Luke Hughes is battling injury and for spot on roster
"Being out of options, that doesn't mean much. You just play the game," Ryan said. "Ultimately if they're one of the best 25, you keep 'em. If they're not, the decision comes from up here, which I don't particularly like, but we go through this every spring. ... I don't worry too much about that until the latter part of March."
Hughes, who suffered a sprained shoulder while playing in Australia, has been cautiously re-introduced to playing time this spring, getting time as a DH until the team feels he is ready for throwing. After going 0-for-3 in last night’s game against Boston, he is now 0-for-6 to start spring training play.
Obviously it is hard to gauge a player’s ability based upon spring statistics. A year ago, Hughes was tearing through the Grapefruit League, leading the team with six home runs in 65 at bats. While the power display was impressive, the 17-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio was not. It turns out, his major league play in 2011 wound up playing out more closely associated with the strikeout-to-walk ratio than it was to the home runs.
Last season, after having issues with handling pitches on the inner half, Joe Vavra had Hughes make some adjustments in order to better clear his hands. After a mid-season stint in Rochester, Hughes came back in August and showed off more of that power, hitting 4 home runs in 44 plate appearance…but also with a 14-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio that was very similar to his spring rate. Things grew worse in September as he finished the year 12-for-68 (.176) with a 17-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. When he made contact, the changes helped him drive the ball better in the season’s final two months, even if his batting line didn’t show it.
Star Tribune columnist and 1500ESPN host Patrick Reusse made an observation on his Twitter account, on Valentine’s Day no less, that Hughes has a glaring hole at the plate – specifically the outer half. Hughes did not take too kindly to Reusse’s social media scouting report and fired back at him in the only adorablely scary way a seemingly mad Australian can:
While it may have come off as a snide comment, Reusse was right.
Hughes has struggled when being pitched away. According to Inside Edge, Hughes hold a .061 well-hit average (well-hit balls/swing) on pitches on the outer half of the plate. Of hitters who have had 250 or more plate appearances, Hughes’s outside well-hit average was the 11th-worst in baseball (new teammate Jamey Carroll’s .036 was the worst in baseball last year).
Admittedly, the well-hit average is a subjective statistic. Inside Edge’s video scouts will determine whether or not a player hit a ball “well” (a hard grounder, liner, warning track fly, etc) that they felt was hit on the screws. So, while it is a judgment call, over the course of the season the team of video scouts has concurred with Reusse’s scrutiny.
The Reusse/Hughes Twitter tussle reminded me of a pair of other stories involving writers calling major league hitters out on their shortcomings.
In his book “Fantasyland”, Sam Walker used his press credentials afforded to him from the Wall Street Journal in hopes of accessing clubhouses to gain some insight that may help his fantasy baseball team win the experts-only T.O.U.T War league. At one point, Walker engaged then-Twins outfielder Jacque Jones in the Metrodome clubhouse. Walker came equipped with some stats to show Jones that he was failing magnificently against left-handed pitching, a fact that was so apparent to everyone else. When presented with this, Jones was unaware of what was basic common knowledge. He disagreed with Walker, even with the spreadsheet stats in his lap that showed the numbers that he was indeed owned by left-handed pitching. Torii Hunter, overhearing the conversation, said, to paraphrase, “Man, you are terrible against lefties.”
Two years ago, Jon Sciambi, an ESPN broadcaster, wrote a great piece for Baseball Prospectus that involved the advancement of statistics within the mainstream broadcasts (I highly recommend reading the whole thing if you have not already). In it, Sciambi recanted the story he had with future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones:
“Let me tell you about an argument I had with Chipper Jones. Last year, I came across an interesting nugget on Fangraphs while doing pre-game prep: Besides Albert Pujols, Chipper sees the fewest first-pitch strikes in the majors.
Chipper is open-minded when discussing hitting, even when he disagrees, so I decided to present him this information prior to the game. He was really surprised. He didn't believe the facts, even though the numbers were inarguable. Or, more to the point, he believed in what he knew (and himself) more than my stupid, never-played-the-game facts.
Chipper was so surprised that he went around the clubhouse asking teammates, one by one, if they were surprised. None of them were. Everyone saw it but him, the guy with ostensibly the best view. Chipper has great eyes, obviously, and great belief in those eyes, but those eyes can also occasionally lie to even one of the best hitters in the game.”
Perhaps Hughes, like the Joneses before him, was oblivious to the fact that he struggles with the outside pitch. It’s not entirely out of the question that a player does not recognize to what degree he cannot handle a certain pitch in a certain location. After all, Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra said that while he uses a plethora of data – including pitch f/x – he does not always share it with the “younger players” as it is an information overload.
Then again, maybe Hughes was acutely aware of the problem and just did not want to hear it from a curmudgeonly local media personality through Twitter. You can’t blame him if that was the case.
Overall, he’s made some good late season adjustments in 2011, hit well in the Australian Winter League where he worked with former Twin Glenn Williams on refining his swing, and the Twins risk losing him if they do not carry him. Ryan’s comments notwithstanding, Hughes has an inside track to a spot on the roster.