Thursday, November 5, 2015

From the Handbook: Phil Hughes' repertoire

Phil Hughes threw his
fastball markedly less
in 2015 than in previous
The annual Bill James Handbook showed up in my mailbox this week, and I figured I'd spend a few days cherry-picking information.

One of the first pieces of data I looked up was Phil Hughes' pitch choices. Hughes has been ... inconsistent, let us say, from year to year about what he throws and how often he throws it. Oh, he has always thrown the fastball more than 60 percent of the time, but the secondary pitches vary so much from season to season.

To recap from previous 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.

2014: 65 percent fastballs, 21 percent cutters, 14 percent curves, less than 1 percent changeups.

And now, from his disappointing 2015:

59 percent fastballs, 20 percent cutters, 16 percent curves, 5 percent changeups.

The only significant change is about five fastballs per game became changeups instead.

Neil Allen, who debuted this year as the Twins pitching coach, came in preaching heavier use of the change-up. While I agree in principle, I thought that it was a mistake in Hughes' specific case; he had ditched the changeup almost completely in 2014 and had the best season of his career. With Hughes, they were fixing something that wasn't broken.

Did Hughes regress in 2015 because he restored the change to his repertoire? I don't know. Hughes said repeatedly during 2015 that he wasn't happy with his fastball, and his velocity was down a few ticks from 2014. Did Hughes throw his fastball less often because it wasn't effective, or did he (as supposedly happened decades ago with Dwight Gooden) lose something off the heater because of working on the changeup? What role, if any, did his back problem have in this? Or was he destined to decline anyway? (Certainly a possibility.)

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