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Entries in Phil Hughes (12)


Phil Hughes Returns, Sort Of

Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes made his first major league start in nearly three months last night at Progressive Field, taking a loss against the Indians while allowing two runs in five innings pitched. Hughes, on the DL since mid-April with right shoulder inflammation, walked and whiffed two Indians apiece while also beaning two batters and tossing a wild pitch.

The Bombers' would-be number two starter behind CC Sabathia regained some, but not all, of the zip that was conspicuously absent on his fastball in April. Hughes averaged 91.5 MPH with his heater against Cleveland, topping out at 92.9 MPH.

That's certainly better than his 89.3 MPH showing in the season's opening month. Still, he didn't look like the same pitcher who sat at 92.5 MPH and maxed out at 96 in 2010. Hughes didn't get a swing and miss on any of the 40 fastballs that he threw. By contrast, Hughes' near-20 percent fastball miss rate last year ranked just outside the top 10 among starting pitchers.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi ascribes the lack of whiffs to Hughes elevating his fastball too much:

I think that's because he was up a lot. When it's up, it's flat; when it's flat, it's easy to keep your bat on the same plane. He's got to get a better downhill plane the next time he goes out.

 Here's the frequency of Hughes' fastball location from last night's start:

Girardi was right. It seems like Hughes is trying to use the same pitching approach as last year, but without the same quality of stuff.

Hughes elevated his fastball a lot last season, and to great effect. Forty-four percent of his fastballs were thrown up in the zone, and hitters managed just a .241 Weighted On-Base Average against the high heat (.328 league average). Forty-nine percent of his fastballs have been in the upper third of the zone this season. In a small sample, hitters have a .418 wOBA against Hughes' elevated fastballs in 2011.

Climbing the ladder with a fastball that can hit 96 on the gun is a different story than trying to do the same with an offering that doesn't break 92. Hughes' high heat could be a problem if he can't rediscover that extra gear on his fastball.


Phil Hughes' Early Season Blues

Yes, Phil Hughes' fastball velocity is down. We get it. Is that his only problem? Probably not, but it sure makes it harder for him to be successful with his other pitches. Let's take a look at how he's locating compared to the last three seasons.

Phil Hughes Pitch Location (All Pitch Types)
(Click to enlarge)

The major difference so far has been Hughes' attempt to come in on lefties. The main reason for this is that he's been relying on his cutter more over his first two starts, while shying away from his velocity-challenged fastball.

Phil Hughes Pitch Selection vs. LHB
Phil Hughes Pitch Selection vs. RHB

Having to rely more on his cutter has not produced positive results for Hughes. Batters are hitting .412 off it, compared to .290 in his three previous seasons; he's only induced a handful of swings and misses on the pitch as well. In his three previous seasons, Hughes was able to get opposing righties to chase his cutter out of the zone 38.4 percent of the time. So far this season, he's produced just 2 total swings on 21 cutters out of the zone to RHB. This could be a sign that his location is somewhat iffy. But it could also be a side effect of the ineffectiveness of his fastball. With batters seeing the cutter more, it's likely easier for them to lay off the pitch when it's thrown to the outside edge of the plate. And the reduced velocity on his fastball means batters have more time to identify the pitch, differentiating it from the cutter.

Phil Hughes vs. LHB
Phil Hughes vs. RHB

With only two starts under his belt, you can't really get too bent out of shape about any of these numbers, although they don't inspire much confidence going forward. His swing and miss rate is pretty awful even for the limited sample. Basically, opposing batters are making contact on 95 percent of their swings against Hughes. He's obviously not going to be racking up the Ks at that rate.


Phil Hughes' Cutter (Part Two)

Phil Hughes' Cutter vs. LHB
April - May.185.407.331
June - July.381.667.441
August - October.250.500.344

Phil Hughes' Cutter vs. RHB
April - May.225.275.232
June - July.444.778.530
August - October.316.632.411

Phil Hughes' Cutter - April-May

Phil Hughes' Cutter - June-July

Phil Hughes' Cutter - August-October 2nd

Since his performance numbers are based on plate appearances decided on a cutter, we're working with a relatively small sample size, especially when looking at splits.

Nonetheless, when viewed with his overall pitch frequency, two things stood out to me. First, against RHB in June and July, Hughes kept the cutter down more, and apparently this got him into more trouble. Second, Hughes avoided throwing the cutter in to lefties in June and July. However, when I split the map in half, I found he got hit harder when throwing the pitch inside during that period (.385 SLG% on the outer half compared to 1.125 SLG% on the inner half). As noted in the previous post, his cutter had less movement in June and July. This is pure speculation, but if Hughes knew he wasn't getting as much cut on that pitch, he may have avoided throwing it in to lefties.