Via Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter last night, on Phil Hughes:
Who Didn’t [Pitch Well]: Phil Hughes struck out six in five innings, but also allowed three runs, two of them on a Pedro Feliz homer in the fourth. Hughes, who was targeted for 90 pitches, used up 86 of them in those five frames and seven of his nine outs on balls in play came on flies. That combination of inefficiency and fly-ball tendencies is what we were seeing from Hughes last year after he came off the DL, whereas earlier this spring he was back to being the dominant groundballing power pitcher he’d been in the minors.
An excellent observation by Cliff. This forced me to look back at Hughes’ batted ball ratios in the bigs last season:
Date Opp IP BF Pit Str GB FB LD Str% GB/FB Apr 26 TOR 4.1 21 91 53 7 4 4 58.2% 1.75 May 1 @TEX 6.1 20 80 50 8 3 0 62.5% 2.67 Aug 4 KCR 4.2 22 92 63 7 4 4 68.5% 1.75 Aug 10 @CLE 6.0 23 95 66 3 11 2 69.5% 0.27 Aug 15 BAL 5.0 23 94 60 4 10 3 63.8% 0.40 Aug 20 @LAA 6.1 27 92 54 9 6 3 58.7% 1.50 Aug 26 @DET 6.0 24 97 65 3 12 2 67.0% 0.25 Aug 31 TBD 4.1 24 94 59 7 5 4 62.8% 1.40 Sep 5 SEA 6.0 24 97 61 7 6 2 62.9% 1.17 Sep 11 @TOR 6.0 25 106 67 7 8 6 63.2% 0.88 Sep 17 BAL 5.2 24 96 57 6 6 7 59.4% 1.00 Sep 22 TOR 5.0 23 99 68 6 5 8 68.7% 1.20 Sep 27 @TBD 7.0 26 102 65 8 7 3 63.7% 1.14
On the whole, Hughes’ groundball to flyball ratio was 0.94 last season. But, to Cliff’s point, if you take out his first two starts of the season, it’s closer to 0.84. This suggests that Hughes is a flyball pitcher – or, at least, he was last season.
How about in 2006? Well, according to this data, Hughes groundball to flyball ratio in 2006 was 1.42 (on the year).
So, what’s going on here? Why would a pitcher who was a groundball guy in the minors turn into a flyball pitcher in the majors?
Was Carlos Gomez correct (?) back in May of last year, on Hughes, when he wrote:
[Hughes'] steeper shoulder tilt in ’07 tells the story. You can also reference the first video clip. Notice how, in ’07, his throwing arm finishes closer to his left leg. That is consistent with a higher slot. This article, a Q&A with Phil Hughes, makes a reference to his higher arm slot. Hughes says:
They weren’t anything major, just things like staying back and getting my arm in the proper slot. I struggled a bit off the bat when I got [to Trenton], but was able to put together a few good starts and build on them. Things started clicking, with a big part of that being the improvement of my curveball… I throw more of a 12-to-6 when I’m mostly looking to get it over, and then with two strikes I throw one that has a little more plane to it; more of a 1-to-7.
In order to get a true 12-6 break on a curveball, a pitcher has to impart true 12-6 back-to-front topspin on the ball so that there is minimal lateral break. This is nearly impossible (except for Eddie Degerman, he of the highest arm slot the world has ever seen) because of the angle of release. I would call Hughes’ curve a 1-7 curve. It used to be more of a 2-8 curve because of his lower release point. The point is that Hughes is trying to make it a 12-6 curve by being more over the top and has done so with all his pitches. A higher release point on his fastball translates to a fastball that is straighter with minimal lateral break. Why do the one-arm pitching machines throw the straightest fastballs? Because they come straight over the top and put perfect backspin on the ball.
And yet, even with his four-seam fastball, and such an over the top delivery, how did he get a reputation for being a groundball pitcher? Is it mostly his curveball that causes all those ground outs? His fastball in ’07 is more conducive with flyouts/strikeouts… I can see the ground balls with his ’06 mechanics, and I’m willing to bet that he’s been getting more fly balls after the arm slot change.
…and I’m willing to bet that he’s been getting more fly balls after the arm slot change…
Sounds like Carlos’ and Cliff’s observations are tying together here, no? Gomez predicted at the start of last season that Hughes would be a flyball pitcher because of the change in his slot, and Corcoran is confirming that change, based on last year’s data and what we’ve seen this spring.
Now, of course, the question is: What will the change in style mean for Phil Hughes at the big league level? Will more flies mean more big flies and balls going over the wall? It might – but, we’ll have to wait and see, for sure.