• Talking “Hughes MPH” For 5 Years & Counting

    Posted by on April 4th, 2011 · Comments (31)

    Great stuff from Joel Sherman today on Phil Hughes -

    Do you want the bad news or the worse news?

    Do you want to hear that Phil Hughes lacked velocity or that he compounded it by being unable to locate?

    Or do you want the really, really, really troubling news? That this has been going on for weeks. That pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Hughes already have tried a bunch of remedies throughout spring training and — as of this moment — have unearthed neither a reason why the righty has lost fastball life nor a way to solve the deficiency.

    Hughes thinks his arm swing is too long. Rothschild says that maybe more long tossing will provide a solution. Joe Girardi talks still about Hughes needing to build arm strength when we just finished that little thing called spring training which — above all else — is stretched to six weeks so pitchers can build arm strength.

    “It’s a little disconcerting, right now,” Hughes said.

    Of course it is because of the really, really, really troubling news: Hughes is not a fifth starter anymore, like at this time last year. Yes, A.J. Burnett pitched in the second slot, but in a sodium- pentothal moments Yankees offi cials would reveal it is Hughes they imagine falling in as the No. 2 man behind CC Sabathia.

    Instead, Hughes has emerged as the early No. 1 rotation head ache, wresting the crown from the reigning champ: Burnett.

    “This is going to be a concern until you see [velocity],” Rothschild said. “When you get going and start to see velocity, you can relax a little.”

    Suffice it to say, this is no relaxation moment for the Yankees. Hughes was terrible yesterday in a 10-7 Tigers victory; running scared from a fastball he rightfully had no faith in.

    He threw 40 fastballs in all — and never got a swing and miss on a single one. He hit 91 mph five times in the first inning, and then never again. He pitched mainly at 87-89 and admitted he does not locate well enough to excel at that speed. Translation: He is going to pay for more mistakes at that speed than at 91-94 mph.

    It’s amazing, but, we’ve been talking about the lack of speed on Hughes fastball, on and off, since 2007. Seriously, do a search on this blog with the terms “Hughes MPH” and you’ll see it.

    Actually, I just came across this – something I wrote back on April 3, 2008:

    In the first inning, the YES gun had Hughes at 91 MPH with his fastball. (For what it’s worth, Gameday had him at 90 MPH in the first.) And, through the fifth inning, I was still seeing 91 MPH on the heater for Phil. (Most of the time it was 91 MPH. Sometimes it was 90 MPH and other times it was 89 MPH. But, again, most of the time it was 91 MPH.)

    So, what happened to the theory that it was his leg that caused Hughes to lose four MPH on his fastball? He’s as healthy as a horse now, and, still, we’re seeing 91 MPH.

    Sure, some probably want to scream “It’s the slow YES gun!” Well, through the first five innings, the same YES gun had Toronto’s Dustin McGowan around 94 MPH with his fastball. And, the YES gun had Brian Bruney throwing around 95 MPH and Joba Chamberlain in the mid-to-high 90′s. If the YES gun is slow, then McGowan, Bruney and Chamberlain were all throwing 100 MPH – which I cannot believe is true.

    Now, at this point, Phil Hughes featuring a 91 MPH fastball is no big deal. With his curve, as long as he has command of the fastball, he’ll be fine – as he was this evening.

    Where this becomes an issue is the year 2018. If Hughes is throwing 91 MPH as a 21-year old, he’s not going to gain speed as he gets older. It doesn’t work that way. Give him about 2,000 big league innings and he will lose four MPH on his fastball (at the least). And, then, Phil Hughes will be a 31-year old pitcher who features a fastball that’s in the range of 89 to 87 MPH. And, that’s not good.

    Looks like 2018 has come seven years early, huh?

    Actually, Paul LoDuca, of all people, on FOX Sports Extra last night had an interesting theory. He said that guys, like Hughes, who throw cutters and curves too much just fry their elbows. (Aaron Sele, anyone?) And, that’s why his velo is down – he’s cooked. (LoDuca did add that Mo Rivera was an exception because of his delivery and the fact that he only throws a natural cutter – and his elbow is spared the stress that someone like Hughes has…between the big bending curve and the forced cutter.)

    If it’s true that “Phranchise Phil” is toast, that’s bad news for the Yankees rotation this season. Of that, most would agree.

    Comments on Talking “Hughes MPH” For 5 Years & Counting

    1. Raf
      April 4th, 2011 | 9:54 am

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      It’s amazing, but, we’ve been talking about the lack of speed on Hughes fastball, on and off, since 2007.

      Courtesy of fangraphs,

      07: 66.2% (91.0)
      08: 62.4% (91.2)
      09: 62.8% (93.8)
      10: 63.6% (92.6)

      There have been pitchers in MLB that have gotten by with less velocity, there are pitchers that have gotten lit up with more velocity.

      Everyone needs to calm down, as per the chart above Hughes’ velocity has been fairly consistent, and even if it weren’t, velocity isn’t the be-all end-all of pitching.

    2. YankCrank
      April 4th, 2011 | 12:11 pm

      Raf wrote:

      Everyone needs to calm down, as per the chart above Hughes’ velocity has been fairly consistent, and even if it weren’t, velocity isn’t the be-all end-all of pitching.

      Seriously, let’s try and overreact a little bit more.

    3. MJ Recanati
      April 4th, 2011 | 12:17 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      [T]hat’s why his velo is down – he’s cooked.

      Just so we’re clear, you’re proclaiming that Phil Hughes is “cooked”?

    4. Greg H.
      April 4th, 2011 | 12:23 pm

      Odds are that Phil Hughes is doing what most starters (including brilliant ones) do at his stage in his career, learning how to pitch. He’s had brilliance and ineffectiveness. A combination of mature thinking, confidence, and physical ability (location, velocity) is what he’s learning.

      But that doesn’t affect the fact that after three games, Joel Sherman needs something to ring the fire alarm with. It’s Hughes’ turn. If Tex, A-rod, or Jeter, had started the season with an o-fer the series it would be their turn.

      Want the really good news? Tex has three homers in three games – he’ll probably hit 162 home runs this year. Hyperbole? Not much more than Sherman has used in judging Hughes career on the first appearance of the season.

    5. April 4th, 2011 | 12:54 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      Just so we’re clear, you’re proclaiming that Phil Hughes is “cooked”?

      Nope. Playing on what LoDuca said – that his elbow is the reason why his velo is down. JUST TO BE CLEAR, I’m not saying this is true or that it’s my opinion. Just expanding from LoDuca’s theory.

      Honestly, if I had to guess, AND GUESS IT IS, I would say that the issue with Hughes is conditioning. In the past, circa 2007-2008, his effort on conditioning often came up. Then, in 2010, he won 18 and was an “All-Star” (albeit undeserving) following a ring season. I would not be shocked if it came out that he didn’t work as hard this off-season and that’s why his MPH is down. Again, just A GUESS.

    6. MJ Recanati
      April 4th, 2011 | 12:54 pm

      Greg H. wrote:

      Want the really good news? Tex has three homers in three games – he’ll probably hit 162 home runs this year. Hyperbole? Not much more than Sherman has used in judging Hughes career on the first appearance of the season.

      Absolutely brilliant. Couldn’t have mocked Sherman better myself!

    7. G.I. Joey
      April 4th, 2011 | 12:54 pm

      We totally should have traded him and Melky for Santana when we had the chance right? [crickets]

    8. MJ Recanati
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:00 pm

      @ Steve Lombardi:
      OK, thanks for clearing it up.

      As to your guess, as I’ve said before, given the tabloids’ penchant for reporting every negative thing they can — whether real or imagined — if Hughes isn’t working hard, they’d be investigating that and trying to expose it. I don’t see what incentive the tabloids would have in either ignoring reports to the contrary or trying to sweep them under the rug. As a result, the fact that we haven’t heard anything about it since 2008 tells me that this is not the case any longer.

      It could be dead-arm, it could be a slight mechanical issue or it could be the early onset of an injury that hasn’t been diagnosed yet. It’s probably best for everyone — fans, media, bloggers, etc. — to not jump to any conclusions and see where Hughes is in one month’s time. It could work itself out. It could not. We just won’t know so obsessing about it won’t help.

    9. MJ Recanati
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:01 pm

      G.I. Joey wrote:

      We totally should have traded him and Melky for Santana when we had the chance right?

      I’d have preferred Chamberlain/Melky but I realize I’m in the minority on #62-hating.

    10. G.I. Joey
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:16 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      G.I. Joey wrote:We totally should have traded him and Melky for Santana when we had the chance right?I’d have preferred Chamberlain/Melky but I realize I’m in the minority on #62-hating.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joba and Montero packing their bags later this year as part of a move for a SP or some other roster deficiency.

    11. clintfsu813
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:17 pm

      @ MJ Recanati:

      We just won’t know so obsessing about it won’t help.

      Then we wouldn’t be proper Yankees fans. ;)

    12. KPOcala
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:35 pm

      I quite clearly recall scouts in the mid-’90′s talking about the possibility that Andy P. had lost velocity in his fastball due to falling in love w/ the cutter. It’s more likely that Hughes may be a bit “over-trained” at this point. A lot of guys train too hard for too long, sometimes (let’s hope not) setting themselves up for an injury. Barring a hidden injury, I’d bet that he’ll be hitting 95 by June…..

    13. April 4th, 2011 | 1:36 pm

      One thing to really remember when trying to dismiss this with the “It’s just one start” flag…

      Hughes’ ERA was around 5 over his last 20-something games in 2010.

      Let’s not make this out like it’s 1969 and Bob Gibson just lost on Opening Day.

      This first start of 2011 has to added to his Spring Training results and also added to his 2010 post-season against the Rangers and his last ~20 starts of 2010. And, when you do that, there’s enough evidence to suggest Hughes has been pitchng sub-par of the expectations Yankees fans have for him.

    14. Greg H.
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:44 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      Hughes has been pitchng sub-par of the expectations Yankees fans have for him.

      Hold on – a member of the NY Yankees performing below expectations? Well that is newsworthy – for Joel Sherman at least. ;-)

      That aside, I get your concerns Steve.

    15. MJ Recanati
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:54 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      One thing to really remember when trying to dismiss this with the “It’s just one start” flag…Hughes’ ERA was around 5 over his last 20-something games in 2010.Let’s not make this out like it’s 1969 and Bob Gibson just lost on Opening Day.This first start of 2011 has to added to his Spring Training results and also added to his 2010 post-season against the Rangers and his last ~20 starts of 2010. And, when you do that, there’s enough evidence to suggest Hughes has been pitchng sub-par of the expectations Yankees fans have for him.

      Once again, you’ve moved the goalpost and changed the discussion.

      First it was about declining velocity due to either (1) LoDuca’s theory that he’s cooked or (2) your theory due to poor conditioning and work ethic.

      Now you’re talking about poor results going back to last year. Since the velocity wasn’t an issue last year, you’re essentially conflating two different topics.

    16. MJ Recanati
      April 4th, 2011 | 1:56 pm

      G.I. Joey wrote:

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joba and Montero packing their bags later this year as part of a move for a SP or some other roster deficiency.

      The time to trade Chamberlain was a few years ago. At this point, the Yankees would be selling low on him so I don’t see it happening.

      As for Montero, I do agree that he’s still excellent trade bait. I would not be sad to see him go in the right deal…but only in the right deal (Felix Hernandez/Justin Verlander/Clayton Kershaw types and nothing less).

    17. KPOcala
      April 4th, 2011 | 2:04 pm

      Didn’t Hughes used to have a wicked curve that was his out pitch? I only remember seeing that a few times early last season. Maybe there are signs of impending collapse….Naaaah. Right?

    18. Greg H.
      April 4th, 2011 | 2:04 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      As for Montero, I do agree that he’s still excellent trade bait. I would not be sad to see him go in the right deal…but only in the right deal (Felix Hernandez/Justin Verlander/Clayton Kershaw types and nothing less).

      Agree 100%

    19. agsf
      April 4th, 2011 | 2:15 pm

      Greg H. wrote:

      Odds are that Phil Hughes is doing what most starters (including brilliant ones) do at his stage in his career, learning how to pitch. He’s had brilliance and ineffectiveness. A combination of mature thinking, confidence, and physical ability (location, velocity) is what he’s learning.

      This is BS. Yes, pitchers can have success followed by hitters adjusting followed by learning how to ‘pitch’. Pitchers can dial back on velocity and try not to strike everyone out and learn to ‘pitch’.

      But a young guy losing velocity and pitching at 88-89 with the pitching coach and the player obviously concerned?

      Not the same thing at all.

    20. Greg H.
      April 4th, 2011 | 2:33 pm

      @ agsf:
      They’re concerned because they don’t have a good answer (or at least one they can tell the press). They’re also concerned because he’s not matching the makeup that he’s being measured against, which is FB at 93, possible change and cutter/slider, and a plus curve. He works off his fastball, so yeah, it’s a concern that his fastball lost some zip. There are plenty of pitchers out there who have learned how to pitch effectively with the velocity he’s working with. And he might have to completely re-tool his approach if the velocity isn’t coming back. I’m concerned too, but I’m willing to let things take their course before pronouncing him DOA for this season – or his career, for that matter.

    21. #15
      April 4th, 2011 | 5:52 pm

      Phil has never had the reputation in the org of being a fitness/workout animal, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not at peak form just yet. Throw out ’09 MPH stuff when he was largely out of the pen. Looks like he’ll round out with a 91-92MPH fastball when he’s at full strength. Located well and with a couple of other pitches, he’ll do okay.

      Giving up 2 dingers to Cabrera (who is a mashing fool and appears very locked in early) on a windy day doesn’t mean the sky is falling in. Hughes didn’t pitch great in his first outing, but then neither did Lester, Lackey and Buckholz to name a few. Half of the guys that took the bump on opening day (the best their teams could throw out there) didn’t win.

      I don’t think Hughes is, or ever will be, a number 1 starter, but he ought to be a capable number 3 (+/-) on a team that scores runs consistently.

      Do the Yankees need some better starters? I think I’ve heard that discussed a few times. They tried hard to get both Lee and Andy but it didn’t work. If they had, Hughes is in the 4 or 5 spot and we are a much better team. Hughes is probably good enough to win ~ 15-17 games on this team if he makes ~ 35 starts.

    22. Evan3457
      April 4th, 2011 | 9:17 pm

      Here’s what people should use instead of judging a pitcher off of 1 start:

      Button, button, who’s got the button?

    23. April 19th, 2011 | 10:58 am

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      Honestly, if I had to guess, AND GUESS IT IS, I would say that the issue with Hughes is conditioning. In the past, circa 2007-2008, his effort on conditioning often came up. Then, in 2010, he won 18 and was an “All-Star” (albeit undeserving) following a ring season. I would not be shocked if it came out that he didn’t work as hard this off-season and that’s why his MPH is down. Again, just A GUESS.

      Bingo> From Frank Russo today -

      spoke to my main Yankees source in Tampa yesterday who indicated the “scuttlebutt” is Phil Hughes velocity problems is due to coming to spring training out of shape.

      Many have believed that Hughes decrease in velocity is due to some sort of shoulder issue. I have been told the Yankees are working with Hughes as if its spring training again, trying to build up his arm.

      I am not sure what kind of offseason regiment Hughes normally employs, but it appears he rested on his laurels after winning 18 games last year.

      My source has always believed Hughes, although a useful rotation piece, has long been overrated.

      http://nybaseballdigest.com/?p=35109

    24. MJ Recanati
      April 19th, 2011 | 11:15 am

      @ Steve Lombardi:
      Just because someone wrote it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true and just because someone else shares you viewpoint doesn’t mean that’s sufficient evidence.

    25. Raf
      April 19th, 2011 | 11:22 am

      Ross wrote:

      So let me get this straight.

      An unnamed source of yours – who you admit thinks Hughes was overrated despite him being a top prospect in High School and throughout the Yankees’ minor league system – says Hughes was out of shape, doesn’t provide any evidence of this, and we’re just supposed to take it as gospel?

      Right. It couldn’t have been the career high 190 innings he pitched last year, or simply the dead arm the Yankees say it is. No, it must be because he’s out of shape, because one biased source says so.

      :P

    26. MJ Recanati
      April 19th, 2011 | 11:28 am

      @ Raf:
      I saw that too. Couldn’t help but giggle a little for calling it so true.

    27. Raf
      April 19th, 2011 | 11:31 am

      Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was a conditioning issue, nor would it surprise me that there is an injury (that may or may not be related to conditioning), nor would it surprise me that it’s just a dead arm period.

      Pitchers are a fickle bunch they are; all 3, Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy were hurt at one time or another. Two of them, Hughes and Chamberlain, came with “rules.”

    28. MJ Recanati
      April 19th, 2011 | 11:50 am

      Raf wrote:

      Having said that, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was a conditioning issue, nor would it surprise me that there is an injury (that may or may not be related to conditioning), nor would it surprise me that it’s just a dead arm period.

      None of those would surprise me either since, realistically, it’s only one of these three choices anyway and all seem possible.

    29. April 22nd, 2011 | 8:53 am

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      Just because someone wrote it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true and just because someone else shares you viewpoint doesn’t mean that’s sufficient evidence.

      How about this from Joel Sherman:
      I talked to a person with strong ties to the Yankees who threw out a theory I had not yet heard on what happened to Phil Hughes’ velocity: He lost too much weight.

      This person said that while everyone was focused on Joba Chamberlain’s weight gain and his having to go for individual workouts following the standard spring training workouts in order to shed pounds, it was missed by the media that Hughes also showed up overweight and was dispatched also to what the team refers to as “The Fat Farm.” This person said he believes Hughes is a player who needs the extra bulk to pitch and that it was possible the loss of the bulk explains the decreased velocity.

      I asked Yankees GM Brian Cashman about the theory and he essentially said: “hogwash.” He did confirm that Hughes was sent to “The Fat Farm,” but said that he was not asked to drop below last year’s playing weight and, in fact, was still above it a bit when the season began. Cashman insisted that nothing drastic was needed because Hughes was “just a little out of shape.” He said rapid weight loss was not one of the theories the Yankees were considering in trying to figure out why Hughes’ fastball has been consistently 3-6 mph lower than last year.

      Regardless, the fact that Hughes did not show up in optimum shape in a season in which he knew how valuable he would be to the team says something, especially because there has been worry about his work ethic in the past. Hughes, for a young guy, is more doughy than chiseled. Cashman says it is still a bit of a mystery to the organization why Hughes’ velocity is down – though Cashman continues to say he is confident that the righty will rediscover the heat – but clearly Hughes needs to become more diligent year-round in taking care of himself.

      http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/hardball/up_hughes_april_mets_jeter_MAlJJzAPNXAeJGNoeQktmM

    30. MJ Recanati
      April 22nd, 2011 | 9:20 am

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      How about this from Joel Sherman:

      Actually that story has even more holes.

      First, it’s someone with “strong ties to the Yankees” but isn’t a member of the organization. Second, that person “threw out a theory” which means that we don’t know what part of that theory is based on substantive fact and what part is based purely on this person’s conjecture.

      Look, I don’t think anyone’s saying it’s implausible to believe that Hughes’s issue stems from poor conditioning it’s just that, thus far, you’re (1) assuming it is the only plausible explanation without allowing for other possibilities and (2) using less-than-stellar sources to prop up your own belief.

    31. Raf
      April 22nd, 2011 | 1:14 pm

      If Hughes’ conditioning was a problem last year, be it running out of gas, or whatever, his velocity was still higher than it is now.

      Hughes’ velocity has been the lowest it has been at any point in his ML career.

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