Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Phil Hughes: Changed Process, Mixed Results

Before there was Ervin Santana, there was Phil Hughes. Before the 2014 season, the Minnesota Twins double-dipped and signed two starting pitchers. Although it was Ricky Nolasco that received the bigger contract, it was always Hughes that should have been looked like as a better fit. Leaving New York and the Cracker Jack box known as Yankee Stadium, he should have been expected to succeed. 2015 was always going to be a tough act to follow after a strong 2014, and so far that's proven true.

In his first season with the Twins, Hughes finished 7th in the American League Cy Young voting. Without a rough stretch in the middle of the summer, it's conceivable he could have been amongst the top three for the award. Setting an all-time Major League Baseball record with an 11.63 K/BB ratio, Hughes was one of the game's most effective pitchers.

Now just about half way through the 2015 season, it's worth noting the results haven't been as outstanding. It would be tough to suggest that 2014 was some sort of smoke and mirrors show, but despite still welcomed results this season, there's no doubt the process has changed.

Hughes pitched for eight years in New York with the Yankees. Across that timeframe, he gaves up more than 20 home runs three times, and more than 30 once. In the four seasons he gave up less than ten home runs, he never started more than 15 games. In short, the longball beat him badly in New York.

One of the most projectable differences between Hughes former home and his new one, was the size of the ballpark. With Target Field being a tougher place to hit home runs, the expectation is that Hughes effectiveness would increase. Despite pitching worse at home in 2014 (4.25 ERA/11 HR as opposed to .278 ERA/5 HR on the road), the former Yankee allowed just 16 home runs in 32 starts. As a whole, Hughes posted a career low 0.7 HR/9 mark (well off of his 1.2 HR/9 career total).

Fast forward to 2015, and Hughes has been burnt significantly by the longball. In just 16 starts, Hughes has given up 19 home runs (behind only Kyle Kendrick, 23, for the worst in the big leagues). His current 1.6 HR/9 mark is tied for the worst of his career, and the worst ratio since 2012.

Things have actually flip flopped to a certain extent regarding location in 2015 for Hughes however. Despite giving up nine home runs at home as opposed to 10 on the road, he owns a 3.76 ERA at Target Field, and a 4.47 ERA on the road. Oddly enough, Hughes has actually given up more home runs (10) in games he has won, as opposed to those he has lost (7).

As of July 1, Phil Hughes owns a 4.10 ERA, which is respectable and below his 4.30 career mark. His FIP of 4.53 however is the worst mark since 2012, and is also the third highest total of his career. What makes things even scarier for Hughes is that he has actually avoided even more danger. Of the 19 home runs surrendered, 13 of them have been of the solo variety.

Looking at the situation as a whole, it's hard to imagine Hughes is happy with the current state of his results. Outperforming his expected outcome thus far, things could be much worse for Phil Hughes this season. Considering things have yet to reach that point, Hughes has the opportunity to build towards a successful second half.

If his last three starts (1.59 ERA .181/.190/.373 13/1 K/BB) is any indication, things are trending in the right direction. Now if he could eliminate the four home runs over that time span, he'd really be in business.

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