Monday, December 2, 2013

Breaking down Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes's 2012 Topps card.
Away back in the winter of 2007-08, when the Twins were shopping Johan Santana, Phil Hughes was a hot Yankee prospect and the arm connected to a potential trade. It never happened, of course.

But now, unless something unforeseen jams up the process (like a physical that discovers he has cancer or something), Hughes is about to become a Twin after all. The Yankees, weary of his tendency to allow homers, made no effort to retain the 27-year-old righty and 2010 All-Star as a free agent, and he hopped onto the Twins' three-year, $24 million offer.

One thing I like about the signing: Hughes is a significantly different pitcher than Ricky Nolasco, who agreed to join Minnesota last week. Nolasco relies on his breaking balls and gets a conventional set of results; Hughes is more a power arm and is one of the most pronounced fly ball pitchers around. The Twins rotation now figures to have a more diverse set of skills and approaches, rather than being a steady parade of sinker-slider guys.

The numbers, as provided in the Bill James Handbooks:

In 2013, Hughes faced 642 batters. They hit 144 ground balls (22.4 percent), 106 line drives (16.5 percent) and 217 fly balls (33.8 percent).

In 2012, in which Hughes was more effective, he faced 815 batters, who produced 192 ground balls (23.5 percent), 118 line drives (14.4 percent) and 282 fly balls (34.6 percent).

Hughes' average fastball velocity is listed at 92.4 mph in 2013, 92.1 in 2012. In the season just finished, he used the fastball on 62 percent of his pitches, with slider an emphatic second choice (24 percent). He also threw a curve (9 percent), a change (5 percent) and a very occasional splitter (less than 1 percent).

His mix in 2012 was, according to the Handbooks, a bit different: 65 percent fastballs, 18 percent curves, 10 percent changes, 4 percent sliders and 2 percent cutters. I don't know if there was an actual change in the mix or if this is an issue with pitch identification.

The obvious issue for Hughes with the Yankees was his home-road split. Last season he was 1-10 with a 6.32 ERA in Yankee Stadium, 3-4, 3.88 on the road. He gave up 17 homers in 78.1 innings in the Bronx, 1.95 homers per nine innings.

Presumably there were several Yankee Stadium homers that won't reach the right field seats, or even the wall, in Target Field. But if the Twins continue to parade Oswaldo Arcia and Ryan Doumit in right field on a regular basis, there's no guarantee those balls are going to be caught, either.

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