Remember when Hughes was having an ugly season? Well he’s posted a 3.46 ERA (153.1 IP) since losing the cutter, a 3.17 ERA (96.2 IP) since lowering his arm slot, and a 2.84 ERA (25.1 IP) since adding the slider.
Phil Hughes is showing why he’s a great pitcher. He was once a top 10 prospect overall, he looked great in his first few starts, but he never lived up to the hype. He struggled with injuries that severely hurt his development, and for a while we weren’t quite sure if he was a starter or reliever. The right hander and inconsistency were one in the same, and that doesn’t exclude parts of this season.
The 26 year old opened 2012 with 5 starts, totaling 21.2 IP and a 7.48 ERA. Throughout all the struggles, the Yankee stuck with him. For an organization that is notoriously impatient with prospects, their persistence in starting him is unique for how they typically handle prospects. Something about Hughes set him aside from all the other prospects that have come and gone.
When Baseball America ranked him the #4 prospect in 2007, his command and stuff was at the forefront of their writeup. His four-seam fastball and curveball played spectacularly through the minors and into his first few starts in the majors. After a hamstring injury in 2007, Hughes never felt the same. Over the following four years, he faced injuries, he was moved from bullpen to rotation numerous times, and battled inconsistency. The promising starter lost his luster.
I don’t think many people expected him to come back from his awful April this year and produce 15 wins with a 3.96 ERA In mid-September. That’s because us fans forgot about his greatest asset. Hughes showed an advanced feel for pitching at the age of 21. He had command, he had velocity, and he had movement, but he also had the rarest tool in baseball, an extreme ability to adapt.
When he was drafted in 2004, Hughes demonstrated a brilliant fastball and slider. It was the Yankees organization that asked him to try and throw the curveball instead, in order to protect his elbow. He did so with ease.
When he was reaching an innings limit, he showed that he had no problem switching from the bullpen to the rotation.
When he struggled in 2009, we saw him quickly add a dominant cutter.
When he lost considerable velocity on his fastball in 2011, he came back with a vengeance in 2012 by spending his winter working out vigorously.
But this season was the greatest demonstration of him as a pitcher. When he struggled against lefties, he added the changeup, and when he struggled against righties, he added the slider. When he was getting hit around in April, he lost his cutter. When he was giving up too many homeruns, he lowered his arm angle. Now he’s pitching like a #2 starter in hitter’s ballpark that shouldn’t favor him in the slightest.
Hughes has seen his fair share of trouble throughout his career, and he’s done nothing but overcome. Results aside, he’s shown that he can acclimate to an ever-changing game. When scouts talk about players being pitchers or throwers, Hughes is by far a pitcher.
On extending him, there are plenty of pro’s. He’s still very young, his price won’t be extravagant, he’s shown improving numbers, and he’s already succeeded in New York. There are of course the con’s. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher with a bad home/away split, he’s had an inconsistent career, and he’s been injury prone. What outweighs all of this, in my opinion, is his make up. You don’t see many players that can so simply change their mechanics and add pitches like Hughes does, and this is a game that demands adaptation.
Forget his first 5 awful starts to open the season, and look at his numbers from when he started adapting. As a 26 year old pitcher in Yankee Stadium, and in the American League East, that number is remarkable. There’s plenty of reason to think his improving trends will continue. With the price of young pitching skyrocketing in recent years, the Yankees would be smart to offer Hughes an extension before he produces a dominant statistical season. Sure, an extension is always a gamble, but the way he’s improving, the team would still be buying low. In my opinion, it’s a risk worth taking.
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