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Phil Hughes: What's Wrong?

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Phil Hughes, who figured to be a key part of the 2011 New York Yankees rotation, has been anything but helpful through the first four months of this campaign. Experiencing a "dead arm" sensation back in April, Hughes was placed on the disabled list for nearly three months before being activated and brought back to New York. While his pre-DL stint was absolutely horrendous (Three starts, 10.1 innings, 19 hits, four walks, three strikeouts, 16 earned runs), he hasn't exactly been good since returning. Here's his current line since reappearing in the Bronx: Four starts, 21.1 innings, 28 hits, nine walks, 13 strikeouts and 13 earned runs.

Phil, supposedly the number two in this rotation heading into 2011, is suddenly fighting for an opportunity to stay with the big league club. So, what in the world is the problem with Phil? I may have the answer.

As Lord Duggan mentioned last week, Phil Hughes is at his best when he can mix his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and cutter to keep hitters off-balance and his curveball to prevent hitters from becoming too comfortable in the box. Because the velocity on his two-seam and four-seam are extremely similar, the last tenth of a second movement that the pitch takes on is just enough that hitters don't crush the ball.

Using the Godly pitchFX tool on Brooks Baseball, I've discovered something fairly alarming. I compared three of Hughes' best starts from last season (May 2, May 7 and May 12) to his last three starts (June 17, June 22, June 27). Results after the jump...


May 2, 2010

May 7, 2010

May 12, 2010

Average V

Max Speed


40 (92.66)

60 (94.29)

62 (92.94)

162 (93.37)



3 (85.07)

1 (87.20)


4 (85.60)



11 (77.87)

9 (77.00)

11 (77.30)

31 (77.42)



22 (88.69)

29 (89.70)

28 (89.28)

79 (89.27)



21 (92.17)

1 (95.20)


22 (92.31)



July 17, 2011

July 22, 2011

July 27, 2011

Average V

Max Speed


45 (91.25)

59 (90.87)

60 (91.20)

164 (91.10)




6 (84.02)

5 (83.46)

11 (83.76)



25 (74.97)

24 (74.48)

31 (73.79)

80 (74.45)



10 (88.39)

9 (87.70)

5 (88.08)

24 (88.07)


A few things stick out to me when I look at this data. The first is that Phil Hughes has completely abandoned his two-seam fastball and is hesitant to throw his cutter. While it wasn't necessarily a pitch used tremendously often in the three sample starts from 2010, the two-seam is virtually non-existent over his last three starts. His cutter is pitched merely 30% of how often it was thrown in his 2010 sample starts. Mixing these two pitches with his four-seam will certainly help Hughes. He just needs to find the confidence to use these pitches again. After all, hurling 91 mph meatballs over the heart of the plate isn't exactly ideal.

While his velocity is down on every pitch, that's to be expected as he continues to work his way back from the injury that barely allowed him to touch 90 mph. If he wants to be successful again, it would help if he could dial it up to the 95-96 mph range every once in a while as well as consistently sit at where his max speed is currently, 93-94 mph.

Another questionable decision by Hughes is being overly dependent on his curveball. He's thrown 80 curveballs over the past three starts compared to 31 in the three sample starts from 2010. Of course, something's got to fill the gap of two-seams and cutters and it can't possibly be anymore four-seam fastballs. But it should be different variations of fastball (two-seam, cutter).

Hughes also threw for a higher percentage of strikes in his three starts last May (70.13%) as opposed to his most recent three starts (65.24%).

Add together the fact that Hughes isn't fooling many batters (10 of 118 fastballs for strikes have been swing and miss. Only nine of 54 curveball strikes were swing and miss) and you've got a pitcher that hasn't quite figured it out yet.

Needless to say, I believe Ivan Nova has more than earned his role as a starting pitcher. So where is Phil Hughes left? If there aren't any improvements in tonight's start against Chicago, he's got to be sent down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in order to work on pitch selection, location and velocity.

Big thanks to for the statistics I used in my charts.