Grading on a Curve: The Phil Hughes Debut, Considered

The Phil Hughes Era began with a loss last night. “Early Arrival to the Yanks Ends with Early Exit” announced the Times this morning. A cursory glance at his line isn’t too impressive: 4.1 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, a wild pitch, and a loss. On the other hand, he struck out 5, walked but one, showed an impressive arsenal, and was unafraid to challenge even the Jays’ toughest hitters. Some notes:

-Hughes had an easy time with the back end of the Jays’ lineup
-He had much more difficulty with Alex Rios, Frank Thomas, and, especially, Vernon Wells.
-His fastball, as noted by Orel Hershiser, can be a bit flat—a danger if not set up and located properly. He did, however, show a fastball that rided in on righties.
-His use of a straight change and the big hook to unsettle the timing of opponents was awfully impressive.
-1 of those runs should have been unearned, but Miguel Cairo was not charged with an error he deserved. A better bullpen job might have prevented another run from scoring.

We look forward to improvement in his future outings; certainly it was a promising beginning to what we all hope will be a spectacular career.

Our grade: B-

34 comments… add one

  • Wow, YF, get ready to dodge the bullets from some of our frequent posters, who took me to task for pointing out some of the same exact things you do here. How dare you qualify Hughes’ outing?!

    SF April 27, 2007, 2:31 pm
  • YF is allowed to point these things out. He is, after all, a YF.

    jp - SF April 27, 2007, 2:34 pm
  • So, I didn’t see him as I said in a previous thread. Who would you say are his comps based on an initial visual impression?

    Nick-YF April 27, 2007, 2:43 pm
  • Buster Olney’s blog today was titled: “Yanks Need Hughes to be Good” Most of it’s about how the Yanks need him to be good, and he mentions that the Yankees originally planned to keeping him in the minors, limiting him to 4-5 inning starts and calling him up in June or July.
    But as far as last night’s game goes, here’s the relevant passage:
    “And once Hughes took the mound, he had a typical debut, learning that major league hitters don’t always flail at breaking balls, no matter how good they are (and Hughes has a great curveball), and that the ball-strike count can be the pitcher’s best friend or worst enemy; all but one of the seven hits that Hughes allowed came when he was behind in the count. Hughes also learned that opposing managers will use their baserunners to attack pitchers with big leg kicks — and Hughes had a big leg kick, making him vulnerable to stolen bases.”
    Just thought I’d share since it’s Insider-only. (I’ve got my buddy’s password…hehe)

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 2:45 pm
  • I’d say C+. And then I’d laugh hysterically, like the teacher in “A Christmas Story,” dressed like a witch, after Ralphie gets his grade for the theme paper on what he wants for Christmas.
    “C-plus!! Ahahahahahahahahahah!!!!”
    OK, no, I wouldn’t do that.
    But still, a C+, with lots of A’s in the future.

    I'm Bill McNeal April 27, 2007, 2:45 pm
  • Nick: I couldn’t make a visual comp; either my vocabulary of comparison is too limited or my brain is just shot from sleep deprivation and two little kids. Hughes has a nice motion, but he doesn’t seem as balanced as some of the names that have been bandied about, Clemens in particular. He certainly doesn’t look like Clemens (early Clemens, that is) to me in any way, stylistically. There’s a moment, pre-release, for Hughes that feels a tiny bit awkward to me, maybe a little “slingy”, if that’s a word. Josh (release the hounds!) Beckett seems more fluid, motion-wise, as well. But these are amateurish observations, and probably nitpicking: his curveball will be a joy to watch once he can mix it in to his repertoire well; it has that sharp, sudden break that stands out, not unlike King Felix’s deuce.
    I have to think about this one a little longer. YF might have more insight than me, he only has one kid affecting his brain right now.

    SF April 27, 2007, 2:52 pm
  • The obvious “comp” to me is a young Mike Mussina: a hard thrower with excellent control and an excellent curve/change combination. That’s a lot to live up to, clearly, but if you want “comp” that’s the direction I’d go. I know he’s been put alongside Clemens because their deliveries are a bit similar, but I didn’t see that so much. Roger was a dominating fastball/slider guy. That’s not really what I see from Hughes.

    YF April 27, 2007, 2:52 pm
  • Steve Lombardi (as I linked to before) has posts up (follow the links) about how Hughes reminds him of Benes, both statistically and stylistically.

    SF April 27, 2007, 2:53 pm
  • Hmm…there’s also a Bob Klapisch story which says, among other things, that Mussina’s velocity is down to the 85 mph range. And NY has given up on Pavano, who keeps insisting that there’s a “grabbing sensation” in his forearm, which nobody seems able to explain.

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 2:56 pm
  • Excuse me: Clemens was a dominant fastball/splitter guy.

    YF April 27, 2007, 2:59 pm
  • Interesting – I think the Moose comparison is pretty good – we sometimes forget what Moose was like in the Baltimore days, and now look at him as much more of a straight control guy then he really was. That’s a good comp.

    SF April 27, 2007, 2:59 pm
  • I recall early Clemens being a dominant fastball/curveball guy, and then the curve went away to some extent, replaced by a splitter. The splitter came a few years in, if I am remembering at all correctly.

    SF April 27, 2007, 3:02 pm
  • Yeah, he also has kind of a Moose demeanor out there; self-possessed and focussed. He’s the opposite of guys like Roger and Curt who are more visibly emotional/intense. DIfferent strokes for different folks.

    YF April 27, 2007, 3:04 pm
  • You’re right about Clemens, SF. The split was a later development. I’d love to go back and see some of those mid 80s games again. Roger was just so precise with that overwhelming fastball. The secondary pitch was REALLY secondary.

    YF April 27, 2007, 3:06 pm
  • To add: Hughes doesn’t have that overwhelming fastball. It’s a good one, and he controls it, but it needs to be offset with other material. There are some guys who can just live on their heat alone.
    The glory of Pedro was that he had that kind of heat, but he had all the other stuff as well.

    YF April 27, 2007, 3:09 pm
  • I’ve said it all along, the kid is awesome. Filthy.

    Brad April 27, 2007, 3:16 pm
  • So wait…is Hughes actively throwing his slider? I read somewhere he’d stopped to focus on his change and, presumably, because it’s so bad for his young arm…does he throw it again?

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 3:18 pm
  • They were talkng last night about how he doesn’t throw the slider anymore.

    Tyrel SF April 27, 2007, 3:21 pm
  • That’s what I thought…they did the same thing with King Felix. (That turned out beautifully, huh?) Still, if it’s a pitch that he can throw without consistant practice, you have to wonder if they’ll let him use it when he needs to make a big pitch in a tight spot. Which just makes him all the more dangerous, potentially.

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 3:25 pm
  • D1: I’m a bit late to the party (fashionably late?) but Buster Olney is a moron. “Yankees need Hughes to be good.” First, great word choice, Buster. Second, um… duh? Next up for Buster, an article titled “Yankees hope to win World Series.”
    I did switch back and forth last night so I could catch Hughes debute. Curiously, I don’t hate him. Usually the sight of someone in pinstripes causes an irrational hatred to spring forth from me, but for some reason I don’t have that reaction to Hughes… Oh well. They say time cures all, right?
    As for his perfomance, I was impressed. I know that might amount to heresy here, but I was. I thought his curveball looked good, and his fastball was spotted well for the most part. He got beat by some good hitters, and I think the pressure of pitching his first game got to him a bit. But, over all I was impressed. He didn’t look like the type to blow a lot of guys away ala Papelbon though, so maybe I was expecting someone more like that. He seems more like a finesse guy than a power guy, and I don’t mean that in any way as an insult.
    If he stays healthy he could be a very good pitcher.

    mattymatty April 27, 2007, 3:36 pm
  • “if it’s a pitch that he can throw without consistant practice”
    i would think that any pitch requires the feel developed through practice and usage. in a tight spot i wouldn’t want a guy using a pitch he hasn’t thrown for months or weeks.

    Tyrel SF April 27, 2007, 3:42 pm
  • D1: I heard that Hughes isn’t throwing his slider anymore due to an organizational preference for the curveball. I’m not sure why the Yankees would actively discourage the slider over the curveball, but I definitely read that somewhere. I want to say the NY Times (Tyler Kepner?) but I’m not positive.

    mattymatty April 27, 2007, 3:43 pm
  • Yeah, I think I saw the same thing matty. Only reason that I can think of for discouraging the use of the slider is that next to maybe the screwball, I believe it’s supposed to be the worst pitch you can throw in terms of the stress it puts on your arm.
    And Tyrel’s probably right; I just wonder if maybe with even a LITTLE practice, the slider is something he might be able to hold onto. It was, from what I remember, absolutely devestating. Seems kinda silly to just abandon it completely, though maybe after a few healthy, 200-inning seasons they’ll let him bring it back again.

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 3:57 pm
  • “i would think that any pitch requires the feel developed through practice and usage. in a tight spot i wouldn’t want a guy using a pitch he hasn’t thrown for months or weeks.”
    Tyrel SF – Good point. As a former (lousy) college pitcher (I was lousy, not my college), reaching some level of competence at any new pitch requires huge amounts of time and effort. Rarely can one just pick up a new pitch without practicing.
    I guess one caveat to that is the split fingered fastball, like the one that Schilling throws. The release is slightly different (because the grip is different) but the arm motion is exactly the same. Its the grip and release that give it the biting downward motion. That is a pitch that you can learn relatively easily, though it does take time and ability to get it right.
    But in general, you are right on.

    mattymatty April 27, 2007, 3:58 pm
  • rided?

    greggy April 27, 2007, 4:06 pm
  • Oh yeah, besides the big Matsuzaka–Pettitte faceoff…Jon Lester’s making his first AAA start against the Bisons. So that’s pretty cool, hopefully he throws well and the Age of Tavarez comes to a quick end.

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 4:27 pm
  • i think the obvious comparison is mark prior. if last nites preformance was worthy of a B-, i change my mind on chase wrights start. chase gets a C+…….i guess.

    sf rod April 27, 2007, 4:30 pm
  • Hughes throws the slider, I didn’t see it last night, but that’s not shocking. He will through it up here, that’s a promise. The Yankees asked that he not throw it not as a “we don’t throw sliders organizational move”, but rather for the well being of his arm. The slider can do terrible things to young pitchers arms. Maybe Brad can chime in here since he played college ball. It’s a wise move, if you have ever thrown a slider you can understand the tremendous pressure it puts on your elbow.

    Triskaidekaphobia April 27, 2007, 4:31 pm
  • He is definitely not a blow you away type guy. He needs to spot that fastball (which he didn’t on Wells first blast) and work off the location. I think when people (Yankee fans, as well as baseball fans) hear all this hype they think of flat out gas a la Paps. I don’t think he will be a #1, but I think he has the stuff and make up to be very good for a long time.

    Triskaidekaphobia April 27, 2007, 4:42 pm
  • Trisk – He’s certainly pitched like a #1 in the minors. The guy’s got tons of talent. I mean, to do what he did yesterday at age 20, well I think that says something. I’m not sure he’s the answer to the Yankees pitching woes now (though he could be), but even if he isn’t, as long as he stays healthy it looks like the Yankees have a real keeper on their hands.
    I’m looking forward to a bunch of good Lester v. Hughes match ups.

    mattymatty April 27, 2007, 5:04 pm
  • GREAT NEWS from the Globe:
    “Jon Lester appears to have come away from his appointments yesterday with a clean bill of health from the doctors.”
    I’m super psyched to hear that!

    mattymatty April 27, 2007, 5:08 pm
  • Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s going to be reallllly good. But I am not sold on a #1. #1’s these days are blow you away, strike you out at a high rate guys (Peavy, Schill, King, Kazmir, etc)…….I am not sure he will ever be that.

    Triskaidekaphobia April 27, 2007, 5:17 pm
  • Doc Halladay doesn’t really have an overpowering fastball, either. Is Phil’s 2-seamer any good? The sinker/knuckle-curve/impeccable control seems to be Halladay’s bread and butter; Hughes doesn’t have as many pitches, as Doc’s also got a good cutter and a changeup, but I think he’s supposed to have a better heater and that nasty curve. If his changeup turns into a plus-pitch, I’d think that’d be enough.

    desturbd1 April 27, 2007, 5:22 pm
  • Yeah, Halladay’s a perfect example of a non-blow em away pitcher. That said, Hughes could probably strike out more batters due to him just having more ‘stuff’.
    In other news, Mike Mussina’s not on the hill today for Trenton, instead it’s our guy Chase Wright, looking to preserve his perfect 2007 minor league ERA. I predict he’ll give up 5 homeruns this time, just to continue his momentum.
    Mussina’ll pitch in a simulated game in the bullpen throwing about 60 pitches. What is a simulated game? “Okay, guy’s on first and second, what do you do Moose?” I just can’t see anyone taking that very seriously.

    Andrew April 27, 2007, 5:27 pm

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