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Recent Blogs


Can Phil Hughes Surprise Us?

The forgotten man in the Minnesota Twins 2018 pitching blueprint was supposed to be among its centerpieces.

When Terry Ryan signed the right-hander to a reworked five-year contract following his brilliant 2014 campaign, the idea was that Hughes would now be thriving as a rotation fixture entering Year 4.

Instead, as we all know, things have gone a very different direction – a gradual yet consistent downturn ever since. But the veteran is still locked in, lined up as the roster's third-highest earner at $13.2 million; a total afterthought in discussions of a revamped Twins staff.

He'll either be a lost cause or a pleasant surprise. Let's explore the latter scenario, and what it would mean.
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA Today
Over the past three seasons, while the condition of his shoulder has deteriorated, Hughes has tried just about everything to offset the decline of a fastball that was once his calling card.

He's thrown more changeups. He's attempted adding spin to his heater. He has undergone surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome not once, but twice.

Ultimately, nothing else will matter much if his latest operation – dubbed a "revision" on the first – doesn't take. Last year, he came back from the initial surgery experiencing the same symptoms of fatigue that necessitated it in the first place. There was no improvement. His fastball velocity registered at a new career low.

Mum's been the word on Hughes lately as he rehabs from an August 10th procedure that involved removing the remainder of his rib (half was taken out the first time) along with scar tissue, while cleaning up scalene muscles in the area.

If you're having a hard time counting on Hughes, that's more than understandable. He hasn't been a particularly effective pitcher since that 2014 season, which now feels like a very distant memory. But it's important to remember how good he was then, and at other times. Does that ability still does reside within him?

The new Twins front office, saddled with a $26.4 million commitment through the next two years, has no choice but to focus on his still-existent upside, no matter how remote the likelihood of achieving it at this point.

How should the team's decision-makers be planning around Hughes as they look ahead to next spring, when he's expected to be ready to roll?

I see two options, and one is clearly preferable in my mind.

1) Rotation Depth
It goes without saying that the Twins must come to camp with at least five starting pitchers slotted ahead of Hughes. Anything less would be grossly irresponsible. So, if the plan is to bring back Hughes as a starter, he's nothing but insurance. Presumably he wouldn't be able to supplant one of the five proven commodities in front of him, even with a decent spring showing.

When the season starts and he's on the outside of the rotation looking in, where do you go from there? Try sending him to Rochester so he can add to – dare I say – a starting logjam? Throw him into long relief, where he'll pitch sporadically in unpredictable bursts and struggle to build stamina?

It could be that Hughes is no longer built to throw 100 pitches every fifth day. So maybe it's time to commit to another path.

2) Return in Relief
Once upon a time, Hughes was the dominating setup man who paved way for Mariano Rivera in a championship season for the Yankees. That was a long time ago now – almost a decade – but he has shown he can do it. Most likely the 31-year-old's days as a flamethrowing weapon in the late innings are over, but his best bet to provide value could be in a middle relief role.

This would enable Hughes to throw in shorter stints, perhaps reducing repetitive wear on his arm, maybe even helping him regain strength. It would also be easier to make room for him in the pen than in the rotation.

Even if he doesn't approach the 94 MPH gas he was bringing back in 2009, Hughes has the control and aptitude to be an effective reliever if this surgery restores even a semblance of his previous zip. The Twins, of course, will take whatever bullpen depth they can get.

An optimist could even venture to think bigger. Other pitchers have been written off due to recurring injuries around the same age, only to bounce back resoundingly in a different form. That list includes Hughes's good friend Glen Perkins, who appeared cooked after shoulder issues wrecked back-to-back seasons and ended his career as a starter. Perk wasn't all that much younger when he reemerged as a reliever than Hughes is now.

It's a lofty hope, but one that is grounded in low expectations. Therein lies the beauty. Hughes has all the potential to surprise and little chance to disappoint.

One thing feels clear, though: If the Twins try to bring him along as a starter, again, hoping he can regain velocity over long outings and make it through lineups multiple times, we're destined to get what we expect.

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39 Comments

 

Maybe the best outcome would be if the Twins were able to re-coup some money from an insurance policy on him.If they have one.If I were running an insurance company, I don't think I'd underwrite MLB pitchers.......

 

Has anyone really successfully come back from TOS?It seems like the dreaded "Rotator Cuff Surgery" of the 1970's.

 

here's a couple good links- looks like Jaime Garcia is the poster child and Josh Becket is what to expect.

 

https://www.beyondth...r-effectiveness

 

https://www.fangraph...utlet-syndrome/

    • snap4birds likes this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 04 2017 11:13 AM
He's attempted adding spin to his heater.

 

 

Found this storyline interesting. 

 

Driveline Baseball spend time studying how to add and subtract spin rate. You can easily manipulate the ball to reduce spin rate. In there studies, there was no answer for how to increase spin rate -- with the exception of adding tact to the ball

 

From Kyle Boddy's interview with Baseball America last year...

 

We've been unsuccessful in figuring out how to increase spin rate. There's one easy way to do it, which is use Firm Grip or pine tar, but that's illegal. So we can't do that.

 

What actually makes it possible? That's such an interesting question. We have all this technology that can give you the angular velocities of the arm and how fast it moves, but despite that we don't yet know. That's a big question we are trying to answer this summer.

 

Phil Hughes recently talked about trying to increase the spin rate on his fastball. Lots of luck man. We've been trying to figure that out for a couple of years.

 

 

Now, maybe Hughes didn't mean "spin rate". Maybe he just meant spin, like a different movement out of his fastball instead of the times it rotated to the plate. Either way, his spin rate dropped some from 2016 to 2017. 

 

Bigger picture, what someone discovers what it takes to manipulate spin rate and add it to the fastball is going to be celebrated heavily.

    • Sconnie likes this
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South Dakota Tom
Dec 04 2017 11:17 AM

And pitch more than 20 innings in that stretch...

He should be behind Bartola Colon, who should be behind Bert Blyleven on the depth charts.I have no problem with a come back and would set the bar rather low but at least set one. How about any 3 start period in the minors (AAA or AA)where his ERA is less than 3.00. I am guessing May, Gonsalves and Romero would jump at that opportunity. Why not hold Hughes to that standard as well?

 

I see Hughes as a guy who'll have to pitch his butt off to make the team in 2018. He was terrible last season and after more surgery, I don't see any reason for optimism. Hopefully the FO is willing to let him go if it's clear he's going to be a liability.

 

And pitch more than 20 innings in that stretch...

I'd be ok with 15 innings.If Santana hurts his hamstring and is out for a couple weeks I don't care if he has a few rehab starts where he gives up 8 runs in 9 innings. I just want him to say he is ready to go.The performance is not the issue but rather his health.If you miss most of two years now the issue should be performance and earning your way back. I don't care how low they set the bar.No one that has missed as much time as he has should object to performing at a certain level of competence.I would say the same about Perkins last year.Size of the contract and past performance should not carry much weight.A ship does not sail with yesterday's wind.

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Twinfan & Dad
Dec 04 2017 06:27 PM
Yes. Cy Young candidate. Biggest surprise and comeback player of the year. Anchors staff that is the best in baseball. Fastball consistently sits at 96. Oh how I love the offseason.
    • Sconnie likes this

The reality is that Hughes is owed $13.5 M each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons.I think that the best case scenario for the Twins is to package him along with all their international bonus $ to Otani's suitor who will give them the best breathing prospect back.

    • BK432 and Sconnie like this

I expect Hughes to contribute as much in 2018 as Perkins did in 2017.

    • notoriousgod71 likes this
It is really too bad. He was a great pick up and for a short time a great asset and it should have stopped there. The extension was one of the worst moves Ryan ever made.
From the somewhat limited view in my recliner, I have no idea if he makes it back to the level of even an expensive long reliever. The surprise I am looking for is whether the new FO makes the decision based more on his usefulness to the roster, than his usefulness to the accounting department! :)

I would not be surprised if he surprises us. :P

 

He might have another year left in his arm, he might fail miserably. It can go either way.

I don’t think Hughes will pitch for the Twins again, so if he does, it will surprise me.

Low bar... but possible.


Side note, what does a second TOS procedure mean? They didn’t remove a second rib, did they?

 

I don’t think Hughes will pitch for the Twins again, so if he does, it will surprise me.

Low bar... but possible.


Side note, what does a second TOS procedure mean? They didn’t remove a second rib, did they?

The first surgery partially removed one of his ribs, and the second surgery removed the rest of that same rib.

    • Sconnie likes this

 

The reality is that Hughes is owed $13.5 M each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons.I think that the best case scenario for the Twins is to package him along with all their international bonus $ to Otani's suitor who will give them the best breathing prospect back.

 

This would actually be a great idea....if Ohtani showed any care whatsoever to the size of the bonus he can get. Damn selfless kid......


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