Phil Hughes, Bargain Free Agent?
New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes struggled mightily in 2013. Over 29 starts and 145.2 innings, he posted a 5.19 ERA and surrendered 24 home runs. The Yankees won just 12 of his 29 starts, and Hughes himself had an ugly 4-14 record.
For the blue chip prospect that he was, Hughes’ career has been something of a disappointment. As a starter, he has a 4.48 FIP and just 8.6 WAR over 724 innings. Let’s put it this way: Luke Hochevar has almost exactly the same numbers as a starter.
His best moment was the first half of the 2010 season, where Hughes had a very solid 3.55 FIP and 2.3 WAR. Hughes pitched at replacement level in the second half, and he hasn’t managed an FIP below 4.50 since.
He’s had his fair share of injuries, including a bad hamstring pull in 2007, shoulder inflammation in 2011, and back issues that have plagued him in 2012 and 2013.
Okay, I’ve given a pretty good picture of the negatives surrounding Phil Hughes. Let’s move on to the reasons why I think he could be a bargain this offseason.
Much of Hughes’ struggles are a result of pitching in Yankee Stadium. For his career, he’s allowed a .274/.328/.479 batting line at home, and a .245/.306/.384 line on the road. A big chunk of this difference is the home runs Hughes allows at home. 76 of the 112 home runs Hughes has allowed in his career have come at home. This isn’t too surprising, Hughes is one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in the major leagues, and the cozy corners of Yankee Stadium make it a fly ball hitters paradise.
Hughes is a strike-thrower. This year, he threw first-pitch strikes to 71.6% of hitters, the highest rate of any starter with at least 140 innings. Over the last two years, his walk rate is just 6%, and his strikeout rate of 19.7% is a shade higher than the MLB average. He got to 0-2 in 35% of plate appearances. Only Cliff Lee got to 0-2 more frequently. Because he has just a league average swing and miss rate, he sometimes has trouble putting hitters away
Also, Hughes is a hard thrower. His fastball averaged over 92 miles per hour the last two years, putting him in the upper third of starting pitchers. His go-to secondary pitch seems to change every year, but he appears to have settled on a slider. It’s not a great pitch, but it’s certainly better than the disaster that was his cutter.
I still believe Phil Hughes could be a solid starter. Unfortunately for Yankees fans, it probably won’t happen while Hughes is wearing pinstripes. Yankee Stadium is a poor fit for a righthanded flyball pitcher. With a big ballpark, he won’t be giving up any home runs like this one to Billy Butler. The Minnesota Twins would be a good fit. Target Field swallows up a lot of flyballs, and the Twins desperately need pitching help.