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September 01, 2007

Something About Hughes

Back in March of this year, I warned that "You never can tell with young pitchers." And, I still stick by those words. There have been more "can't miss" pitching prospects who have missed than did not miss - a lot more.

And, to be honest, I'm starting to get concerned about Phil Hughes.

Don't get me wrong here - I have no idea whatsoever how Hughes' career will move forward from this point. He could be the next John Smoltz or the next Scott Scudder. Or, he could be the next Dave Stieb or the next Don Schulze? No one, and I mean no one, can say for sure which way Hughes' career is going to go, now, and be 100% sure.

There's just something in what we're seeing from Hughes, or maybe it's the lack of something, that makes me suspect that he's not going to be a great major league pitcher. Maybe it's because he's so big (in actual size) and doesn't throw an impressive fastball and he seems to lose all his effectiveness after throwing 75 pitches in a start? Perhaps I'm expecting to see a "horse," and, because I'm not seeing it, that I suspect Hughes will not be a star big league pitcher? Maybe that's it?

Remaining candid, I really don't know what it is...it's just a feeling. You know how baseball scouts refer to "the good face," and none can tell you exactly what it is - but, they know when the they see it? It's sorta of like that, now, for me, with Hughes.

I wish that I could shake this feeling, and get on the "Phil Franchise" bandwagon. But, I can't do it just now. Hopefully, I'm worrying about nothing here and there will be a seat left for me on that wagon when Hughes is a star for the Yankees.

For what it's worth, I don't feel this way about Joba Chamberlain. And, I'm interested in watching Ian Kennedy to see how I feel about him. If my gut on Ian registers the same as my gut on Joba, then it will just be a "Hughes" thing for me.

How do you feel about Phil Hughes, now, after you've had a chance to see him make eight starts for the Yankees this season? Do you have that same feeling as me? Or, something different?

Posted by Steve Lombardi at September 1, 2007 10:19 AM


Of course you don't feel that way about Joba, he throws 100 mph and you are a sucker for that. You're obsessed with Hughes' velocity. Also, Joba has the benefit of having thrown what, 10 inning total? Thats very conducive to a guy who throws really hard. Heck, Mo was a failed starter, b/c starting involves throwing more than one or two pitches for a long time.

But in terms of Hughes, well, lets address some of your points. Last night, Hughes was sitting 92-93, which is right where he should be. But it was his control that killed him and a flat curve, which really has been generally flat since he came back. Hughes was blowing by hitters last night, but his control was all over the place and therefore couldn't put them away and got tired fast. Plus, he has only thrown the curve and 4-seamers. This tells me that his mechanics are probably slightly out of whack or his hammy/ankle really isn't fully there. Neither of these will probably get addressed until the off season.

The getting tired thing is 100% the fault of the Yankees and the injury. Obviously the injury sapped him of strength, and the Yankees insistence on limiting him to 5 innings in the minors means that, well, they made him into a 5 inning pitcher. That will change.

Me? I see a guy who is putting up k/9 #s that Smoltz, Clemens, Maddox--NONE of those guys did, so despite what you say about not seeing "something" he, in fact, does have it. What has killed him, as already said, is his control, which is his trademark. With it, hes ahead of hitters and generates GBs, without it, hes behind and has to rely on the 4 seamer and throw too many pitches...

Steve, you have never seen anything in Hughes. You have doubted him since day 1 and almost seemed to want him to fail. Seriously, go look at other pitchers that young in their first season. Its the same story. I don't know when throwing 92-93 became not good enough, but for the love of Gos, will you at least give Hughes a full season not robbed by injury to judge him? This was still supposed to be a development year.

Posted by: Zack [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 11:40 AM

i understand what you mean Steve. i too have been disappointed in Hughes since he came off the DL. however, i do see something special in him. last night, if that 4th pitch to Iwamura on the curve rolls fair (instead of just foul) and they get the easy out, i think he goes on to have a very good game. i have no evidence for this, just a feeling, because those first 4 pitches looked outstanding. unfortunately, his next pitch was a hanging curve.

the good news is that his velocity was better last night, seeming to average 91-92, topping out at 94. he just didn't have great command which is strange because that was his forte in milb. that's been his biggest problem so far, command, he's walking too many guys and falling behind on counts. imo though, it's a matter of adjusting to the Bigs, being the youngest pitcher in MLB, and having all the injuries. i wouldnt be surprised if Hughes didn't have a truly great year until 2009-10. i DO think he'll be fine (whether it's next year or 09), but perhaps not this year. in short, i see flashes of greatness, but not consistency yet.

Posted by: Travis G. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 11:47 AM

Well, Zack said everything that needs to be said, so I won't bother repeating it.

The good thing about this post is that you finally reveal that, for whatever reason, you never liked him, always doubted him, and have been negative about Hughes from the start (even when there was nothing negative to find).

Hughes' control was shoddy last night, but I question the gameplan going into games. Posada (and Hughes and Guidry and whoever gameplans) is making Phil very predictable. It looked like he threw one two-seamer last night, which was a good pitch (it tailed over the inside corner on a lefty). Why isn't he throwing this anymore? He started off throwing the changeup, but then abandoned it. In Hughes' best starts so far, he's thrown the changeup. He said he was going to reintroduce the slider -- where is it? Continually we see Hughes and Posada go back to a strict fastball-curveball plan. Which is fine, but they have to mix it up more. He also needs to throw inside to left-handed batters.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 12:06 PM

I wanted to comment but everything I wanted to say seems to have been said, so I'll go a little off what bailey said. I can't figure out why Hughes has abandoned his slider, 2-seamer, and change so much. I know Phil didn't use the slider much in triple A. I don't think he used it much at all since joining the Yankees to tell you the truth. In any case, he has a terrific slider, but he won't throw it. Last night he threw a few change-ups but missed horribly with them. Does he not throw a 2-seamer which produces the ground balls? Why haven't I seen him throw this pitch?

So essentially, he's been throwing the 4-seamer and a curve which has been flat as of late. I remember his first few games and literally laughing out loud as to how disgusting that thing was. Hitters are sitting on two pitches, a regular curveball and a straight 92mph fastball, also with a lack of command and a drop in mph. No wonder he's not doing great right now. When he puts it's all together I can see him dominating. I just can't see, for the life of me, why he isn't throwing his full arsenal, or at the very least mix in another pitch, because going out there with 2 pitches isn't going to get it done.

Posted by: SF Yanks [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 12:35 PM

~~~The good thing about this post is that you finally reveal that, for whatever reason, you never liked him~~~

OMG. Show me where I said that, please.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 12:56 PM

~~~the Yankees insistence on limiting him to 5 innings in the minors means that, well, they made him into a 5 inning pitcher~~~

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I believe it to be true. But, how does that change now for him?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 12:58 PM

I don't know, Steve, I agree with Zack about it. The Yankees have been extremely cautious and protective with Hughes, not really letting him open it up - and the first time he did, he rips his hammy to shreds.

How does it change the now? Not a whole lot. Hughes is probably the best arm for the job right now - I think that he's putting up comparable or better numbers than Clippard, Wright, et al, and the Yankees have to hope that they can hit better than they did last night while Hughes & Kennedy are pitching.

Posted by: Chuck May [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 02:18 PM

OMG. Show me where I said that, please.

It's not just what you said here in this post. It's based on the totality of what you've written about Hughes. Now you say you don't have a "feeling" about Hughes (which is a meaningless statement). You didn't think much of him before you even saw him pitch. So you doubted him/didn't believe in him from the beginning. And Zack said the same thing, so I guess I'm not totally insane for having this opinion.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 02:40 PM

Steve, you have been down on Hughes from day one, you don't have to be explicit with your statements for all of us to know what you mean. If anything, you have been consistent with your opinions on Hughes: the hype doesn't match up with my (Steve's) expectations.

When Johan first came to the majors he wasn't that impressive between years 2000 - 2002. However, at some point in 2002 he started to get better and he started dominating in '03.

Sometimes patience and time are what we need before we start to judge. And that's what probably bothers people most (myself included), that you have already come to a judgment and determination on Hughes.

This post is basically your conclusion on Hughes and this is all based off of 8 major league starts. Would you have judged Cano on his first 10 at-bats? How about after Melky's miserable Boston series in 2005, what was your opinion then?

I don't think people are claiming he's going to become a first ballot hall of famer, I don't think people have come out and stomped their feet saying he's definitely going to win 20 games, or that he's even going to be the future ace. All that people are saying is that they believe in his potential and they feel he will help out this ball club, despite his record this year.

A good example of hype is Mike Pelfrey for the Mets, he's pitching a good game today against Atlanta. He was awful earlier in the year and he had to be sent down. Did he fix himself? Time will tell but Met fans have to be happy to see a young pitcher of there's shutting down Atlanta's offense. I'd call that a big improvement and part of Pelfrey's growing pains.

The other thing I found interesting that Singleton and Murcer were talking about is that he absolutely dominated at the minor league level, he dominated so much that he hardly allowed runners on base and he NEVER EVER got the bases loaded against him in the minors. It's a different league altogether at the majors and what we may be witnessing is only going to make him a better pitcher, hopefully.

I like Hughes' make-up, I like his answers after yesterday's awful start, and sometimes you need to see a player reach rock-bottom and see how they get themselves out to see if they are worthy of your praise. He's trying to pull himself out of the rut he's in. Remember he can only get in a rut at the major league level because he dominated the minors.

I'd rather sit back and watch and see what happens before I come to a conclusion, I need to see a lot more before I say I no longer believe in him.

Posted by: Garcia [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 05:52 PM

Garcia -

First off, great post. I completely agree with all of your points, except for this one:

"I don't think people have come out and stomped their feet saying he's definitely going to win 20 games, or that he's even going to be the future ace. All that people are saying is that they believe in his potential and they feel he will help out this ball club, despite his record this year."

I think the disconnect here is that many, many people have in fact made those exact predictions. I mean, what's the guy's moniker, for God's sake? Phil Phranchise! That's right, he was expected to come in and become the franchise pitcher this team has lacked since Clemens' departure, which I think, quite frankly, is patently absurd to bestow upon any 21-year-old whom still had yet to throw a pitch at the ML level. Here are some other characteristics I had heard before ever watching him pitch:

-The perfect pitcher
-Three plus pitches
-Impeccable control
-A power arm

Now, all of these attributes might in fact come to fruition at some point in Hughes' career (and I hope they do). But I think it's maybe a little unfair to begrudge Yankee fans who are sitting there wondering what all the hype was about.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 07:52 PM

Red Sox prospect Clay Buchholz pitched a no-hitter in his second major-league start, which is exactly what Hughes was about to do before he popped his hamstring. What the f--k, for real? It seems in recent years, the baseball gods sure like the Sox more than the Yanks.

He only had three walks. That's my cutoff amount for whether or not the no-hitter is impressive or not. But regardless, a no-hitter in your second big-league start is extraordinary.

And just briefly on brock's points:

>>-The perfect pitcher>-Three plus pitches>-Impeccable control>-A power arm<<

Again, true. Hughes throws 91-93. That's not 100, and Hughes isn't Schilling in his prime. But he has good life through the zone and can muscle up and strike people out with his fastball.

But like I said sixteen million times, he's 21 and still learning. When people talked glowingly about Hughes, it was about his potential. Not what he was going to do this year. The results have been disappointing, but he's shown signs of being the pitcher we thought he was. But he's making mistakes -- and if people don't expect mistakes from a rookie, then their expectations were unrealistic to begin with.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 10:34 PM

Ummm, a big section of what I wrote was deleted out of that last post... The points were: Hughes does have the perfect frame and poise; he has two plus pitches and one potential plus pitch (he didn't really start throwing the change till this year); and he does have good control, but he's human, and when he's not mechanically sound he can be wild like every other pitcher in the world.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 1, 2007 11:33 PM

Bailey, I really am rooting for the kid; but I, like many others, bought into the unrealistic expectations and blogomania before ever even watching him pitch. My bad on that one.

And it can be argued that pitching his near no-no so early on could've really been a detriment. Had he popped his hamstring in the bottom of the first, the bar wouldn't be nearly as high as it is right now.

Lastly, I watched the last inning of Bucholz's no-hitter tonight and I'll be damned - I was actually rooting for the kid. He seems like a decent, humble guy; and the game was way out of reach anyway. O's couldn't be bothered to summon the same intensity that they seem to reserve for the Yanks.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2007 12:15 AM

Oh, and as Bucholz was having his moment and being mobbed by adoring teammates, loud mouth Beckett shouted into the NESN mic something to the effect of: "CURT SCHILLING COULDN'T DO THAT! CURT SCHILLING COULDN'T DO THAT! HUAH HA HA HA!" I know Josh was probably ribbing his pal, Curt, but jeez, go easy on the screaming into the mic while one of your teammates is having his career moment.

Posted by: brockdc [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2007 12:23 AM

~~~But I think it's maybe a little unfair to begrudge Yankee fans who are sitting there wondering what all the hype was about. ~~~

Thank you. That's fair, and I appreciate it.

FWIW, I realize that everything positive that Hughes is doing now is special - you don't see that in Yankeeland, as I've said, moons ago:


Hey, what I've written here about Hughes was just an opinion. Kill me if you want for having it. I'll be more than thrilled to admit that I was wrong, if it turns out that way, because it will be great news for the Yankees.

Will you be willing to do the same if you're wrong?

By the way, baileywalk, didn't you once call T.J. Beam the future closer of the Yankees, more than once?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2007 08:10 AM

By the way, baileywalk, didn't you once call T.J. Beam the future closer of the Yankees, more than once?

Never once. (And seriously, you know I never said he was a future closer, but whatever...)

I said I really liked him as a relief pitching prospect, he had great numbers in the minors, and that I thought he would help the team. He got bombed in his short stint with the club, but I still think he has talent.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2007 11:43 PM

You're right - this is what you said:

"In all seriousness, if T.J. Beam can get over his rookie jitters, he's Proctor+. He has a rubber arm and can give you 100 innings out of the 'pen (which he did this year) and has impeccable control (with better strikeout numbers than Proctor)."


and, you also said:

"The stars aligned or something, because my boy T.J. Beam got called up to the club. Boy, I nearly had an orgasm when I read that this morning. (It'll be pretty embarrassing after all this if he comes up and bombs, huh?) I know it's only for a few days, and I know that Joe Torre doesn't "trust" him and won't use him unless the score is, oh, 22-1, but I just hope he can show Torre a little something like Smithy showed him a little something and stick with the team."


Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 3, 2007 08:50 AM