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Star Trib Series on New Era of Analytical Baseball

Other Baseball Today, 04:24 PM
The Strib is running a 3 part series on MLB and how it is changing. http://www.startribu...show/488204101/
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Article: Dozier’s Days Numbered, Then What?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:23 PM
Despite sweeping the hapless Baltimore Orioles, and then taking a series from the equally terrible Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twin...
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Twins, OAK a good match? Gibson & Odorizzi available

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:14 PM
Some interesting trade news floating around this morning.   -Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle seems to be connecting the...
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Article: Week in Review: Breaking Good

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:05 PM
A disappointing first half ended on a high note, with Sunday's walk-off grand slam capping a 9-2 home stand to propel Minnesota into the...
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Article: MLB Stadium Tour: San Diego's Petco Park

Other Baseball Today, 03:15 PM
It's been 15 years or so since I visited Petco Park, and my impression at the time was was it was one of the better new ballparks. That w...
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Phil Hughes Changing Up To Stay Ahead

Phil Hughes has a reputation around the game as a guy who will constantly experiment, tweak and tinker with his game in efforts to improve and gain an edge.

We have certainly seen that early on this year, as he has introduced a prominent changeup to his repertoire while waiting for his fastball to (hopefully) regain life.

Although the righty's lagging stuff is a cause for concern, his cerebral approach and superior feel for pitching provide some reassurance, and they were on display once again in his victory over the Rangers on Monday.
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA Today
In the eyes of some, Hughes' start in Detroit on May 17th of last year was deserving of criticism – the sign of a player who wasn't invested in a team that had already gone off the rails. As you might recall, the righty had gotten through 6 1/3 innings with one run allowed before reportedly pulling himself at 75 pitches during a mound visit, giving way to a bullpen collapse that led to a lopsided loss.

Whether Hughes asked out or simply allowed Paul Molitor to take the ball from him, various fans and members of the media – particularly those of the old-school bulldog mindset – implied that the incident demonstrated softness. No fiery competitor would willingly leave a close game in which he was seemingly in control at that pitch count. Right?

I saw it differently, and wrote as much at the time. Noting that Hughes clearly didn't have much that night, I commended him for recognizing that he was out of gas and letting the manager go to fresh arms for the last eight outs. It didn't work out, but it easily may not have worked out the other way.

Hughes put up a 6.61 ERA while allowing a 1.011 OPS over his next four starts, then broke his leg, and then underwent thoracic outlet surgery to address a longstanding shoulder issue that had sapped his pitches of zip and left him to rely upon control and guile to navigate through outings. Sometimes, it worked. More often, it didn't, as his increasingly unsatisfactory numbers in 2015 and 2016 showed.

The early portion of his 2017 season has been reminiscent of those last two campaigns. Nine months removed from his operation, Hughes hasn't gotten his fastball back, not yet anyway. Through four starts, his heater has been registering under 90 MPH on average per FanGraphs, lower than any other point in his big league career and nearly three full ticks below where he was at during that sensational 2014 season.

It seems the veteran had been preparing himself for such a reality. During spring training, one big storyline was his heavy usage of the changeup, a pitch he'd rarely thrown in 10 MLB seasons.

"You're always trying to stay ahead," Hughes said after one Grapefruit start in which he threw the pitch a ton. "I don't just want to hope that I come back healthy and surgery did its job and I'm back to where I was.

"I wanted to do something proactively to facilitate that ... I truly believe that adding a changeup is going to do nothing but help."

Indeed, Hughes has gone to the change an unprecedented 20 percent of the time thus far while greatly reducing reliance upon his fastball, seemingly an acknowledgement that his top pitch isn't close to where it needs to be. To that end, the 30-year-old told Brandon Warne of Zone Coverage recently that he's been trying to add spin to his fastball so as to get more out of it.

While the overall results haven't been great – he has a 4.71 ERA and hasn't yet pitched past the sixth – Hughes is certainly out-pitching his stuff, which is frankly just plain unimpressive.

On Monday in Texas, he managed to induce only one swinging strike on 86 pitches, but still battled his way through six innings of two-run ball en route to his third victory in four turns. It was the same kind of crafty and gritty outing as we saw on that evening in Detroit last May – right down to the skepticism about his coming out on a low pitch count.

This is both a good and bad thing. It's nice to see Hughes craftily finding ways to get the job done while lacking much sizzle on his pitches. But that lack of sizzle is certainly troubling, and as long as his arsenal continues to drag, every start is going to be an adventure.

Hopefully, as he further distances himself from surgery, Hughes will gradually regain arm strength and the velocity will begin to creep upward.

Until the fastball catches up, he'll need to keep searching for ways to stay ahead.

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14 Comments

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HitInAPinch
Apr 26 2017 01:36 AM

Couldn't it, wouldn't it, be more beneficial to Hughes and the Twins to sit Hughes, let him actually work on recovery and call up a MiLB starter or two to see what they've got?  

 

To me, this seems like a slap in the face-type wake-up call.

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killertwinfan
Apr 26 2017 05:29 AM

 

Couldn't it, wouldn't it, be more beneficial to Hughes and the Twins to sit Hughes, let him actually work on recovery and call up a MiLB starter or two to see what they've got?  

 

To me, this seems like a slap in the face-type wake-up call.

Amen brother.  Give me the stats on how long he can hang on? He has been hit very hard (speaking of his outs) and we/he has been lucky for the most part.  I hope our starting pitching prospects aren't so bad that what he is doing right now is our best option.  

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Brock Beauchamp
Apr 26 2017 06:59 AM

 

Couldn't it, wouldn't it, be more beneficial to Hughes and the Twins to sit Hughes, let him actually work on recovery and call up a MiLB starter or two to see what they've got?  

 

To me, this seems like a slap in the face-type wake-up call.

It's pretty hard to do that when Kyle Gibson has been so much worse than Phil Hughes. If someone needs to be ousted from the rotation, it's Kyle Gibson. By comparison, Phil Hughes has looked like Greg Maddux.

    • Blake, Mike Sixel, Loosey and 6 others like this

 

Couldn't it, wouldn't it, be more beneficial to Hughes and the Twins to sit Hughes, let him actually work on recovery and call up a MiLB starter or two to see what they've got?  

 

To me, this seems like a slap in the face-type wake-up call.

Putting a seemingly healthy pitcher on the DL does seem like the Twins...  but they'll wait until Phil gets hammered a few games.  They're rightfully seeing if Hughes can make an adjustment with his repertoire to get hitters out.  So far it's working more often than it isn't.  It's also possible his velocity will start to return within 60 days and that pitching in games will help refine his other pitches while building arm strength.  

But the worst argument, in my mind, is to call up young guys to "see what we've got".  Scouting is more advanced and public than ever.  We should already know basically what we have before call ups.  Even then, a season's worth of success doesn't really tell us anything either.  Dan San, Duffy, and hopefully Berrios will show that initial success or failure in the Leagues don't really tell us all that much, or at least shouldn't be the basis of determining "what we've got."  
 

    • USAFChief and LA VIkes Fan like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Apr 26 2017 09:51 AM

Hughes is the 3rd best starter we have going at the moment and it's not like we have a deep bench of starters ready to take his place from whom we can project better results. Berrios and Duffy are probably worth a shot but they go in for the vacant 5th starter spot and for Gibson who has been atrociously bad.  Hughes will need to get at least 3-5 more starts and then get replaced only if he implodes (a real possibility given his stuff).

 

Let's look at the whole picture and be honest about where we are with starting pitching. It's actually better than last hear but still in flux. 

 

(1) Santana is the ace, stays in the rotation all year unless injured or traded. 

(2) Santiago has pitched well enough to get a lot of rope. Stays in the rotation all year unless injured, traded or has a run of 5-6 really bad starts in a row. 

(3) Hughes has been just good enough to earn at least another 5-6 starts and stays in the rotation unless he implodes.

(4) Gibson  and Mejia pitched themselves out of the rotation (Gibson just may not know it yet) ; only come back if they perform well in the minors or bullpen. 

(5)  Berrios has earned at least a 7-8 start try out; starts either Friday in place of Gibson or when we go back to 5 starters. 

(6) Duffy looks good in the BP, but may or shoudl get another 3-5 start try out because Gibson and Mejia can't hold their spots. 

 

Not great, but soooooo much better than last year. 

    • Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45 and Vanimal46 like this

Berrios won't start this Friday, he just pitched last night.  

 

Nick, nice objective article.  You can see Hughes, has next to nothing this year, but he has not been a disaster somehow.  My guess is as long as that ERA stays under 5, the Twins will keep throwing him out there...

 

I also don't think it will be under 5 for long, he is just way to hittable right now.

    • Mike Sixel likes this
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LA VIkes Fan
Apr 26 2017 10:02 AM

Just saw that Berrios pitched yesterday so he won't be pitching Friday. I also can't help but note that Duffy hasn't pitched since throwing 1.2 innings on April 22. Hmmmm, Duffy in for Gibson to start on Friday? 

It does seem odd Duffey hasn't pitched...

 

Hughes can be crafty for a bit, but it is likely not going to work for the next 2-3 years. And, if his FB is slower, in a year when they changed technology and everyone is FASTER, that's really bad....

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KirbyDome89
Apr 26 2017 10:13 AM

 

 (3) Hughes has been just good enough to earn at least another 5-6 starts and stays in the rotation unless he implodes.

 

Please no. I would much rather they pull the plug at the point when he can't be effective rather than wait for a total implosion. I'm more on board with your initial 3-5 prediction, and I would lean towards 3 given I have zero faith in him.

 

He's the 3rd starter by default and isn't going anywhere for a least a few starts but my god watching him pitch is like walking through a mine field; you're on edge the whole time and expect disaster with every move.

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

In the fifties we had junkball pitchers on every roster - pitchers like Stu Miller who had a windblown balk https://www.nytimes....-game.html?_r=0 He won 105 games and accumulated a 27 WAR.  

"Stu Miller never threw a pitch more than 60 miles per hour, yet he enjoyed a 16-year career that saw him save 154 games and may have had the best changeup that baseball has ever seen." http://bleacherrepor...aseball-history

 

I thought this article on who throws the slowest fastball in 2015 was instructive http://www.sportsone...-weaver-buehrle because we would take Buerhle results and two of the pitchers on the list included one former Twin and one Twin at the time.

 

Finally this article from 2014 on how to survive without a fast fastball has some interesting pitchers on it https://www.numberfi...90-mph-fastball

 

All of which leads me to say that Hughes might figure it out and extend his career yet even if he does not get his fastball back. Although this list of the slowest fastballs in baseball in 2016 has only one pitcher that you might want in your rotation http://www.masslive....st_pitch_i.html

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puckstopper1
Apr 26 2017 11:21 AM

 

Just saw that Berrios pitched yesterday so he won't be pitching Friday. I also can't help but note that Duffy hasn't pitched since throwing 1.2 innings on April 22. Hmmmm, Duffy in for Gibson to start on Friday? 

 

I keep hearing about putting Duffy in the rotation.  How many innings could he go?  I'd be shocked if he could go more than 3 or 4.  Then you would need to replace him with a long reliever.  Is that Gibson at this point?

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yarnivek1972
Apr 26 2017 12:09 PM

Just saw that Berrios pitched yesterday so he won't be pitching Friday. I also can't help but note that Duffy hasn't pitched since throwing 1.2 innings on April 22. Hmmmm, Duffy in for Gibson to start on Friday?


The Twins have only played 3 games since then. The one on Sunday they avoided using him because he had gon 1 2/3 the night before. Since then there have only been 5 innings by the bullpen, one of which was automatically Kintzler's. The other 2 Monday were match up determined and Duffey has not yet shown he is ready to pitch in tight games. Last night the Twins clearly wanted to get Pressly an inning in a low leverage situation and apparently felt Breslow needed to pitch as well. He hasn't pitched much. IMO it is far more likely that Tepesch start Friday than Duffey. Tepesch is already stretched out. But I think it will most likely be Gibson's last shot on Friday. If he fails to get to the 5th inning for the 3rd time in 5 starts, I think the Twins will have Tepesch relieve him and then take his spot in the rotation. That would be on May 3 against Oakland.

I really thought Hughes would be a disaster from the get-go, so he's far exceeded those expectations. I'm still curious to know if/when the wheels are going to fall off though. Now that teams have 4 of his starts on video and they see the trend of heavy change ups, we'll see if more teams wait for the mistake pitches and send them a long way. 

    • Mike Sixel likes this
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LA VIkes Fan
Apr 26 2017 01:17 PM

 

I keep hearing about putting Duffy in the rotation.  How many innings could he go?  I'd be shocked if he could go more than 3 or 4.  Then you would need to replace him with a long reliever.  Is that Gibson at this point?

I htink you're right on the issue with starting Duffy. Still, you have to build him up somehow and he hasn't earned a demotion. I think the long man would be Tepesch unless, God forbid, they are thinking of starting him. Duffy was stretched out in ST. I'm think he gets 75ish pitches first time out, hopefully 5 innings, and you build him up from there. That does mean that the long man will be in play on Duffy's first couple of starts. I think that may be why Tepesch is here?  


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