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  • The Big Switch: Phil Hughes

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    Phil Hughes Big Switch pitching performance on Friday night successfully stared down a three-game losing streak and Justin Verlander. It was also his fourth straight quality start, suggesting that Hughes is in the midst of his own Big Switch. That switch is half of what we thought it would be, but half unforeseen, though maybe we should have expected it.

    When the Twins signed Phil Hughes this offseason to a 3-year, $24 million contract, reactions to the deal were split, with very little middle ground. The agreement was an easy target for criticism. Hughes record last year was just 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA. In what world did those numbers justify a three-year deal, let alone $24 million guaranteed?


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    The alternate view boiled down to one hope: like Snake Plissken, Hughes just needed to Escape from New York. Part of that argument was subjective. Hughes was once the top pitching prospect in the minors, the guy that Yankees wouldn’t trade for Johan Santana. He was called up as a 20-year-old, and even now is just 27 and approaching his prime. By all accounts his stuff has been better than his performance. He had faced the brightest of spotlights on the biggest of stages with the highest of expectations as one of the league’s youngest players. All of which could overwhelm anyone.

    But the other reason to get him out of New York was more objective: Hughes has always been hurt by his home ballpark. In particular, his tendency to give up long fly balls was hurt by Yankees Stadium’s smaller dimensions, especially in right field. For instance, last year Hughes gave up seventeen home runs in Yankee Stadium and just seven on the road. His ERA at home was 6.32, but 3.88 on the road. His record was 1-10 in the Rebuilt House that Ruth Built, but 3-4 everywhere else. Perhaps Hughes just wasn’t made to pitch in the Bronx Bandbox.

    So far, the home run theory is holding water. Hughes home run rate has dropped 40% to .9 HR/9 from 1.5 HR/9 last year. This year’s rate, by the way, matches his home run rate on the road last year. His 3.92 ERA also almost matches what he had on the road last year. Maybe this success isn’t such a surprise.

    But there is another change, too. Hughes walk rate (1.3 BB/9) is half of what it was last year (2.6 BB/9) and over his entire Yankees’ career (2.8 BB/9). This is probably also something we might have anticipated, though maybe not to this degree. Pretty consistently, when pitchers have come to the Twins and pitching coach Rick Anderson, we have seen a decline in walk rate. Of course, we’ve also see a decline in strikeout rate, which we’re also seeing with Hughes, from 7.5 K/9 down to 7.0. Still, that’s a trade worth making.

    Taken all together, there are some reasons to believe that this offseason’s best case scenario is coming true, and we’re watching a Big Switch in a player’s career. If so, instead of being foolish, the three-year deal the Twins signed would be brilliant. Hughes would be locked into a relatively affordable $8M contract through his 30-year-old season. It could work out well for Hughes too – that’s a good age to look for his next big deal, whether it is from the Twins or some other team. The contract, widely derided nationally, is paying off for both sides in the early going.

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    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      Didn't look like Hughes was throwing the looping curve ball in Detroit on Friday, but rather, back to the hard slide-piece as his "off-speed" offering. Either way, he is doing more with his fast ball by moving it around, in and out, up and down. Good for now, and hope he can keep it going, down.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      I like the Snake Plissken reference.

      Was the Hughes contract really "widely derided nationally?"
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I'll trade a drop of .5k/9 for a drop of 1.5BB/9 any day of the week. Unfortunately with Anderson, it's rarely that nice.
    1. Gernzy's Avatar
      Gernzy -
      Quote Originally Posted by AM. View Post
      I like the Snake Plissken reference.

      Was the Hughes contract really "widely derided nationally?"
      "Nationally" means New York. And who cares what they think?

      I'm glad Hughes is off to a good start with us. Hopefully it will continue!
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by AM. View Post
      Was the Hughes contract really "widely derided nationally?"
      Yes. Not hugely, since it wasn't that large of a deal, but coming off the year he had last year, anything guaranteed beyond 1 or 2 years deserved some skepticism. (Maybe as much from the player's perspective as the team's.) But upon closer inspection, given his age, health, and past bullpen success, it was really a solid gamble for this team.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Hughes is doing exactly what I expected him to do in Target Field. Hopefully he can continue to perform at this level all season.
    1. iTwins's Avatar
      iTwins -
      Quote Originally Posted by AM. View Post
      I like the Snake Plissken reference.

      Was the Hughes contract really "widely derided nationally?"
      There was a lot of "Only the Twins would give this guy a 3 year deal" talk from the big media outlets.

      I'm glad to see the "gamble" is paying off for the Twins. Hughes was a guy I wanted the Twins to persue because it seemed like he just needed a change of venue. So far, so good!
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      Even his bad starts at the beginning of the year were somewhat encouraging. He wasn't getting knocked out after 2 innings and he would put together 4-5 innings of good pitching and things just went south. One of his poor but most encouraging starts was like 2nd or 3rd where he gave up 4 runs in the first and a lot of pitches but came back out to pitch 4 shutout innings. Nothing great, but good to see a guy come back out after a rough first inning and help his team out a bit, give them a shot to get back in it and save the bullpen. Kinda wish they woulda let him go one more on Friday. Maybe had to do with the heart of the order coming in and wanting to come at them with a fresh arm.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      not to get off topic but just glancing at boxscores. Dang Casey Fien got a couple impressive holds on Friday facing Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez. Any word on his injury?
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      Quote Originally Posted by halfchest View Post
      not to get off topic but just glancing at boxscores. Dang Casey Fien got a couple impressive holds on Friday facing Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez. Any word on his injury?
      That should read Friday and Sunday. . . My edit feature never works.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by halfchest View Post
      Any word on his injury?
      What I saw was Fien was examined and it was called a contusion. Presumably it means an x-ray or similar revealed no break. I interpret it as an owie that will be evaluated no sooner than shortly before Tuesday's game, and will be day-to-day rather than DLed.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Hughes has been an absolute success so far. Let's hope that continues.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by AM. View Post
      I like the Snake Plissken reference.

      Was the Hughes contract really "widely derided nationally?"
      I was pretty skeptical of the Hughes signing. The guy hasn't really proved anything in his career up to this point and he could still spiral downward at some point. He looks good right now though.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I just went back and read a bunch of what was written about the Hughes signing.

      I would not say "widely derided nationally". There was skepticism as would be expected. Most of that skepticism surrounded the fact that the contract was for 3 years not the amount per year.

      Pretty hard to assess whether those criticisms are fair 6 weeks into the first season of the deal.
    1. Pitz's Avatar
      Pitz -
      Quote Originally Posted by halfchest View Post
      Kinda wish they woulda let him go one more on Friday. Maybe had to do with the heart of the order coming in and wanting to come at them with a fresh arm.
      If my memory serves me, I think I read from Berardino that Hughes actually told Anderson that he didn't have 'it' to go back out. Sorry, too lazy to go back and look for a link.

      Edit: Overcame my laziness:
      http://www.twincities.com/News/ci_25...1:-Phil-Hughes

      "Every pitcher has a certain amount of pride," Hughes said after an eventual 2-1 win at Comerica Park over longtime foe Justin Verlander. "I felt like my stuff and location were deteriorating. You don't want to give the game away just because you're feeling prideful or whatever."
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by Pitz View Post
      If my memory serves me, I think I read from Berardino that Hughes actually told Gardy that he didn't have 'it' to go back out. Sorry, too lazy to go back and look for a link.
      I read the same thing -- he asked to be taken out. And here is the link:
      http://www.twincities.com/twins/ci_2...-continues-his
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Really encouraged by Hughes. Given his relatively young age, some past successes, his original prospect standing, his overall stuff if he could harness a bit more, and his splits out of NY, he was right at the top of my wish list. I have not been disappointed. As has been pointed out, even a couple uneven starts at the begining of the season weren't totally discouraging. Maybe it's just me, but it seems none of the Twins starters were "ready" at the begining of the season. Might have been the weird weather, who knows.

      Still don't think our staff is where it needs to be, or where it can and could be. Gibson has largely been impressive, as been Hughes. Looks like Nolasco is rounding in to form. Love Deduno back in the rotation, where I've always felt he should be. He can be a little wild on occasion, and not sure he's built for 32-34 starts on a season, but really think what we saw last season is the real Deduno, a late bloomer. Boy, if we can just find one more of our youngsters to be ready this year in Meyer, May or possibly Darnell!
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I'd like to say I expected this. But, the truth is, I didn't know what to expect. I thought he would be better away from the Bronx Band Box. I hoped he would be better as he hit his stride at the peak of his career. But there are warning signs as well. He doesn't have a great secondary pitch. He has wavered between the slider and the curve, settling on the curve and a cutter, and throwing the curve only as a "get me over" pitch to guys who never swing at the first pitch. It's a testimony to how good his fastball is that he can actually pitch seven shutout innings against the Tigers and throw two curveballs--none in tough situations. I'm not sure that's sustainable. But I'll take it, and continue to hope for more.
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