Phil Hughes probably won’t be a Yankee for much longer. He’ll be a free agent this offseason, and the Yankees originally maneuvered the rotation around the last 6 games of the year to skip Hughes. With CC Sabathia‘s injury, the right-hander will probably make one final start for the Bombers. Though I’ll be happy to see this era end, Hughes was one of my favorite pitchers to cover.
At the center of Hughes and his one-time potential was his ability to spin the ball. His four-seam fastball remains one of the best in the game thanks to an incredible amount of “rising” and breaking action into right-handed hitters. Unfortunately, he never fully developed that secondary put away pitch. Over the years, Hughes became a tinker, a pitcher who would change arm slots, add pitches, and move around the mound to try and find a way to get that third strike. It never worked for him, but it was a lot of fun to identify his different approaches and see how his incredible spin translated on a certain pitches.
Even with just a month left in his Yankee career, the righty added a new pitch. This time we have a splitter, a pitch that should act very close to his failed changeup. In one broadcast, close to the beginning of September, one of the announces indicated that Larry Rothschild taught Hughes the new pitch. Though I’m not sure how effective it will be, the movement on the pitch is quite interesting to see.
Though this isn’t a brilliant example of the splitter (it was a wild pitch), the GIF does a good job of showing both the grip and spin. In this case, Hughes has overrotated his shoulder axis and the pitch misses it’s intended location down and away, but the movement on the ball is also down and away. For Yankee fans that are used to watch Hiroki Kuroda, you’ll know that the typical splitter should break down and in to a right-handed batter. But this isn’t a typical splitter. The degree at which Hughes throws the pitch and the orientation of the seams adds a force to the ball other than the Magnus Effect.
Hughes’ new splitter is reminiscent of a ex-teammate Freddy Garcia‘s. Last year, I wrote about this pitch and its bizarre movement. Much like the ball we see above, Garcia’s splitter moves down and away from a right-handed batter, almost like a fast curveball or a dramatic slider. But the spin makes little sense in terms of the Magnus Effect. Where the spin axis on both Hughes and Garcia’s pitch indicate that the ball should be breaking down and in, it’s the seam orientation that actually defeats the influence of the Magnus Effect.
Again, looking at the GIF above, you’ll see that Hughes throws the pitch with seams constantly spinning around both 2 O’Clock and 8 O’Clock. In most other pitches, the seam orientation becomes too erratic and random through the flight of the ball, and the seams have little to no effect on the pitch movement. But in the case of a pitch like the knuckleball, seam orientation dictates the movement. Since there is very little spin, the seam is in a relatively constant location, creating two different types of air flow around the ball. The boundary layer now becomes either turbulent or laminar depending on where the seam is.
In the case of the splitter, the seam is spinning at a much higher rate than the knuckleball, however it is spinning in a consistent pattern from 2 O’Clock to 8 O’Clock. This spinning continues to cut the air, and creates turbulent flow around both the 2 O’Clock and 8 O’Clock points on the ball, while laminar air flow continues around the sides without the seams.
Due to a combination of turbulent air and gravity, the ball is pushed down and away, toward that 8 O’Clock spot. For Garcia, this pitch does an excellent job of not only changing speeds, but also tricking batters with opposite movement. I can’t tell you how effective it’ll be for Hughes, or if he’ll ever master the pitch, but it is more interesting to see that Larry Rothschild is teaching this pitch. With the success from Kuroda and Garcia, we may be seeing a new day for Yankee pitchers, where curveballs and sliders are no longer the go to breaking pitch. Splitters could be the new thing for an organization that has struggled to develop young starters.