Make Or Break Year: Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes is still only 25 years old, but the Yankees' right-hander has ridden the career roller coaster since making his debut in 2007. He knows what it's like to be a highly touted prospect, to deal with injury, to be a dominant setup man, a quality starter, an All-Star, a World Champion, and a disappointment. The 2012 season figures to be the most important season of his career.

Uspw_5541668After helping the Yankees to the 2009 World Series as Mariano Rivera's setup man, Hughes moved into the team's rotation in 2010 and rewarded them with an 18-8 record. That record had more to do with all the terrific run support he received, though the advanced metrics indicate that his performance was almost exactly league average. His 4.19 ERA was backed up by a 4.25 FIP. League average isn't too shabby for a 23-year-old in the AL East.

Because he had worked primarily as a reliever in 2009, Hughes threw 80 1/3 more innings in 2010 than he had the year before. He also showed up to camp overweight in 2011. The combination of being out of shape and having a big workload increase led to shoulder issues. Hughes missed the majority of last season and wasn't particularly effective when he was on the mound, pitching to a 5.79 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 74 2/3 innings. His fastball velocity was gone and his breaking ball had no bite.

After making $2.7MM as a first-time arbitration-eligible player last year, Hughes got a very slight raise to $3.2MM this year. He rededicated himself to conditioning this offseason and came to camp in much better shape, showing renewed life on his fastball and break on his curveball. He came back like the 2010 version of himself, and the Yankees rewarded him with a rotation spot thanks in part to Michael Pineda's sore shoulder.

That said, no one will care how Hughes looked in Spring Training during his first start of the season this weekend. He has to show that he's back to being an effective starter, because another disaster season like 2011 could very end with him being non-tendered in December. Hughes is scheduled to become a free agent after next season, when he'll still be just 27. An effective season this year and next could lead to a significant payday, so Hughes stands to gain or lose quite a bit in 2012.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

25 Responses to Make Or Break Year: Phil Hughes Leave a Reply

  1. InLeylandWeTrust 3 years ago

    I feel like he should be 30 years old by now

  2. UltimateYankeeFan 3 years ago

    There is absolutely nothing anyone can add to that blog.  It says it all.

  3. MB923 3 years ago

    I think Hughes was going to get a rotation spot even if Pineda was fine.

  4. Yeah, Freddy Garcia would have been the odd man out. Still a great analysis

  5. bandits33 3 years ago

    Hughes would have to do incredibly poorly to get non-tendered.  I honestly don’t even think its possible unless he has to get TJ surgery or something.  Even if he flops as a starter (don’t think he will), they won’t have to give a large arbitration raise, and they’ll definitely keep him on for ~$4M as a reliever.

  6. Tommet 3 years ago

    Hughes is horrible. The next Pelfrey

    • andrewyf 3 years ago

      Hughes would have a 3.20 ERA in that cavern of a ballpark. Pelfrey wouldn’t even make the majors in the AL.

    • MB923 3 years ago

      Road ERA

      Pelfrey – 5.36
      Hughes – 3.88

      Not even close. Not to mention most of Hughes road starts still come at hitters ballparks.

      • johnsilver 3 years ago

         NY might want to be careful with Hughes anyway. He has had issues with health and Cash doesn’t want another Ian Kennedy syndrome here. Not saying that just pitching in the AL is what the issue is, but most here who are fans of AL East teams, know that just flipping these young kids (who have talent) to weaker NL divisions is an instant performance boost.

        I could also see Chamberlain being a very impressive NL pitcher even and not taking away from him, like as a SP even, but the AL East is just so stacked, many pitchers have to be game on from the get go physically, mentally and talent wise.

        The Orioles Jeremy Guthrie will probably be the next prime example of an AL East pitcher who put up ho-hum numbers and went to a weak NL division to dominate.. Following a very, very long line.

        • MetsMagic 3 years ago

          Do you have any examples of that? Can’t imagine moving from Camden to Coors will turn Guthrie into Greg Maddux. 

          • johnsilver 3 years ago

             You kidding? Ted Lilly, Javy Vazquez, Derek Lowe. Even the fore mentioned Ian Kennedy, though he may have eventually succeeded at NY.

            Baseball history is littered with pitchers moving to the NL and getting to face a pitcher, rather than a DH if nothing else and improving.

  7. RunItOut 3 years ago

    Hughes outpitched every other starter this spring, therefore, Pineda getting hurt had absolutely nothing to do with Hughes getting a rotation spot.  Author follows Yankees and should know better than to print that.

  8. SierraM363 3 years ago

    He’s had a great career so far. Hopefully the next crop of NY pitchers follows his “success”.

  9. asdf asdf 3 years ago

    “Hughes moved into the team’s rotation in 2010 and rewarded them with an
    18-8 record. That record had more to do with all the terrific run
    support he received”.

    that’s somewhat of a misnomer.  his first half of the season was deadly.  after the all-star break is when he crumbled and started his strings of average starts. 

    • ellisburks 3 years ago

      Incorrect use of the word misnomer.

    • Havok9120 3 years ago

       Even first half, his starts that year were characterized with huge days for the offense. And many of his usual problems were still floating around.

      • MB923 3 years ago

        He didn’t really have Huge Problems (or any problems for that matter) in the first half

        ERA was 3.65, K/BB ratio was 3.14, opponents only hit .239 off of him, WHIP of 1.18

        Clearly for the year though, his problem was Yankee Stadium. 4.66 ERA there as opposed to a 3.47 road ERA. Also his HR/9 was 1.69 at home and just 0.64 away

    • Super_Hero 3 years ago

      He had the highest ERA of any allstar pitcher in that allstar game. Run support had everything to do with him making the allstar. not saying he didn’t pitch well but there was better pitchers that didn’t get selected

  10. Havok9120 3 years ago

    Another good piece, Mike.

  11. Havok9120 3 years ago

     Probably because Pettitte won’t be availible until early May if ever? Oh, and because Nova has looked absolutely terrible so if Sweaty Freddy was earmarked for a slot, he’d almost certainly take Nova’s spot. Especially since Cashman & Co are determined to make Hughes a starter during his remaining tenure with us.

  12. MB923 3 years ago

    I was basically going to write everything that Havok wrote

  13. MB923 3 years ago

    Good thing he will eventually be a 5th starter who if finally healthy and effective will give 6+ innings. If Hughes was on the Mets, he would be probably right behind Johan

  14. MetsMagic 3 years ago

    Do people seriously still not take R.A. Dickey seriously? He’ll have to win a Cy Young before people will project him for an ERA under 4. 

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