Monday night we learned that Phil Hughes has likely earned himself a rotation spot. His sleek 2.03 ERA speaks for itself, but behind a regained velocity, Hughes appears to be a different pitcher. The 0.975 WHIP is inspiring, but aside from velocity, whats so different about the young righty? Watching his performances, it appears that Hughes is receiving better results from his breaking pitches, yet isn’t showing lofty strikeout numbers. Curious, I broke down Hughes’ 4 outings this spring, and found some meaningful numbers despite small sample size.
As you can tell by the career 45.2% fly ball rate, Phil Hughes has relied on fly outs during his professional career. While fly ball pitchers are successful by keeping less hitters on base than ground ball pitchers, they often give up more extra base hits and homeruns. In the small confines of Yankee Stadium, a ground ball pitcher is preferable to a fly ball pitcher, and the youngster has suffered from the short right field porch. Looking at the table above, you can see that Hughes has increased his ground ball rate from a career 35% to 40% this spring. When you remove his shaky first game, he has posted a 48.57% groundball rate, something we’ve hardly seen from him in the Bronx. While it is a small sample size of 42 batted balls, I think there is a key to why these numbers are so different.
In his career, FIP-wise, he has a devastating 3.52 FIP against righties, but a 4.76 FIP against lefties. Hughes has maintained a 7.1% HR/FB rate, but against lefties he’s given up around 50% more homeruns at 10.7%, which is good for a 1.27 HR/9. Despite a drop in fly balls from righties to lefties, (47.9% v. 42.6%) the combination of a fly ball pitcher facing lefties in Yankee Stadium has not helped the 25 year old. Although Hughes told the public that he is working on throwing curveballs and changeups in to righties, he has shown some alarmingly different batted ball stats against lefties. In the 12 batted ball sample size, we have 8 ground balls, (66.7%) 3 fly balls, (25.0%) and 1 line drive (8.3%). Admittedly, its hard to analyze such small numbers, but its also hard to ignore so many ground balls coming off lefty bats.
Aside from the velocity issues that have surrounded Hughes this spring, his splits against righties and lefties have largely been forgotten about. With the few numbers we have, it appears that the Yankees have addressed both issues with grand results thus far. While we expect Hughes to have strikeouts when he’s pitching well, batted balls might give us a better understanding. I’m hopeful this is a new ability to induce fly balls from righties and ground balls from lefties. Hughes has been successful this spring and I expect more success if he can keep the batted balls in similar ratios.
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