With the elimination of the cutter from Phil Hughes’ repertoire, he’s become a three pitch starter who, at times, looks completely reliant on the fastball. If you’re unfamiliar, the 26 year old throws a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup to lefties. Since removing the cutter from his repertoire, Hughes has pitched to a 3.48 ERA over the last 64.2 innings, but he’s also dealt with a couple games where he’s been lit up. A lack of an out pitch has always been a problem for him, but he’s made some big steps in the last two months in his comfort with the curveball and changeup. Two decent pitches to backup a strong fastball can be enough for a starter, but a problem occurs when you’re missing the command or movement of one of those pitches, and I think that’s where his rough outings are coming from.
In his latest start, Paul O’Neil made an interesting point about the righthander’s curveball, there seemed to be some exaggerated movement similar to an 11-5 curveball thrown in the sixth inning against the Indians. As if Hughes heard the announcers, he threw a perfect 12-6 curveball only 2 pitches later. The assumption in the booth was that he had thrown two different curveballs, and after the game, some even believed he was throwing a slider. Hughes cleared the air after the game.
Apparently there was some thought during yesterday’s game that Phil Hughes was throwing his slider again. Hughes said this morning that he’s been occasionally using a slightly lower arm angle and throwing a harder, tighter curveball that might look a little bit like a slider. It’s not a new pitch, just a different way of using his curveball. I know he’s done it in the past, and he said he’s been working on it the past six starts or so.
Let’s take a look at the pitches in question, focusing on the release point and pitch movement, spin angle, and rotation courtesy of PITCHf/x.
I’ve provided the PITCHf/x data along with the pitches above, and you’ll see that some significant differences exist between both the release point and pitch movement. Hughes called his 11-5 curveball a harder and tighter pitch thanks to dropping his arm angle. Indeed, the release point of the 11-5 curveball is around 2.5 inches lower and an inch closer to the pitcher’s mound. The velocity is around 3 mph faster on the 11-5 curveball, which is complimented by some additional vertical movement and a decrease in horizontal movement. Meanwhile, the rotation and spin angle of the curveballs remain very similar.
If developed, both pitches will be useful tools depending on the type of hitters he’s facing, but I think the new 11-5 curveball looks like the nastier pitch. It could be the small sample size of the two curveballs in question, but the 11-5 is showing additional drop, a tighter spin, harder velocity, and a bigger break into left handed batters. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to isolate these pitches through his last 6 games, and thus can’t provide outcomes like whiff rates or groundball rates. I think it’s fair to be optimistic and excited about the pitch though, if anything, at least Hughes is trying to develop the out-pitch he needs.
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