One result of Hughes’s control is that he often works ahead in the count. He has faced 341 hitters this year, of which 83 have gone to an 0-2 count. That’s 24.3 percent of all hitters he’s faced. The AL average is just 19.3 percent of all PA. Yet hitters have had a field day once they’re this far behind. The average AL hitter has a .166 BA and .250 SLG in PA when they’ve seen an 0-2 count. In PA when Hughes has gotten ahead 0-2 hitters have a .253 BA and .494 SLG. Even worse, when the count is 0-2 AL hitters have a .146 BA and .222 SLG. Against Hughes with an 0-2 count they have a .294 BA and — I’m not even kidding — a .618 SLG. When Hughes is ahead in the count, opponents have hit .236/.242/.394 against him. The average AL pitcher holds opponents to a .201/.210/.300 line while ahead.
That .618 SLG is just…what? How? Well, let’s take a look at how, using the pitch f/x data we can gather from Brooks. Per Brooks’s data, Hughes has thrown 102 pitches while ahead 0-2 in the count. 63 of them have been fastballs, two have been sinkers (probably mislabeled cutters), three have been cutters, 27 have been curveballs and 6 have been changeups. As has been his M-0 for a while, Hughes is essentially a two-pitch pitcher when up 0-2.
The fastball isn’t all that much of a problem. After all, a 33.33% whiff/swing rate is pretty solid. However, it’s pretty evident that Hughes leaves the ball up in the zone in 0-2 counts. Why? He gets grounders on only 18.18% of the fastballs put in play; and, his HR/(FB+LD)% on fastballs in 0-2 counts is 12.5%. That’s not outrageous, but it’s still above the overall league average (~10.6) and looks pretty bad considering the heavy count advantage.
The curveball is slightly better in that it gets grounders 33.33% of the time that it’s put into play. But, that doesn’t tell the entire story. When batters hit Phil’s 0-2 curves, they hit those suckers HARD, evidenced by a 33.33% LD/BIP rate and a staggering 50.00 (!!!!!!!) HR/(FB+LD)%. I think it’s safe to say that Phil is hanging his curves on 0-2 like it’s going out of style.
The fix for all this seems rather simple, and it’s to get the ball down in the damn zone. But as we’ve seen for years, Hughes struggles to do that on a consistent basis and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. If he’s going to insist on working up in the zone with his fastball, he needs to make sure it’s crowding the hitter. As for the curve, maybe try and waste it a bit more, or work in more pitches that are effective low in the zone, like the changeup. Mike E said this in our email conversation yesterday, and I think it rings pretty true:
It seems, at this point, that Hughes needs the absolutely perfect conditions to pitch, and that his delivery is very delicate. He clearly has some serious upside in the tank, but it seems that we’re constantly reminded that a 25/26 year old rarely has perfect mechanics. This is definitely the case for Hughes.
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