The Yankees rotation has certainly found their mid-season form, but no pitcher has improved more than Phil Hughes. Yesterday, TYA co-founder Larry Koestler mentioned that Hughes has reinvented himself during the last month, and brought up some differences he spotted in the PITCHf/x numbers. The velocity and movement on the fastball has certainly evolved from April into June, and Joe Girardi credited the changes in the fastball to his improved command. It got me thinking that Hughes’ struggles in the month of April may have been nothing more than rust on the fastball. I decided to compare the four-seam from 2010 to April, May, and June of 2012.
|Date||Velocity||V Mvt||H Mvt||Spin Angle||Spin Rate|
As the months of 2012 have rolled on, Hughes’ fastball has looked more and more like his career fastball. Not only has the velocity nearly matched that of 2010, but as has the spin angle and spin rate, and thus the movement. The changes to the four-seam have resulted in an increase in his groundball rate (2.8% in April to 5.74% in June), and a decrease in line drives (2.47% to 1.64%) and homeruns (1.23% to 0.41%). So while the numbers indicate that the fastball has regained the same movement and velocity that made Hughes the number two starter in 2010, does Girardi’s analysis of regaining command hold merit? Along the lines of accuracy, the four-seam has decreased from a 32.9% called ball rate, to 29.2% in May, and 29.1% in June. Hughes has cleaned up his mechanics dramatically since the beginning of the season, but there are still instances of wildness, and this allows us to see the mechanical flaw he’s struggled with.
While both four-seam fastballs are called for down and away to Ryan Zimmerman, only the pitch on the left hits it’s spot, and the pitch on the right flies up and in. The difference between the two deliveries is in the legs, where Hughes is rushing his stride on the right. To better see the difference his balance position has on his fastball, I decided to compare this same four-seam to one of the best of the night. You can view it here, but PITCHf/x-wise, it had 2,656 RPM and a 214 degree spin angle, resulting in -7.4 inches of horizontal movement, and 11.1 inches of vertical movement. Hughes had a few of these pitches on the night, and most resulted in whiffs, so lets compare his mechanics.
Above, you get a better view of Hughes’ legs frame by frame, with the strong fastball on the left and poor four-seam on the right. In comparison, the picture on the right shows how much quicker his legs are in this example, and it appears that he’s holding the balance position on the well-located fastball around a second and a half longer, as well as bringing his knee up higher. With results that show higher RPM, higher spin angle, better movement, and much better control, I’d imagine holding the left knee in the balance position for longer allows for a stronger and better timed stride forward.
Hughes legs are the likely culprit for the early erratic fastball this season. As the season goes on and he separates himself from last year’s troubles, I’d imagine he’ll only get more comfortable with pitching again, hopefully keeping up the mid 3′s ERA pace he’s set over the last month and a half.
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