Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Phil Hughes and the pursuit of a useable change

The Twins had a day off Tuesday. Phil Hughes did not. It was his turn to start, but with no exhibition game, he worked four innings, 59 pitchers, against Twins minor leaguers.

His fastball velocity sat, as it reportedly has in previous outings, around 90 mph. It's still fairly early in camp, and he's coming off surgery, so I don't know what to make of that. He might regain some velo. On the other hand, even in 2014 -- his career year to date -- he averaged a touch above 92 mph (according to the 2015 Bill James Handbook). When Hughes is right, he gets outs with movement and control, not with raw speed.

But the object of Tuesday's outing was the changeup. This has been a chronic thing since Neil Allen became the Twins pitching coach --- Hughes needs a changeup -- and almost half of Hughes' pitches Tuesday were changes.

I've argued before that for Hughes specifically, the pursuit of a changeup is fixing what ain't broke. He threw less than one changeup per game in 2014, and that was the best season a Twins right-hander has had at least since Brad Radke's heyday. It was also the season before Allen got the job. The next year, Hughes threw the change almost 10 percent of the time, and his results got worse. And last year the veteran's season was shortened by injury.

From Mike Bernadino's story on Tuesday's outing:

“He’s got to be a different guy, bring some different stuff to the table,” said Allen, who replaced longtime Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson after Hughes’ record-setting 2014 season. “Him throwing the change-up is going to be nothing but beneficial.”
"But we’ve got to make him change.”
 Allen has his blueprint for pitching success. Hughes' success in the past has been with a different style of pitching. The "we've got to make him change" line doesn't sit well with me.

In fairness to Allen, the thoratic outlet surgery may have added some urgency to the mission. It's possible that the missing 2 mph is gone for good, and that at age 30 Hughes does need to change who he is as a pitcher. I have my doubts about that, however.

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