Bold Prediction: Phil Hughes The Number Two Starter

In my first post here at TYA, I was optimistic about Phil Hughes due to a relationship I saw between FIP and velocity. I don’t necessarily think that the faster he pitches the better he’ll be, but perhaps the relationship depends on good health or confidence. Regardless, we watched the right hander make his debut on Tuesday, and Hughes was hitting 93 on the radar gun.

Matt Slocum / AP

As I speculated in my previous post, Hughes’ work at Athletics Performance Institute this winter could bump his velocity to numbers we saw the last time he worked out there. During the 2008-2009 offseason, him and Ricky Romero spent extensive time at API working out, and the results were very encouraging. PitchFx showed a 2.7 mph gain between an average 91 mph fastball in 2008 and a 93.7 mph fastball in 2009. He continued his work at API in the next offseason, as a starter he kept his fastball at around 92.5 mph in 2010 and had arguably his most valuable season.

Tuesday, Phil Hughes admitted last year was a failure.

“Throwing as much as I did in 2010 maybe I thought I needed more rest than I really did in that offseason, and maybe just didn’t push it as hard as I could have, and at the end of the day it falls on me and I paid for it with a disappointing year.”

Due to the increase in innings from 2009 to 2010, Hughes’ skipped working out at API last offseason, and when he showed up to Tampa overweight, the Yankees sent him to fatcamp. The result was shoulder inflammation, an 89.4 mph fastball, and an 8.79 FIP in his first three starts. After allowing his shoulder to rest, Hughes returned with a 91.5 mph fastball and a 3.72 FIP in the remaining twelve starts. As much as he disappointed last year, the 25 year old showed top of the rotation upside.

After hearing that Hughes returned to API this offseason, I predicted that he would come back with a vengeance in 2012. Indeed, all the reports are saying that his fastball looks very impressive. He showed some of his best velocity in years on Tuesday, despite some mediocre control, the fastball seemed to impress everyone from Cashman to Girardi to scouts to Phil Hughes himself. With the FIP and velocity relationship I found previously, perhaps it impressed me the most. His debut prepared me to make my first bold prediction of spring training.

ZiPS predicts Hughes to post a 4.84 ERA, a 4.45 FIP, and a 7.04 K/9, Bill James predicts a 3.71 ERA, a 3.77 FIP, and an 8.03 K.9, and if you thought Bill James was optimistic, here’s my prediction, 3.30 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and an 8.00 K/9. I expect the righty to build off of his second half of 2011, and with better velocity, post a better FIP than his 3.72. All signs point to a breakout season for the 25 year old, so here is my bold prediction. Phil Hughes will be the Yankees number 2 starter in 2012.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.

9 thoughts on “Bold Prediction: Phil Hughes The Number Two Starter

  1. Steve

    I can’t possibly predict how Phil will do this year IF he starts because I have no idea how his secondary pitches have progressed. I don’t think he’ll get that chance, either. With Robertson’s injury, which apppears to be serious, I see Phil Hughes to the pen – the Yankees will take the easy way out and that’s too bad. He’s to blame for a lot of his woes, but Phil has also been the victim of circumstances more than once (2007 when he was brought up early due to rotation injuries; 2009 when he was sent to the pen). If he goes to the pen this year, I’m not sure he’ll ever be a starter in this league.

  2. roadrider

    3.30 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and an 8.00 K/9

    Wow! I’d love to see it by I think that may be (as Alan Greenspan once said) a bit of irrational exuberance. Fastball velocity is important but you also have to put guys away and Hughes has had problems there.

    • T.O. Chris

      This is true. Since I know most (no one?) won’t read my monster long post, Hughes’ swinging strike percentage from 2010 when he was at his strongest velocity was 8.8%. That’s not awful but it’s also pretty identical to Freddy Garcia’s 8.7% from last year. Hughes simply doesn’t miss a ton of bats, he isn’t likely to ever be more than a mid 7 K/9 guy, which is perfectly fine at any velocity if he cleans up the fastball control within the zone.

  3. Quite bold. Here’s hoping we see substantial improvement from him this year.

  4. T.O. Chris

    “All signs point to a breakout season for the 25 year old”

    That statement really seems more like hoping beyond hope for something you want, not really based in facts. I suppose if you want to take the velocity in his first outing of ST as a sign he’ll have a break out year, then that’s one sign. Outside of that, and not showing up to camp fat, I really don’t see other signs.

    Despite what is beaten to death about Hughes’ velocity that’s never really been his problem. You can succeed in this league averaging 91 MPH, plenty do it, if only as middle of the rotation starters. Hughes’ problem is that his secondary offerings aren’t plus pitches and his control with the fastball in the strikezone has been terrible. He can throw strikes but he struggles throwing quality strikes. He had these same problems in the pen, but thanks to some added velocity he got away with it in one inning stints. However that doesn’t mean that the velocity is what he, the team, or bloggers and the media, should be focused on. It’s the control with the fastball that will dictate his success in the rotation. He can throw 100 MPH but if he isn’t hitting his spots, and missing towards the fat part of the bat he’s going to get hit. It’s also not like he ever used his velocity in the rotation to be a plus strikeout pitcher anyway. Even when Hughes shows plus velocity as a starter he still has never really shown a real knack for missing bats.

    In 2010 when Hughes was throwing 92.5 MPH his swinging strike percentage was only 8.8%, which is almost identical to the 8.7% Freddy Garcia posted last year. Even going back to 2007 when Hughes was averaging 91.4 MPH his SwStr% was 8.2%. He’s never going to be plus strikeout pitcher, he doesn’t generate the kind of movement in his fastball for such numbers. Even while coming close to 93 MPH his fastball doesn’t generate the swings and misses, or get respected the same as regular 93 MPH fastball. So I find it hard to believe that he is suddenly going to post K/9 rates of 8.0+, when he has never posted higher than 7.45 K/9 as a starter. Even in the minor leagues the last time he posted a K/9 of 8+, with more than 30 innings at a level, was AA.

    Hughes is a right handed, flyball pitcher, with average strikeout numbers, who pitches home games in Yankee Stadium. This isn’t the makings of a number 2 starter. Nothing he has ever done as a starter suggest he should be considered that kind of pitcher.

    I also don’t get why so many people keep siting his “second half” as proof he found it. He didn’t have a good second half, he had a good last month of the season.

    Jul- 21.1 IP, 5.49 K/9, 3.78 BB/9, 11.8 H/9, 5.48 ERA
    Aug- 28.1 IP, 6.66 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 8.28 H/9, 5.08 ERA
    Sept/Oct- 14.2 IP, 6.30 K/9, 4.41 BB/9, 6.93 H/9, 1.84 ERA

    That’s a total of 64.1 IP, 6.12 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 9.09 H/9, 4.49 ERA. So he’s building off of better than bad, but nothing that any other Yankee starting pitcher would get credit for in a 100 years.

  5. Sam Bang

    One must take into consideration that Phil’s fastball is very important for him. All his pitches work off of it, every time he has big problems one looks to his fastball. If it was around the 89-91 mark he had trouble. His fastball is very streight at slower speeds, the faster the more it jumps (not a lot but, enough).
    Phil works off his fastball so, his fastball is important to his win lost columns. Most pitchers work off their fastball but, Phil is a bit more dependent on it then most pitchers.
    Bottom line is, as Chris said something like; without command and control of his fastball it means nothing! His motion and delivery are not conducive for throwing a moving hard fastball.

  6. steph M

    OMG and it STILL continues; SO SICK of all the negativity about Phil’s pitching; ye of little faith

    • T.O. Chris

      It has nothing to do with negativity. It has to do with watching him pitch, examining the numbers, and then stating what he’s shown you. Which honestly, in the rotation, is very little. He’s never put together any kind of run of being much more than above average. He had 2 good months in 2010 and people act like he proved himself, however reality is that he pitched average more often than anything else in 2010. Simply stacking up wins while being on the positive end of the most run support in baseball proves nothing. No one is “hating” on Phil Hughes, they’re being rational. He’s not about to be tossed out of the league at any point, but he was also wildly overrated as a prospect, and Yankee fans have delusions of him being a step away from a top of the rotation starter.

      The truth is even if he averages 92-93 he’s still pretty much a two pitch pitcher with shaky command within the strikezone. He’ll make a fine 4-5 starter that way but he’s not climbing up the ladder any higher than that unless his change comes a long way, and his command within the zone rapidly improves.

  7. DirtyWater

    I don’t think so. Even when he won 18 he was pitching out of the back end with a TON of run support.

    He’s no #2.

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