In the month of April, Phil Hughes posted a miserable 7.88 ERA, a 6.40 FIP, and allowed a .329/.395/.658 slash. For the impatient fans, the 25 year old’s career as a starter was over despite a gaudy 9.56 K/9. Since then, Hughes has gone 31.1 innings in May with a 3.45 ERA, a 4.37 FIP, a .230/.277/.434 slash, an 8.33 K/9, and a 2.01 BB/9. The immediate focus is on how his ERA has fallen into the 4′s, but even more interesting is how he’s achieved his May turnaround.
He called it a reliever’s mentality in early May, and it’s included more four-seam fastballs challenging hitters, more curveballs, and showcasing the changeup to left handed hitters. For the most part, Hughes has also dissolved the cutter from his repertoire, refraining from a single one in last night’s start against the Royals.
|Pitch Type||Selection (4/8 – 4/25)||Selection (5/1 – 5/22)|
One personal issue I had with Hughes’ month of April was his selection with 2 strikes. He didn’t trust changing speeds in these counts, throwing 81% fastballs 0-2, 85% fastballs 1-2, and 89% fastballs 2-2. I argued that a lack of offspeed pitches allowed hitters to foul off the fastball, be it cutter or four-seam, drive up the pitch count, and wait for him to miss his spot. It would appear that he’s since changed his approach while ahead in the count.
While it looks as if he isn’t throwing his changeup as often as we’ve heard from the broadcasters, the pitch is only used to neutralize left handed hitters. In this situation, the pitch has conjured a 13.89% whiff rate, and induced 8.33% groundballs as opposed to 5.56% flyballs. The results of the changeup against left handed hitters has been encouraging, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him mix it in to right handers more. The cutter is still the 3rd pitch to right handed hitters, and it’s shown Hughes a 3.77% homerun rate and 7.55% line drive rate this season. It’s largely responsible for a reverse platoon split, where Phil has given up a .345/.380/.690 slash to right handed hitters. Mixing in the changeup as the 3rd pitch, and completely dumping the cutter couldn’t hurt considering the current cutter results. Of the 9 changeups he’s throwing to righties in May, he’s already seen 2 whiffs, so I’m not sure why he isn’t testing it more often.
|Pitch Type||Whiff Rates (4/8 – 4/25)||Whiff Rates (5/1 – 5/22)|
The overall whiff rates of the four-seam and cutter haven’t changed much considering the different selection, but now that he’s mixing the offspeed pitches more, the curveball has more than doubled it’s whiff rates along with a spike from the changeup. Although he hasn’t seen big changes on 0-2 or 1-2 year, when he’s 2-2, hitters are whiffing at his curveball 27.3% of the time, and 25.0% on the changeup. With more development and comfort with the changeup, I could see him striking out more righties with the pitch in the near future. Even if the strikeouts don’t come, the increased usage of the curveball and changeup have not only thrown hitters off while behind in the count, but they are inducing more groundballs. For a flyball pitcher in Yankee stadium, it’s important to have the ability to draw a groundball when you need it, and the offspeed pitches are drawing a 2:1 groundball to flyball rate.
Eliminating the cutter has cut down on his ridiculous linedrive rates. As Hughes develops and mixes in more changeups, I think we can expect bigger and better things from the young righty. Homeruns will always be a problem for a flyball pitcher in Yankee Stadium, but he’s finally learning how to pitch with such problems, and he’s finally looking like the #2 pitcher we’ve been patiently waiting for.
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