Thursday, March 6, 2014

Phil Hughes and the curve ball

Phil Hughes displays the curve ball grip preferred
by Mike Mussina, the so-called knuckle curve.
When Phil Hughes signed with the Twins, I took note here of the significant change in his pitch selection from 2012 to 2013.

To review (data from Baseball Info Systems as presented in its annual Bill James Handbooks):

2012: 65 percent fastballs, 18 percent curves, 10 percent changeups, 4 percent sliders, 2 percent cutters. (That comes out to 99 percent, so presumably there are rounding errors involved).

2013: 62 percent fastballs, 24 percent sliders, 9 percent curves, 5 percent changeups, less than one percent splitters.

This is so drastic a change in repertoire that I wondered in December if these numbers were legitimate or if it signaled a problem in pitch identification in BIS' system. Turns out that, yes, Hughes did largely switch from the curve to the slider as his primary breaking ball in 2013. And his ERA ballooned by almost a full run per nine innings.

This year, he plans to revert to the curve. Fully a quarter of the pitches he threw in an intrasquad game last week were curve balls.

As detailed Wednesday by Twins Daily blogger Parker Hageman, Hughes has a history of shuffling breaking ball techniques. He's thrown a variety of curves, then, as noted, largely abandoned the curve for the slider last year.

I think it was Rob Neyer who wrote once that baseball history has two major themes: owners taking economic advantage of the players, and pitchers trying to develop a better changeup. Hughes' personal history is more about trying to find a better breaking ball.

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