One thing I can’t stand, and the conversation around Michael Pineda the last day or two has reminded me of this, is the fetishizing of velocity. We’re all smart enough to know that there is a lot more to pitching than velocity. Location, movement, and command/control are more important than velocity, yet we constantly get hung up on how fast a guy is throwing. It’s easy to understand why: the pitch velocity is always displayed and, quite frankly, it’s pretty damn impressive to see a dude touch the mid-upper 90′s with his fastball. I know I’m pumped to watch the aforementioned Pineda rear back and hurl mid 90′s fastballs like it’s going out of style. But, with him, his use of secondary stuff, specifically his changeup, will determine how much more he succeeds this year. With someone like Phil Hughes, though, I’m more inclined to look at velocity.
If there’s one thing that Hughes has proven over the last few years, it’s that mastering secondary offerings is not an easy thing to do. Because of that, Hughes has had to lean on his fastball and his cutter, and we know how hair-pullingly frustrating that can get, especially when Hughes goes up 0-2 and just can’t put the batter away. Rage. Anyway, since Hughes can’t lean on his curveball or his changeup to retire batters, he’s got to rely on the speed of his fastball to do that work. There is the cutter, but it’s worth noting that both the pitchfx and baseball info solutions data show that it’s been ineffective.
2011 showed us that when Hughes’s velocity is down, he’s going to be a less effective pitcher. He certainly has issues to work out, such as pitch selection and command, but if the velocity isn’t right, those things aren’t going to matter as much. A combination of poor command and poor velocity will be beyond damning to Phil. While it certainly won’t be the only thing we need to keep an eye on, we should closely monitor Phil’s velocity and see how it affects his performance, both positively and negatively.