Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Phil Hughes - Counterpoint

Now that my cohort has succeeded in spreading panic around Yankeeland regarding the ace status of The Messiah, I am here to tell you (and him) relax...

Phil turned 21 a month into the 2007 season. Prior to '07, his numbers in the minors were unbelievable. In 4 minor league season Phil posted:

13-2, 2.09 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 311K, 171H, 275IP

Those numbers translate into a 10.18 k/9, 5.59 H/9 - unreal, and unsustainable numbers.

There is a big difference between even AAA and the majors, however.

In his first major league experience, Phil posted:

5-3, 4.46, 1.28 WHIP, 58K, 64H, 72IP.

Pretty pedestrian numbers on first blush. When you take a closer look, however, for the whole season Phil allowed an impressive 8 h/9.

We all know that Phil was in the midst of a sure no-no vs. Texas when he blew out his hammy in May. When he came back he was understandably tentative and struggled in August to the tune of 1-2, 6.40 ERA. Also due to the extended layoff we saw a drop in velocity from 93-95 to 89-92. This drop in velocity can be wholly attributed to him being a little tentative and the resulting lack of arm strength from the layoff.

In September we started to see the Phil we were expecting - 3-0, 2.73 ERA, 25 H, 29 IP, 1.19 WHIP. His K numbers were still down, but again, his lack of arm strength resulted in a lower velocity and thus a lower K rate.

A pitcher's GB/FB ratio is an excellent measure of a pitcher's ability to miss bats. If a pitcher is missing 3-5 mph on his fastball doesn't it make sense that his ability to miss bats might decline a little bit as well?

When you compare Phil's first year with other dominant, HOF starters his numbers compare well:

Clemens (age 21) - 9-4, 4.32 ERA (97 ERA+), 146 H, 126 K, 133 IP
Smoltz (age 21) - 2-7, 5.48 ERA (67 ERA+), 74 H, 37 K, 64 IP
Jim Palmer (age 19) - 5-4, 3.72 ERA (94 ERA+), 75 H, 75 K, 92 IP
Bob Gibson (age 24) - 3-6, 5.61 ERA (73 ERA+), 97 H, 69 K, 86 IP
Sandy Koufax (age 20) - 2-4, 4.91 ERA (82 ERA+), 66H, 30 K, 58 IP
Phil Hughes (age 21) - 5-3, 4.46 ERA (100 ERA+), 64H, 58K, 72 IP

All things considered, I am extremely happy with the performance The Messiah turned in last year. I fully expect that we will see something in the area of a 4.25 era for the first month or so in '08, with similar velocity to what we saw last year. I expect that come mid to late June we will see the velocity pick up, and his stuff and numbers become more and more dominant.

It is extremely unusual for a pitcher to come up to the majors and perform like Doc Gooden; even if he is a future Hall of Famer. Give Phil some time to develop and learn the league and I believe we will get what has been advertised - a top of the rotation ace for a long time to come.

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