Logic without statistics (don’t worry, I’ll back this up) would dictate that the type of pitcher Hughes is would be advantageous to a RHB. He is a high ball pitcher. Most of his pitches are either mid-level or high in the strike zone. Most LHBs like the ball down. So a high ball pitcher gives them more trouble. Most RHBs like the ball up and that is what they get from Hughes. Not only do they get the ball middle/up, they get it out over the plate. With too many pitches in the upper left-outer quadrant of the plate, RHBs have the choice of hitting the ball hard the other way or jacking it out by hooking it to the left. Either will work with a pitch that is up in their eyesight and where they can extend their arms to swing at the pitch.
Okay, now to back up that statement. Here is a heat map of all of Hughes’ pitches against RHBs this season (courtesy of Fangraphs.com):
To get a perspective on the heat map, you are looking at the strike zone from the catcher’s perspective. The RHB would stand on the left. The brightest yellow would be where most of his pitches are located. It is easy to see from the map that most of his pitches to RHBs are belt high or higher and middle away from the batter. The heat maps support the anecdotal or logic statement.
Has this problem always been the case for Hughes? Can it be said that he has pitched most of his career this way? The last season in which he had a large amount of starts was 2010. He was much better against RHBs that season. In fact, he was worse against LHBs than he was against the other. In 2010, his OPS against was only .672 against those that bat from the right side and those batters only had a wOBA against him of .292. He gave up twice as many homers to LHBs than to their counterparts. If you could somehow combine this year against lefties and 2010 against RHBs, you’d have a heckova pitcher. Let’s look at his heat map against RHBs for 2010:
He is still throwing to the outer half of the plate, but the glowiest (spell-checker says that is not a word) yellow is below the middle. So Hughes was more capable of getting the ball down in 2010 than he is in 2012.
For Phil Hughes to take the next step as a pitcher, he need to build on his greater success in 2012 against LHBs compared to 2010 and get his mechanics and focus on getting the ball down and in to RHBs to keep them more honest. Hughes has had a good year for the Yankees. He has been much better than the Yankees hoped. But he can be much better and will have to be for the Yankees to get far in the playoffs if they get that far.