed potential as a starter (something the Yankees desperately need). How about fixing him instead of dumping on him?

    • First, I cited rate stats so I’m not sure why you’d have an issue with innings.

      Next, what exactly did you find to be “snide” or “below the belt”? I was quoting Gene Michael directly, and other than that I was citing facts about his performance. All season long we’ve seen evidence of inability to maintain velocity, and lack of conditioning is a likely explanation.

      Finally, blaming the organization and not holding the player accountable is the all too common fall back excuse for every prospect who doesn’t pan out. The team can tell him what to do but they can’t make him do it.

      • Yeah, rate stats are fine but without knowing for how many innings the rates held up the interpretation is unclear. A guy can bat .500 for a week you know.

        I’m not blaming the organization – I’m saying that they have a responsibility as well which, if Hughes is willfully not maintaining his conditioning, they have apparently not fulfilled. Otherwise all that talk about how CC and Mo and Jeter hold their teammates accountable is just that – talk.

        You haven’t presented much evidence other than Michael’s quote that Hughes is slacking. I would much prefer something more convincing than gossip to substantiate that claim, particularly in the case where the player has been injured. That, to me, is snide and below the belt.

        • So if I would have posted velocity charts we’ve all seen a zillion times on Phil then you would have been happy, but offering an insider’s explanation is off limits to you. Sorry, if you take offense to someone treating players as human beings and not just numbers on a graph then you may want to skip over my posts in the future. I think there’s room for covering all sides of a player’s story, you obviously don’t. There’s a line between getting into a players personal life, but when work ethic affects on-field play the it is fair game in my view.

          Stick is as much of an insider as there is with the Yanks, he’s a trusted confidant of Cashman and is in the loop on many baseball decisions. I think his opinion is much more than just “gossip”.

          • OH, please. For crying out loud – are you and your words really that far beyond criticism? If you want to post stuff on the Internet then you should really get a thicker skin.

            You have a single source from the front office. What do Rothschild, Girardi, Hughes’s teammates and most importantly Hughes himself have to say about this?

            How do you get from my comments that I only want to treat players as “numbers on a graph”? You’re the one who posted the numbers, your interpretation of which I questioned. I’m the one suggesting that the numbers might not tell the whole story.

            I’m also not saying you can’t question a player’s work ethic. If you actually read and understood my comments I’m saying that such a claim should be better substantiated – and that also applies to quotes from a single insider. The front office isn’t exactly a disinterested party – they could have an agenda here and it would be only proper to apply some skepticism to what they say. Instead you jumped in with both feet just so show off how much access you have to the powers that be. That’s shoddy journalism.

          • I’ll address each paragraph individually

            1-You start off your comment with “OH, please. For crying out loud” and I’m the one who’s thin skinned?

            2-Right, so unless I speak to everyone in the front office I shouldn’t post anything. Let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

            3-Even the best, most comprehensive numbers don’t tell the whole story. They never do. You’re really not adding anything here.

            4-I’m not a journalist, and never claimed to be. There’s a difference between the news section of a newspaper and the editorial page. This is a blog and what I do are called columns.

    • Was he really obviously injured? I remember the Yankees having a real tough time trying to diagnose what is was exactly. Was was the final diagnosis anyway? A need to build up arm strength? Sounds like a guy who didn’t work that hard in the offseason to me. Again thats speculative, I haven’t seen his medical charts. But I am of the opinion that this year will go a long way in determining Hughes future with the organization.

      As for velocity that could be anything really, including mechanics. I am no pitching coach but it seems that Hughes doesn’t have a free and easy delivery, so mechanics are more important to a guy like him when it comes to velocity.

      • He missed 2 months, and BP has it listed as “shoulder inflammation”. If you’re thinking his arm was dead after the innings jump last year, that may be so but its tough to nail down in a medical sense. I think reports of him showing up in camp out of shape could have been a factor as well.

        One thing people may not realize, players often start working out in December to get ready for the next season. Andy Pettitte knew he wasn’t coming back when he hadn’t done his usual offseason regimen, and knew he couldn’t get through a season if he showed up in camp having done little. Phil may be learning what it takes to get through a full season. 2010 was his first full innings load, in previous years he was either in the bullpen or spent time on the DL.

        • I am thinking it was part the innings jump, and part his poor work ethic. Your correct in knowing how to prepare for a season comes with age. Perhaps after his most taxing season he didn’t work out as hard in order to preserve his arm and came in out of shape? Either way this year there’s no excuses. He needs to do better than just mediocre in my mind.

  5. Its also important to remember that the key for a kid is brains, arm, deceptivity and ability to impart spin. phil canimpart spin. thats tough to teach. guys can spin or can’t.. time forhughes to learn a split and try again. its still possible though not likely. possible though. he still has the raw tools. arm strength, deceptive and spin

  6. If the Yankees end up resigning CC, and somehow sign Darvish, I wonder how they would assess the rotation? By that I mean would Hughes be given the 4th or 5th spot or would he have to compete with Noesi, Phelps, and Warren? I would assume that he would have to blow up bad and one of them run away with it, but if I ran the team, I would have Hughes on a short leash.

    • He didn’t earn it last year, and his velocity was down in camp but the Yanks gave him a spot based on the prior year. We all know what happened next. I can’t see them doing that again this year.

      If Noesi earns it and Phil doesn’t, I think Noesi gets the nod. If they both look good, I think Phil gets the #5.

      • Well if we did sign Darvish, I would think of moving Hughes and everyone else up a spot and putting Yu at the 5. Going from pitching once a week to once every 5 days is an adjustment no matter how many innings he has previously thrown. This way he can be skipped occasionally and kept fresh. Unfortunately it would move everyone up a spot but signing Darvish is about more than just this year.

        • 1-CC

          Just wanted to see that in print. That works for me, but the team really still needs a #2 from somewhere. I like Nova better as an innings eater at #3, and would expect some regression from him next year. As we’ve said, Hughes is a wild card. I like Darvish as a #5 for the reasons you listed, plus to take some of the pressure off in his first year. I wouldn’t want to count on him to be good, on top of all the other adjustments he’d have to make. Burnett has been .500 or worse pitcher with a high 4s ERA the past 2 years, I can’t expect him to be any better if he’s a year older.

  7. At this point I just feel better about Noesi’s prospects as a long-term starter than I do with Hughes. Noesi has shown the ability to throw four pitches, miss some bats, and his biggest weakness (his flyball/home run tendency) pretty much matches up with Hughes. I’m not saying Noesi will be great, but he’s shown improvement thye past two years, whereas it seems Phil has plateaued

  8. Hughes is only 26 with a ton of potential. Don’t count him out yet. The Yankees need to trade Burnett to Alanta for Derek Lowe, and sign Yu Darvish. Stay away from C.J. Wilson! Hopefully C.C comes back. If he walks, the Yankees should give one of the killer B’s a shot or pick up Jon Danks, Mark Burhle. Preferably Danks. Let Montero back-up catcher/DH. Hopefully Joba makes it back quickly and Soriano shows up this year. Would love to see some young farm system players get a real shot. RP Pat Vendetite,3B Laird Backup. etc.

  9. Steve, I think you are if anything understating the case with Hughes. The organization prized him above 3 pitchers who have now surpassed him, Kennedy with Arizona, Chamberlain (who pitched through tendon damage for most of last year and put up good numbers) and in 2011, Nova. Time to admit they were wrong about him and move on. A young guy who has proved nothing, yet comes to camp overweight and out of shape? This isn’t the attitude or work ethic I like in players. They need to keep him, of course, as an insurance 6th starter, but after the emergence of the next young starter, be it Noesi or whomever, they need to cut him loose. He doesn’t have what it takes.
    As for the Colon/Wells argument made above, yeah well those fat boys could pitch and that’s the point, this fat boy can’t.

  10. Hughes is why everyone should ease up with Betances and Banuelos. And anyone who says let CC go should be shown every foul ball off an 0-2 pitch from Hughes last year.