Monday, September 19, 2016

Phil Hughes' Incredible Record Could Fall

The 2014 Major League Baseball season brought Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins. He was signed, and then extended, on a free agent contract and ended up being among consideration for the AL Cy Young award. The former Yankees first round pick had an incredible debut with the Twins, and in the process, set a record that didn't get much notoriety.

As has always been the case, Phil Hughes is a guy that simply does not walk many batters. He's never been a real serious strikeout threat, and it's probably fair to suggest Hughes hasn't been the player that Yankees hoped they would get from a first round starter. That said, he's more than capable of holding down a spot in the middle of a big league rotation, and he can make getting professional hitters out look routine.

During 2014, Hughes struck out batters, while walking so few, at a truly incredible pace. He eventually finished with an 11.63 strikeout to walk ratio, which would go down as the single greatest mark over the course of a season in Major League history. Hughes joined Bret Saberhagen as the only pitchers ever to post a strikeout to walk ratio of 11.0 or greater.

Since 1884, only four pitchers have ever had a strikeout to walk ratio of 10.0 or higher. Jim Whitney accomplished the feat in 1884 for the Boston Beaneaters. Saberhagen joined him in 1994 while pitching for the Mets, and Cliff Lee rounded out the trio in 2010 as he split time between the Mariners and Rangers.

This all now becomes relevant again though because the record which Hughes set in 2014, one that broke Saberhagen's 20 year old mark, could fall this season. As September baseball winds down, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw currently owns a mark that would smash Hughes' number into oblivion. With a 17.22 strikeout to walk ratio through 18 starts, Kershaw would top the Twins pitcher by nearly six strikeouts per walk. The one caveat to the scenario is whether or not Kershaw pitches enough to become qualified.

A big talker as the summer wound down, Kershaw was placed on the disabled list with injury issues. There were concerns as to whether or not he would pitch again this season, and if he did, what kind of effectiveness he would have. Now removed from the disabled list, Kershaw has made two starts in September in which he's owned a 2.25 ERA and a 10/0 K/BB across 8.0 IP.

Pitching today, Kershaw should make three more starts for the Dodgers yet this season. That would give him 21 on the year, and somewhere in the realm of 140.0+ IP. Should he reach the floor to qualify, his mark will almost assuredly unseat that of Hughes.

While Kershaw's number is significantly higher than the mark the Twins 2014 ace put up, it's impressive to see just how the two of the compare as well. Clayton Kershaw is one of the game's best at striking batters out, and that's witnessed by his 10.8 K/9. In just 129.0 IP, he has 155 strikeouts. For comparison, Hughes pitched 209.2 innings during 2014 while fanning just 186 batters. When looking at the walks, it's Hughes that may get the nod. In over 200 innings during 2014, he issued just 16 free passes. Kershaw has been stingy as well, but has given up nine walks in 129 innings thus far in 2016.

Regardless of how everything shakes out, the efficiency displayed by Hughes in 2014 and Kershaw this season is something to truly marvel. The former did it but limiting the damage he inflicted upon himself, and the latter has been a master of inflicting damage upon opposing hitters. Using history as a guide, Hughes and Kershaw have shown us something we may not see again for quite some time.

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