Going into the 2011 season, I expected Phil Hughes to complement Sabathia at the top of the Yankees’ rotation. Phil was our number two. A year later I find myself refreshing twitter and a smorgasbord of blogs to see who Cashman and company chose to replace Hughes. The once top pitching prospect that Baseball America called a “homegrown ace”, now fights for a rotation spot only five years after reaching the big leagues.
It appears Hughes failed in 2011, whether it be injury or lack of training, an obvious decline in velocity arose in March and haunted the rest of his season. Velocity can reemerge, as Hughes found out in 2011, but many of us Yankee fans have reached the point where we don’t expect him to encompass a top of the rotation pitcher. Has Hughes suffered from a lack of velocity, or is he a different pitcher from the ace BA predicted?
PitchFX clocked Hughes’ average fastball velocity per game started at 91.07 mph in 2011. With the data available from the last five years, this average velocity compares with his 2007 season (91.32 mph) and 2008. (91.25) Is there any FIP correlation with those seasons? The FIPs from those seasons all fall within the same range, in 2007 Hughes finished with a 4.48 FIP, in 2008 4.46 FIP, and in 2011 a 4.48 FIP as a starter.
A FIP in the mid 4’s may not be ideal, but when his FIP’s were compared to upper velocity stretches, especially those in 2010, there is reason to be optimistic. In 2010 he increased his average fastball velocity per start to 92.52 mph and maintained a 4.34 FIP. However, in the games started where he averaged over the 92.52 mph (75.0 IP), he sported a 3.53 FIP.
2011 held similar correlating results for Hughes. The first 3 games he averaged 89.38 mph on his four-seamer with an 8.79 FIP, in 10.1 IP, a very small sample size before he was pulled from the rotation. When Hughes returned he bumped his velocity to 91.53 mph and posted a 3.72 FIP through 61.1 IP. Not only does that help show how big of an impact Hughes’ velocity contributes to his success, it shows how he remains capable of posting top of the rotation numbers.
Perhaps Hughes’ inconsistent velocity is the difference between calling him the Yankees’ homegrown ace and calling him their latest flop. So what can we expect from him next year? I’m optimistic after seeing the correlation between his velocity and FIP. Hughes and the Yankees may feel the same considering their apparent patience with him, as compared to players named Joba. Of course Hughes could come back to spring training next year and sport the low 80’s fastball he showed off last year. However, we know Hughes is working hard at the Athletes Performance Institute with Ricky Romero. The last time he worked out there was 2009 where he bumped his average fastball velocity per game from 91.25 mph to 92.25 mph.
Assuming Hughes steers clear of any more health problems and his hard work at API pays off, I feel the Bill James 3.82 FIP and 3.71 ERA may be an accurate prediction. His brilliance in the 2011 season is masked by the failures in the first 3 games. That 3.72 FIP after returning to the Yankees rotation last season shows that his mechanics, pitch selection, and dumping his slider for a cutter have paid off. For 2012, Phil is still my number two.
For anyone interested in the PitchFx/FIP stats I’ve uploaded the spreadsheet here.
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