Can Phil Hughes keep winning with just fastballs?

If you translate that aggressiveness further, for Phil Hughes, that means fastballs. His other pitches have simply been tokens along the way. In Hughes’ last outing, 81 of his 108 pitches were fastballs. In his first ever complete-game shutout in his outing before that, 98 of his 123 pitches were fastballs. Combine those two games and a staggering 179 of his 231 total pitches have been fastballs. That is 77.5 percent.  Who does that?

Well, Bartolo Colon does that and more. Colon leads all of baseball with a fastball percentage of 88 percent. Colon did the same thing last year. And one thing we saw from all those fastballs from Colon was that sometimes it worked and sometimes he got cuffed around pretty good.

There are four other pitchers in baseball that have averaged over 70 percent fastballs this season. Justin Masterson has thrown 77.6 percent fastballs. But that is a little different as he is a “sinkerball” pitcher who tries to get batters out with ground balls. That is a different scenario with his two-seam fastball than Phil Hughes throwing all of the four-seam variety. And Masterson really is not having a great season.  Lucas Harrell of the Astros has thrown 73.3 percent fastballs and he too has had uneven success. He is 6-4 this season, but his 4.40 FIP and low strikeout rate does seem to mean that there are times teams catch up to him. The other two are on the Diamondbacks: Wade Miley and Joe Saunders. Miley has had a good season, Saunders an uneven one. A third of Miley’s fastballs are of the two-seam variety and half of Saunders’ are.

Brien has mentioned several times earlier in the season when Hughes was struggling that his lack of secondary pitches was killing him. And that was back when Hughes was throwing 6o to 65 percent fastballs. Hughes’ percentage is 67 percent for the season despite his last two outings. Does not Brien’s original point still hold true? Major League batters are going to hit fastballs. It is the ability to mix speeds and locations that will keep hitters off balance.

It simply seems improbable that Hughes can run off a series of wins by basically throwing one pitch. Sure, that may work for an inning. But six, seven or eight innings? Yes, it has the last couple of games. But can it continue? The hopeful answer is maybe. But the more practical one is that it does not seem likely. There will be days when such a strategy will work. And there will be others that can turn out pretty ugly. His season will depend on which happens more often.

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at since 2003.

2 thoughts on “Can Phil Hughes keep winning with just fastballs?

  1. So maybe THAT is why Cashman is at least looking at Dempster? Already getting contingency plans in place in anticipation of regression (or injury) from Hughes, Nova, and Petite? (regression in the first two, injury with the old guy – though obviously, anything can happen.)

  2. The answer to that question, simply put, is no. Even Nolan Ryan had a curve to go along with his fastball, and Hughes' fastball isn't anywhere as good.