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  • I like Phil Hughes

    Where were you when the Twins became a completely different franchise? In the last 72 hours or so, the Twins have doled out $73 million in long-term contracts, surpassing their previous off-season record by nearly $300 billion dollars (if you believe some fans). On Wednesday, the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year deal, and tonight, they added former Yankee Phil Hughes to an increasingly (and suddenly) talented starting rotation. Hughes will earn $8 million for the next three seasons, earning a longer contract than many experts had predicted.

    The Twins have to bank on a change of scenery transforming Hughes into a completely different pitcher. Over the course of his career, Hughes has been an extreme fly ball pitcher in a park that is probably smaller than the park in your neighborhood. As such, he has been very home run-prone, averaging in his career 1.29 home runs per nine innings. The move to Target Field could help suppress those home runs.

    Park Factor stats compare the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. For home runs in 2013, Yankee Stadium had a 9th-best HR Park Factor of 1.128, greatly favoring hitters. The HR Park Factor at Target Field in 2013 was 0.802, 27th in the league. The great thing about this normalized stat is it takes out the types of players each team has, so the fact that the Twins don't hit a lot of home runs as a team is factored in. This seems to indicate that Hughes' biggest bugaboo could be neutralized to some extent. Although by definition extreme fly ball pitchers will always be somewhat more home run-prone.

    Hughes might be classified incorrectly as a strikeout pitcher. His career rate of 19.7% is slightly above average, but also just slightly higher than Scott Baker's 19.1% rate. That said, Hughes does throw hard. He consistently sits 92-93 with his fastball and can touch 95. He has a low-80s slider that he has developed over the years and uses as an out pitch. He had a 31.3% strikeout rate with that pitch in 2013. His fastball was crushed for a .917 OPS last season, but the home ballpark change and crazy high fastball BABIP of .337 would point toward improvement with that pitch in coming years.

    His split stats are encouraging as well. He doesn't really have a noticeable platoon split, as his career OPS against lefties is .760 and his career OPS against righties is .743. His walk rate and strikeout rate are better against righties, although his rates against lefties are not bad either. He actually allows home runs at a higher rate against right-handed batters, which you might not have guessed. Moving to Target Field won't help that final rate much, but the rest of the stats are encouraging.

    His home/road splits really catch the eye. His career ERA at home is 4.96 and his career ERA on the road is 4.10. At home versus lefties, he surrendered a .831 OPS, basically equivalent to facing Hunter Pence in every at-bat. In contrast, lefties had an OPS of just .681 on the road, or an entire lineup of Brandon Crawfords. Against righties, Hughes gave up an OPS of .781 at home and an OPS of .700 on the road. All these splits were even worse last year, and he still had an xFIP of 4.35. Target Field won't fix everything, but New Yankee Stadium was not doing Hughes any favors.

    Hughes will always give up his share of home runs. All fly ball pitchers do. However, with his good strikeout rate, better-than-good walk rate, and good raw stuff, it is conceivable that Hughes could greatly improve his performance with the Twins. Add the fact that he'll be just 30 when this very reasonable contract ends, and you get a shark move from a GM who has never been described as any sort of vicious predator animal.

    In my free agent starting pitcher preview, I wrote the following:

    Who will the Twins actually sign? I have no clue. I hope they are shockingly active. I'd love to see Garza, Johnson and Arroyo on this team next year. How wild would that be? Terry Ryan shows up at Spring Training with an earring. He starts calling everyone "playa." Constant Finger Guns. It would be amazing. Make it happen, TR.

    I had the wrong names, but the level of activity matches. I hope the Twins beat writers can get used to being called "playa." Blow the smoke off those finger guns, TR. In fact, why not reload those babies and sign a catcher next? Why stop there? Bronson Arroyo is still available. Scott Kazmir isn't going to get a larger deal than Hughes and the Twins still have money to spend. If that happens, you can expect to see Terry Ryan in a leather jacket all summer long, no matter how hot it gets. Ray-Bans too.

    Personally, I'm basking in the glow of a Twins team that is actually committed to getting better. I'm getting excited to an uncontrollable point. You can analyze the talent of Nolasco and Hughes until sundown. In fact, both guys might completely flame out next year. What you can't say any longer is that the Twins won't spend money to win baseball games. They just sunk $73 million into the rotation and greatly improved the team in the process. I'm starting to think this team could win 75-80 games next year. I need to sit down. Wait, I am sitting down. I need to lie down. It's all just too exciting.

    Originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed!
    This article was originally published in blog: I like Phil Hughes started by Brad Swanson
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Really a well-written article, Brad. Nice work.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      I hope there's no truth to the rumor he wants to wear #34.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Anybody heard anything about the puckett number rumor?
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      I have to admit that I did not think that the Twins would make these moves and I am not certain that they are the right ones. We simply are not a good team even adding these two guys. IS there value in searching for mediocrity? Would we be better off being BAD for another year or two, putting in our young players to develop together, AND THEN filling in the blanks with a couple of free agent signings like this?

      Sorry, but it is really sad that our ownership has made it really exciting that we just might, if everything goes well, win 75-80 games.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Puckett's number is retired.

      I doubt he had any interest in the number.

      http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/min/h...ed_numbers.jsp

      I bet he sticks with his #65 or goes with his HS #45.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mlhouse View Post
      We simply are not a good team even adding these two guys. IS there value in searching for mediocrity? Would we be better off being BAD for another year or two, putting in our young players to develop together, AND THEN filling in the blanks with a couple of free agent signings like this?
      Every bad team could say this every year and continue to be bad in perpetuity. At some point, you have to start making the team better because it's not going to happen in one offseason. Pick up one or two pieces every offseason for 2-3 years and hopefully right around the time the youngsters are ready, you're already a mediocre team and only go up from there.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Every bad team could say this every year and continue to be bad in perpetuity. At some point, you have to start making the team better because it's not going to happen in one offseason. Pick up one or two pieces every offseason for 2-3 years and hopefully right around the time the youngsters are ready, you're already a mediocre team and only go up from there.
      Exactly and this is the perfect time to make that transition. Two (or three if Meyer develops) impact talents are nearly ready, the team has the 5th overall pick this coming June and even if they finish with 75-80 wins in 2014, they'll have at least one more top 15 pick coming. Now is the time to start moving up the ladder. If they can hit that win total in 2014, add two more pieces, integrate Sano and Buxton full-time, there's no reason they can't aim for 90 wins in 2015.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      Exactly and this is the perfect time to make that transition. Two (or three if Meyer develops) impact talents are nearly ready, the team has the 5th overall pick this coming June and even if they finish with 75-80 wins in 2014, they'll have at least one more top 15 pick coming. Now is the time to start moving up the ladder. If they can hit that win total in 2014, add two more pieces, integrate Sano and Buxton full-time, there's no reason they can't aim for 90 wins in 2015.
      I think the 90 win target is more like 2016 but that's just splitting hairs.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I think the 90 win target is more like 2016 but that's just splitting hairs.
      That's fair, but I still hope they aim for 90 in 2015.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Every bad team could say this every year and continue to be bad in perpetuity. At some point, you have to start making the team better because it's not going to happen in one offseason. Pick up one or two pieces every offseason for 2-3 years and hopefully right around the time the youngsters are ready, you're already a mediocre team and only go up from there.
      I think there's also value in demonstrating to players/agents this year that the Twins are open for business when it comes to free agents. Those players/agents that hit the market in the future won't immediately dismiss the Twins without even a thought.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I think there's also value in demonstrating to players/agents this year that the Twins are open for business when it comes to free agents. Those players/agents that hit the market in the future won't immediately dismiss the Twins without even a thought.
      How much does it matter that Nolasco is a Sosnick client (Willingham, Doumit, etc.)? Part of me worries that TR made this commitment due to familiarity more than talent, and it could just be a one-time move to stabilize the rotation. The Hughes deal is a decent follow-up, I suppose, but it would be nice to see TR definitively prove he wants to consistently use FA to get good talent or even premium talent and accelerate the rebuild. Hard to do in one offseason, though, so I'm giving TR some more rope for the next couple years.

      As great as the Nolasco and Hughes deals are (and believe me, I had a very happy holiday weekend thinking about them), they still represent pretty much the bare minimum offseason moves for a rotation so stupendously awful in 2012-2013.

      Will be fun to finally discuss Twins FA signings on merit, though, and not just completely in terms of money saved or trainwrecks avoided.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      I'm fine with both signings. I'm curious as to how they'll perform with the Twins, especially where Phil Hughes could potentially live up to some earlier projections.

      The question I have...as maybe it's not really a feasible comparison - as I have no idea what the posting $$$ will be.

      But, given that we have committed almost $20M per year over the next 3 seasons for Nolasco and Tanaka.

      Would you rather had the Twins posted that $55-$70M posting fee and then paid Tanaka that money?
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      How much does it matter that Nolasco is a Sosnick client (Willingham, Doumit, etc.)? Part of me worries that TR made this commitment due to familiarity more than talent, and it could just be a one-time move to stabilize the rotation. The Hughes deal is a decent follow-up, I suppose, but it would be nice to see TR definitively prove he wants to consistently use FA to get good talent or even premium talent and accelerate the rebuild. Hard to do in one offseason, though, so I'm giving TR some more rope for the next couple years.

      As great as the Nolasco and Hughes deals are (and believe me, I had a very happy holiday weekend thinking about them), they still represent pretty much the bare minimum offseason moves for a rotation so stupendously awful in 2012-2013.

      Will be fun to finally discuss Twins FA signings on merit, though, and not just completely in terms of money saved or trainwrecks avoided.
      I just don't see Ryan as the kind of guy who would make a deal like this due to "familiarity." I think the stars aligned. I think his talent evaluators saw things they liked in Nolasco and Hughes and then, when he checked in with Jack Goin, Jack told him those evaluations actually were backed up by some of their numbers. That may not happen often in Terry Ryan's world so when it does, you pull the trigger.

      And while I don't disagree that these two deals could be considered "bare minimum" for the Twins off-season, keep in mind two things: (1) the off-season isn't even close to over, so there's quite likely going to be more additions coming, and (2) the Twins have often fallen well below our expectations for "bare minimum" moves in years past.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan34 View Post
      I'm fine with both signings. I'm curious as to how they'll perform with the Twins, especially where Phil Hughes could potentially live up to some earlier projections.

      The question I have...as maybe it's not really a feasible comparison - as I have no idea what the posting $$$ will be.

      But, given that we have committed almost $20M per year over the next 3 seasons for Nolasco and Tanaka.

      Would you rather had the Twins posted that $55-$70M posting fee and then paid Tanaka that money?
      No.

      If Jim Pohlad came to me and said, "hey, yanno we've operated well below budget for payroll the last couple of years, feel free to spend an extra $100 million (posting fee plus contract) this year," I'd tell him thank you and then call Cano's agent. If I'm going to be allowed to risk throwing $100 million down a toilet, I'd take my chances with Cano over Tanaka.

      Understand you don't get Cano for $100MM, but you could probably get him for what you might otherwise be able to afford for him PLUS that $100MM.

      If I couldn't get Cano, I'd just tell Pohlad I want to use the money to remodel my office or something.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I just don't see Ryan as the kind of guy who would make a deal like this due to "familiarity." I think the stars aligned. I think his talent evaluators saw things they liked in Nolasco and Hughes and then, when he checked in with Jack Goin, Jack told him those evaluations actually were backed up by some of their numbers. That may not happen often in Terry Ryan's world so when it does, you pull the trigger.

      And while I don't disagree that these two deals could be considered "bare minimum" for the Twins off-season, keep in mind two things: (1) the off-season isn't even close to over, so there's quite likely going to be more additions coming, and (2) the Twins have often fallen well below our expectations for "bare minimum" moves in years past.
      I think you underestimate familiarity. Not saying that's the only reason TR got him, of course, but I think it's quite possible TR knew his desperate rotation needed one guy from that FA group, and the agent connection is what allowed TR to get it done with Nolasco quickly.

      I think the consensus opinion is that the Twins significant FA offseason is over, right? At least for pitchers? If TR wants to prove me wrong again, I'd more than welcome it.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      If I couldn't get Cano, I'd just tell Pohlad I want to use the money to remodel my office or something.
      I'd ask if I could use it to remodel my retirement fund.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I'd use it to remodel my model fund...hey-oooooooo!

      But seriously, I'd blow it all on scratch-offs.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      I'd use it to remodel my model fund...hey-oooooooo!

      But seriously, I'd blow it all on scratch-offs.
      Pull tabs? I hear they could stand to see sales of those pick up or be forced to use folding lawn chairs in the new Vikings stadium
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