• Phil Hughes Was Lucky In 2010, Can He Do It Again?

    Posted by on November 14th, 2010 · Comments (12)

    Among the items in The Bill James Handbook 2011 is the Bill James Leader (boards). And, for each league, therein, we can find the leaders in “Cheap Wins.”

    What’s a “Cheap Win”? It’s when a starting pitcher wins a game where his Game Score was under 50. (See our Stat Glossary if you don’t know what “Game Score” is all about.)

    Related, here are the 2010 American League leaders in “Cheap Wins” – min. 5 “Cheap Wins”:

    1. John Lackey, BOS 6
    2. Phil Hughes, NYY 5

    Yup. The Yankees offense really helped Phil Hughes get his 18-8 record last season. And, I would offer that a more reasonable W-L record for Hughes last year would be something like 14-12. In fact, if you look at Hughes’ 2011 Neutral Wins and Losses via the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, that’s his record. (If you don’t now what Neutral Wins and Losses are, again, see the Stat Glossary.)

    This is all good food for thought for those who believe that Hughes is ready to step into the “front end” of the Yankees starting rotation next season. And, if Brian Cashman and company are thinking Phil is ready to be counted on as a “#3″ starter (after Sabathia and Cliff Lee, assuming the Yankees sign the latter), that’s a mistake.

    Don’t let the 18-8 record fool you. If not for the luck he had last season, Hughes would be right up there with A.J. Burnett and Javy Vazquez – not in terms of sucky stats, but, rather, in terms of being just about a .500 pitcher (as those two have been most of their career).

    This is not to say that Hughes cannot take it to the next level in 2011, or, that he can’t get lucky again next season. Anything can happen. But, if the Yankees, or their fans, book on it happening, that’s just wishful thinking at this point.

    Comments on Phil Hughes Was Lucky In 2010, Can He Do It Again?

    1. Scout
      November 14th, 2010 | 10:11 am

      Hughes undoubtedly benefited from a strong offense in 2010. If he is to really function in the middle of the rotation on a top team (which is what I have always thought his ceiling was, not a true #1 or #2), he’ll need to improve his secondary offerings and show he is prepared to use them in any count. Otherwise, absent Cliff Lee, the Yankees with CC and Hughes atop the rotation in the next couple of years are likely to resemble the 2004-2007 Yankees — good for 95-97 wins, possibly a play-off spot, but eliminated in the play-offs by teams with better talent at the front-end of the rotation.

    2. KPOcala
      November 14th, 2010 | 12:08 pm

      Hughes needs to develop a true stikeout pitch, or learn to pitch to contact. Otherwise he’ll be #4 type of pitcher who’ll pitch the occasional gem, but will rarely go more than 6 innings, on a good day. He’s also very young, mature, and could go on to have a great career…. Now, I wonder, what about Joba? He needs to get in shape, get serious, work his way into the rotation, or get traded.

    3. Corey Italiano
      November 14th, 2010 | 1:49 pm

      The reason Hughes got such a big lift from the offense was because of his positioning in the rotation (Meaning he’s dueling a lot more #5 starters than let’s say CC). But just because Hughes got a lift from the offense doesn’t necessarily mean that you can subtract the wins from his total. It doesn’t work like that. Pitchers pitch differently with a lead than without. You can’t just assume that he’d pitch to the same line if the offense was hard pressed to put a crooked number up.

      For arguments sake, let’s say he did go 14-12. I would bet that 100% of us would have taken that at this time last year, so what’s the problem?

    4. Betsypaige
      November 14th, 2010 | 2:01 pm

      I am a big fan of Phil’s personally, but I wasn’t overly thrilled with his 2010. It was a success for the Yankees in terms of developing a competent major league pitcher, but for a team who thinks he’s a future #1 type, no………….it wasn’t. He had an almost 5 ERA in the 2nd half and pitched one of the worst post-season starts in recent baseball history. I’m inclined to think his success against the Twins was due to the fact that the Twins were toast by that point.

      As to his season, I think Phil did get lucky. One of his wins came in relief, and I think you can subtract a few wins (or at least add a few losses) from his record. That said, I wouldn’t go as far as 14-12. Also to be fair to Phil, there were starts, especially early in the season, when he pitched very well in close games and the Yankees broke it open late. I can specifically remember the Tigers, White Sox and A’s games.

      I never saw Phil in the minors, so I’m sure he was a potential ace at that point. He doesn’t seem to throw as hard anymore for one and for another his curve is pretty bad now. Perhaps he lost a lot more with the injuries (missing 2 full years is significant) than people thought. Unlike some on other boards, I’m not very confident in what Phil will bring to the table next year because I don’t think he adjusted very well to hitters’ adjustments to him. He’ll have to prove it to me that he’s interested in throwing more than his FB. One of the things that annoyed me was that he spent all off-season working on the change, showed a good one in ST, and then didn’t use it all year basically. I don’t know if he worked on it just to get the #5 spot, but he should have used it early in the season when he was confident with it. Personally, I think the curve is a much more important pitch for him.

      I’m not sure what his real ceiling is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Phil is not on the team in a few years.

    5. KPOcala
      November 15th, 2010 | 11:14 am

      Speaking of his curve, where did it go? I wonder if fatigue caused him to stay away from it and use the cutter more. Maybe he was masking an injury?

    6. agsf
      November 15th, 2010 | 3:19 pm

      @ Corey Italiano:

      Yep, I’m sure bill james never took any of that into consideration. Just for arguments sake, I guess I’ll go with bill james and his brain and research over some guy on the internet. I mean, have your own opinion, fine, but to believe you’ve found some loophole in bill james’ theory is asinine

    7. November 15th, 2010 | 5:23 pm

      agsf wrote:

      @ Corey Italiano:
      Yep, I’m sure bill james never took any of that into consideration. Just for arguments sake, I guess I’ll go with bill james and his brain and research over some guy on the internet. I mean, have your own opinion, fine, but to believe you’ve found some loophole in bill james’ theory is asinine

      Maybe my reading comprehension isn’t as great as yours, agsf, but I don’t see where Corey is claiming he found some loophole in Bill James’ theory. He is just stating an opinion that many fans, columnists, and even pitchers pitch differently with a lead than without. Maybe you’re reading more into his comment than was presented.

    8. Evan3457
      November 15th, 2010 | 6:46 pm

      Yes, Hughes was lucky in 2010.

      His FIP was 4.25, and his xFIP was 4.33.
      Those are produced by skill, not luck, and if he can hold it there next year, with this team’s offense and Mariano closing, then maybe he’ll only go oh, I dunno, 15-11, rather than 18-8. Still good enough to hold down the #3 slot.

      Speaking of the Bill James Book, did you know it projects his FIP with be down to 3.76 next season, and his ERA down to 3.56? Sounds like a starter who’ll do just fine to me.

    9. Corey Italiano
      November 15th, 2010 | 6:57 pm

      agsf wrote:
      What part of my comment did I besmirch the alter you’ve built for Bill James? When did I discover a loop hole?

      If you re-read Steve’s post, you’ll see that Bill James merely supplied a stat, Cheap Wins. I have nothing against the stat. It makes a lot of sense to me, actually. Everything else is Steve’s writing, which is what I was responding to. Bill James doesn’t subtract the wins from anyones total, Steve does.

    10. Corey Italiano
      November 15th, 2010 | 6:59 pm

      Evan3457 wrote:

      Speaking of the Bill James Book, did you know it projects his FIP with be down to 3.76 next season, and his ERA down to 3.56? Sounds like a starter who’ll do just fine to me.

      Either that or James is gettin ready to take Hughes out to Vegas.

    11. ken
      November 15th, 2010 | 8:24 pm

      KPOcala wrote:

      Hughes needs to develop a true stikeout pitch, or learn to pitch to contact.

      This is the essence of Hughes’ future success or failure. He had too many AB’s where hitters had 2 strikes but he could not close the deal. Also innings giving up 2 out runs.

    12. Jim TreshFan
      November 15th, 2010 | 10:17 pm

      I noticed Brian Bannister was charged with 4 “Cheap Wins” last season, which is interesting since he only won 7 games in 23 starts. Ouch!

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