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…….

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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.