Looking Deeper at the Struggles of Phil Hughes


Phil Hughes is not having the best walk year. The free-agent to be is having what, at first blush, looks like one of the worst seasons of anyone heading into free agency. However, digging a little deeper, it is possible that the numbers that jump out as being the worst for Hughes may actually be masking some facts about his performance this season.

While he hasn’t been perfect, Phil Hughes’ season has been reatly impacted by the team around him. (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

The initial numbers are a bit jarring, admittedly. The righty is currently 4-12 with a 4.97 ERA, his last win coming back on July 28th against the Rays. Predictably, Hughes’ fly-ball pitching style isn’t helpnig his home run tendencies, as he has surrendered 23 on the year- still not as many as CC Sabathia, but I digress. Granted, these numbers look pretty awful, but digging a little deeper shows that Hughes hasn’t been too bad at all.

For instance, on the season, in 125 IP and 540 batters faced, he has surrendered only 35 walks, or 2.9 BB/9 IP. That stat is lowest only to his 2.6/9 from 20012, and is lower by almost half a point as compared to his stellar 2009 season. Further, he has a K/9 IP ratio of 7.6/9, which is better than during his All-Star campaign from 2010 (7.5).

While the WHIP numbers are a bit elevated (1.395), he has also had a WHIP of about 1.2 to 1.3 throughout his career, despite roles as a starter and as a reliever. Totals in walks, hits, ERs and runs allowed are projected to be at about the same numbers of 2012, and are in turn about his 2010 numbers, too. It appears that Phil is still pitching “the same”, so so speak, as he always has- this time, however, with a limited offense, he has had worse results in the W-L columns than in previous seasons.

Ionically, for all the talk about Phil “fading” as a game progresses, the numbers suggest otherwise. In fact, in pitches 1-15, the BAA is .286; pitches 16-30, BAA is .372; pitches 31-45 drops down to .230; and 45-75 goes to .178. In the scenarios of pitches 1-70, Hughes has faced batters more than 100 times all but once (97 being the lowest, 121 being the highest), so the same size is pretty legitimate.

So what is really the issue? Let’s take a look at the offensive production during Phil’s starts. In total, Hughes has started 22 games in 2013, going 4-12. However, in those 12 losses, Hughes has gone at least 6 IP with three or less ER- the definition of a quality start- eight times. In other words, he pitched for more than half the game and the put the team in a position to win. The problem with these games was the offense’s inability to score more than three runs (though in a game like Thursday’s, the issue is the bullpen letting the lead get too far away). As such, looking at a 4-12 record doesn’t exactly give a full picture as to the way Hughes has pitched. With a depleted lineup and the replacements struggling as much as they have, it could be argued that many of the pitchers were victims to the weak offense, regardless of their individual production. While each pitcher has gone out a stunk on occasion too, in reality it appears that the offense has had an even broader affect on the individual pitchers’ records, not just the record of the team.

On the whole, Hughes isn’t have the best year, but he’s not having the worst, either. Looking at the numbers more closely, it appears that most of the peripherals are in line with what his career has been- falling behind in the count leading to hit BAA, giving up homers, inflated ERA. In reality, it seems like Phil, along with a number of his fellow pitchers, is suffering from a combination of mediocre pitching and some terrible offense that isn’t helping, even when on top of his game. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to tender the 27-year old this winter as a stopgap, given few options on the market and a fresh crop of talent (Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw) headed for free agency after the 2014 season. Unless they are going to commit to Hughes as a reliever, where he has excelled tremendously in the past, the Yankees shouldn’t sign him long-term, regardless of this season’s struggles.