Like everyone else, Frankie Piliere is watching the 5th starter debate. He's voting Hughes:
We finally saw the Hughes scouts and fans were waiting for in 2010. He was a far different pitcher last year -- more aggressive and comfortable in every way -- and it showed not just in his performance but also in his raw stuff.
It's easy to attribute that simply to his move to the bullpen, but his growth goes well beyond that. Hughes became a three-pitch pitcher, had more confidence in his fastball command like he had previously shown in the minors and tightened up his loopy breaking ball. Bullpen or no bullpen, we saw the real Hughes start to shine through in 2009. If he can stay healthy in 2010, he should be ready to make a significant impact as a starter for the Yankees. It's easy forget that he is still just 23.
Solid info from a former pro scout, and it's easy to trust his judgment. But let's look at the numbers, too.
2009: 62.8% FB, 16.4% CT, 20.3% CB, 0.6% CH
Hughes only picked up the cutter (and scrapped the slider) at the end of 2008, so I have no way to know how he'll mix his pitches as a starter. But I'm confident he won't be throwing a fastball variant 79% of the time.
Both the fastball and the cutter were above average pitches in 2009, each good for more than a run per 100. Impressive when you consider that CC's fastball has been half a run above average over his career, and Burnett's has been a negative value. Both those pitchers throw their FB above 60% of the time.
Can Hughes' fastballs maintain their value with additional exposure? I have no idea what the exposure rate on pitchers shifting between pen and rotation is, but watch Hughes as a case study.
Joba's fastball dropped from 0.79 runs above average to -1.26. His slider fell a full run in value, and his changeup (which I remember him never locating well) plummeted more than 2 runs to -2.56. Do we have to expect a similar drop off from Hughes? It's hard to know.
We're on the cutting edge of collecting (and publicly distributing) pitch value data, much of the information we're looking for literally has never been done before. But I take it as a very good sign that Hughes could shed two-thirds of that value and still have a significantly above average fastball.