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April 05, 2008

It's Now Time For Me To Lay Off Phil Hughes' Fastball

On April 3rd, I wrote:

If Hughes is throwing 91 MPH as a 21-year old, he's not going to gain speed as he gets older. It doesn't work that way. Give him about 2,000 big league innings and he will lose four MPH on his fastball (at the least). And, then, Phil Hughes will be a 31-year old pitcher who features a fastball that's in the range of 89 to 87 MPH. And, that's not good.

And, some Yankees fans didn't take kindly to that comment. So, I decided to take the question to a higher court.

I reached out to a few folks "in the know" and (pardon the pun) "pitched" the following to them:

Last season, the Yankees Phil Hughes' fastballs were averaging 89 to 92 miles an hour. However, reports said that Phil usually threw around 92 to 95 MPH.

Even Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman was curious about this, last August. At that time, Hughes' fastballs were averaging 88 to 91 miles an hour, according to Cashman, when they should have been 91 to 93. Here's what Cashman had to say about Hughes drop in velocity: “I don’t know why. It’s our job to continue to look and see if there’s anything mechanically. He could still be just building arm strength from being down for so long."

Phil Hughes, this spring, said that he never really trusted his leg (after his hamstring injury) and that did not allow him to let loose with his pitches. But, Hughes maintained that he was sound now and it was no longer an issue.

However, in his start [on April 3rd], Hughes was, once again, consistently at 91 MPH with his fastball.

In your opinion, how does this development impact Phil Hughes in terms of his status of being a pitching prospect? He's 21 years old now. Will his velocity increase as he approaches age 30, or, will it stay the same? Or, will it decrease? What about life after age 30? If he's throwing 91 MPH in his 20's, should we expect Hughes to be throwing in the high 80's when he's in his 30's? If so, should Yankees fans be concerned about the long-term projection on Hughes' performance?

Here's what they had to say:

Via an e-mail from Jim Callis of Baseball America -

This doesn't concern me at all. Interesting to see Hughes confirm what I thought all along about 2006, that he wasn't 100 percent physically and that led to decreased velocity. He pitched just fine anyway, of course. As for last night's start, it's one start, it's early in the year, it wasn't warm--I don't think this means we saw what his velocity is going to be from here on out. And even if he sits at 90-92 mph, he has good life on his fastball, he commands it well--it will still be a good pitch. As for how well he maintains velocity in the long run, a lot of that has to do with how hard he works and how healthy he stays--hard to project with much accuracy at this point.

Via an e-mail from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus -

In the minors, Hughes was generally 90-95, so if he was consistently 91 his first time out, I wouldn't really be too concerned at all or see it as a trend, yet. Maybe something to keep an eye on at most, but hardly a reason to panic. A lot of velocities are off in start No. 1.

I also spoke to Deric McKamey of Baseball HQ and he said that past reports on Hughes' velocity, as is often the case with pitching prospects, were greatly exaggerated. Deric said that he personally timed Phil Hughes while he was in the minors, and, while Hughes was able to touch 95 MPH "maybe a handful of times," that Phil's fastball was in the range of 89 to 92 MPH and that was "pretty much what he threw."

That said, McKamey offered that Hughes was more about movement on the fastball and an ability to disguise his pitches - offering batters the same look, arm-slot, etc., whether it was a two-seam fastball or a curve.

As far as the future, Deric suggested that "big guys" (like Hughes) who "use their legs" generally don't lose velocity as they get older. He did say that Phil could lose a few MPH when he's in his mid-30's; but, that he should still be around 91 MPH when he reaches thirty.

Just for the fun of it, I shared my "Andy Benes" observation with McKamey and he thought that was a "pretty good comp." It's important to note that, Deric stressed, as I did last year, that there's nothing wrong with being the next Andy Benes - and that most organizations would be thrilled to have a 21-year old Andy Benes on their roster.

This was an interesting exercise for me. First, I want to thank Callis, Goldstein and McKamey for their great insight! Secondly, it has changed my opinion on the matter.

I'm no longer concerned, at all, with Phil Hughes' fastball velocity in terms of where it sits now with respect to what it was, reported, in the past; and, in terms of what it means with respect to his future. Unless Phil's fastball starts to dip below the 90-91 MPH mark, I feel there's no need to be tracking it. And, I'm not going to expect him to be hitting 95 MPH with any consistency - because that seems to be a myth in the first place.

So, personally, it's time to just look at Phil Hughes pitching results and not the speed of his fastball - as long as he keeps it around 91 MPH. I cannot wait until his next appearance and the start of this new view for me.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at April 5, 2008 08:45 AM

Comments

So, personally, it's time to just look at Phil Hughes pitching results and not the speed of his fastball
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I've been saying that from the beginning :)

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 5, 2008 09:59 AM

This doesn't concern me at all. Interesting to see Hughes confirm what I thought all along about 2006...
___

2007?

Posted by: Rich [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 5, 2008 10:38 AM

Steve, cool stuff. This is one of the reasons why this site is great. As someone who is not in the know about pitching, I learned a lot from this discussion, which began because of Steve's observations and curiousity.

Posted by: Nick from Washington Heights [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 5, 2008 11:47 AM

Or rather, began because of his obsession and desire to hate on Hughes :)

Posted by: Zack [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 5, 2008 12:17 PM

Man, your whipping boys get no let up at all, do they.

How about this - the idea that a 21 year old kid cannot get stronger is flat out idiotic. Maybe he never throws consistently 95 mph, maybe he does. But to conclude in April that a 21 year old will never have better than a 91 mph fastball is more than idiotic, it's unbelievably stupid.

Being obsessed with bad-mouthing Brian Cashman is one thing, but being an idiot is another. Nice job pulling off both.

Posted by: Sherard [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2008 09:19 PM

“I don’t know why. It’s our job to continue to look and see if there’s anything mechanically. He could still be just building arm strength from being down for so long."

WHAT COULD B. CASHMAN POSSIBLY SEE? HE DOESN'T KNOW JACK ABOUT PITCHING.

Posted by: Greek [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2008 09:42 PM