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Doubts Re: Phil Hughes

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April 14, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes watches as Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE
April 14, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes watches as Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE

I understand much of the following will have to be taken with a grain (or two) of salt because he's only made two starts, but it's still relevant. Phil Hughes is off to another poor start. Through two starts, spanning eight innings, he's allowed eight earned runs and 13 hits. Of course, it's not as bad as his first two starts of last year (6 IP, 11 ER), but that isn't saying much.

Fortunately for him, he's got a great K-rate going (12.4/9 IP) and a crazy high BABIP (.435) that has to regress. That said, I still see a fair number of problems. For starters, he has a lot of trouble finishing batters off. If he qualified (he hasn't thrown enough innings), he would be tied for last in pitches-per-plate appearance (4.46). He threw 99 pitches in 4.2 innings on April 8th and 84 in 3.1 innings this past Saturday.

Batters just aren't fooled by his curveball or cutter, and they know his changeup is purely a "show me" pitch - they therefore sit on his fastball. The swing-&-miss rate on his curveball is (ala Dean Wormer) 0.0. In addition, he's only inducing grounders 19% of the time (and flyballs 62%!): another sign that hitters aren't getting fooled. I'm afraid to say it... Hughes' best role may be in the bullpen. He's not just better there, he's much better.

Let's go to the ol' Pitcher A vs. Pitcher B comparison:

Pitcher A as a SP: 395 IP, 4.99 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 311 K, 144 BB

Pitcher A as a RP: 56 IP, 1.44 ERA, .91 WHIP, 70 K, 17 BB

Pitcher B as a SP: 222 IP, 4.18 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 206 K, 101 BB

Pitcher B as a RP: 160 IP, 3.03 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 180 K, 49 BB

Pitcher A is Hughes; Pitcher B is Joba Chamberlain.

Here's the question of the day: How long should Hughes' leash be? How many more starts does he deserve to prove his worth?

Now that winning the division is more important than in years past, it's tougher to let a pitcher "learn" in the big leagues. Every April contest is just as important as those in September.

With the returns of Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda around the proverbial corner, will/should Hughes remain in the rotation?

His next start is Thursday against Minnesota, a team he's fared well against in the past: 15 IP, 2.40 ERA. If he struggles against them, it will be tough for him to escape the doghouse. Joe Girardi even said that certain pitchers were still auditioning for rotation spots (clearly referring to Hughes and Freddy Garcia). The fallback option, though, is a fine one. He'd make a dynamic 1-2 duo in the bullpen with David Robertson for at least the next five years.