• Free Agent Pitcher Profile: Phil Hughes

    Once upon a time, Phil Hughes was among the most highly touted pitching prospects in the game. A former first-round pick, he emerged as a dominant force in the minors, climbing to the No. 4 spot on Baseball America's list of top prospects before debuting in the majors at age 20 in 2007.

    Sadly, the right-hander has never lived up to his immense promise. With a career 4.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, he has essentially been the definition of "average" over the course of his seven years with the Yankees. Most disturbingly, he has deteriorated as he's aged toward his physical prime. Hughes had some fairly impressive campaigns earlier in his career, including an 18-win 2010 season, but over the past three years he has posted a 4.85 ERA (86 ERA+), and fielding-independent metrics don't suggest that his results are greatly out of line with his performance.

    Why Does He Fit?

    Hughes offers two primary attractions: his age and the potential that he'll improve once removed from the AL East and hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

    By virtue of his early entry into the majors, Hughes hits free agency for the first time at the uncommonly young age of 27. That means that -- unlike with most veterans on the open market -- he could be signed to a long-term deal that won't necessarily take him into his mid-30s. Unfortunately, as discussed above, while ages 27-32 are generally thought to be a player's physical prime, Hughes hasn't shown the improvement you'd like to see while edging toward this window. Still, considering that he's less than a year older than Kyle Gibson, he clearly fits into the Twins' long-term timeline better than a guy over 30.

    Undoubtedly, Target Field would be a better environment for him than the ballpark in the Bronx. Hughes is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and one of his most glaring issues has been proneness to the long ball. Over the past three seasons, he has coughed up 68 homers in 411 innings -- an average of 1.49 HR/9 that ranks as the fifth-highest in the majors during that span. It stands to reason that many of those deep flies would die in the spacious gaps of Target Field, and then his consistently solid K/BB ratios become a whole lot more intriguing.

    The notion that a change of scenery would benefit Hughes is backed up by his home/road splits; this year, he went 1-10 with a 5.88 ERA and 17 homers allowed in 16 starts at Yankee Stadium, compared to 3-4 with a 3.88 ERA and seven home runs allowed in 13 road starts.

    Why Doesn't He Fit?

    The Twins are seeking a starter who is a proven producer -- a guy who has been durable and has eaten up innings. Hughes doesn't really fit that bill. He has never thrown 200 innings in a season and has averaged just 147 since becoming a full-time starter. He completed six innings in 13 of his 29 starts this season. Only as a reliever has he excelled over an extended period.

    Hughes was a high-end talent while coming up through the minors and he's flashed that ability at times in the majors, but in the current climate he'll likely require a significant investment, which would mean taking a major leap of faith. That would be pretty uncharacteristic for Terry Ryan and these Twins.

    What Will He Cost?

    In the Offseason Handbook, we estimated Hughes' contract at three years, $30 million. That's seemingly a large amount to guarantee a guy who hasn't really produced in recent years, but the righty's youth -- in combination with his pedigree and potential -- could create a bidding war of sorts in a pitching-starved market where money is more flush than ever.

    On the bright side, because of the hurler's poor performance this year -- especially down the stretch (he posted a 7.22 ERA in August and September) -- it sounds unlikely that the Yankees will extend a qualifying offer, meaning that signing him won't cost a draft pick.
    This article was originally published in blog: Free Agent Pitcher Profile: Phil Hughes started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 63 Comments
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Wow
      Those home/away splits are amazing....It looks like you missed his last start. MLB.com says his "home" ERA is 6.32 with 17 HR. His last home start was a bad one!
      Interesting that Kuroda & Nova both pitched much better at home but Hughes Fly Balls must have really carried in Yankee stadium.

      Hughes would be an OK pitcher, better than most other options the team has. But..if he is the only FA signing, that would be annoying
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      He had one relief appearance, in which he gave up 4 ER and recorded one out. I didn't include that because I was looking at him as a starter, but, yeah, bad.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      If free agency is a crap shoot, this is where I'd roll the dice.

      A sidebar comment: The "Don't Feed the Greed" moniker is really about management and labor reaching a mutual understanding. It's where both sides agree not to screw a good thing up, and penalize the fans--and the game--just because one side gets greedy.

      At some point the Twins management has to show up, and let Mauer & Company (aka: labor) know that they want to win, too. That also means showing the folks that buy $10 beers that saving payroll isn't the Pohlad's only dream. Hughes appears to be step 1. Hughes is the right kind of gamble, IMHO. Not the only gamble, but a step in the right direction.

      My only red flag is the innings issue. It would be nice to sign a 200+ innings eater. That may be step 2.
    1. TheMind07's Avatar
      TheMind07 -
      I think Hughes is definitely the one to go after for the Twins. He won't be too expensive is still young and fits in with the next "wave." Even if you have to overpay for Hughes I for one think he's the one worth doing so for. I think a change of scenery would do him good, I think a good comparison might be AJ Burnett going from NY to Pittsburgh.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      I'm not a Hughes fan at all. I'm pretty confident he'll be a disappointment to whoever ends up signing him.

      I'm always skeptical of guys who's primary attraction seems to be "he just needs to face less talented competition," and/or "pitch in easier conditions."

      I'd rather take chances on guys who should be able to perform against the best, but for some reason haven't, instead of guys who might look better because circumstances got more forgiving.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      His career numbers are a lot better than Correia and he pitched in the AL East. That's the bright side, however, he has been a mediocre pitcher over his career at best.

      I think I'd try a make good contract with both him and Josh Johnson 7-8 mill base with a bunch of incentives they could reach if they pitch well. Neither has shown a longer term contract would be wise and Ryan is rather conservative when spending money. I just can't see Ryan doing a 10+m multiy year deal, it just isn't in his nature.
    1. pierre75275's Avatar
      pierre75275 -
      I would much rather the twins target somebody like Hughes as opposed to Johnson and Haren.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      More than anyone else, I think this is the guy the Twins should be targeting.

      1. He's an extreme flyball pitcher, a la Scott Baker. A guy like that can do well in Target Field.

      2. Flyball pitcher + Target Field + Byron Buxton + Aaron Hicks = Yay!

      3. Any time a guy gets to leave the AL East, it's probably going to help him a bit.

      4. Down season, young age, reasonable price.

      Hughes isn't an ace. He's probably not even a good #2 pitcher. But on a roster full of #4/5 starters, I'll take a young guy who could be a very good #3 all day. Add in another mediocre season by Correia, maturation by Gibson, and Phil Hughes and you're looking at the foundation of a decent, though entirely unspectacular, rotation.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm pretty confident he'll be a disappointment to whoever ends up signing him.
      You could probably say that about the vast majority of free agent pitchers, but here we are.

      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm always skeptical of guys who's primary attraction seems to be "he just needs to face less talented competition," and/or "pitch in easier conditions."

      I'd rather take chances on guys who should be able to perform against the best, but for some reason haven't, instead of guys who might look better because circumstances got more forgiving.
      You can spin it that way, but really it's about fitting skills and talents to the best environment. The "moving out of the AL East" bit would be said about most anyone moving out of that league and certainly isn't specific to Phil Hughes. His flyball tendency on the other hand is something that isn't a great fit for the physical layout of Yankee Stadium (not an indiction of his skill) and fits your narrative perfectly of someone "who should be able to perform against the best, but for some reason haven't".

      If not Hughes, who?
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      I agree with Brock 100%. Point 5 being very important, if the price is right. Normally, all on the board would be clamoring about this being a buy-low candidate if it was a trade, but unfortunately he will likely get $8-10 per with his potential being his best selling point. Considering the current staff, Hughes' age and the prospects rising through the minors, Hughes could be very important for this team in 2015-2016 and maybe beyond. Sign him while he's still young and has upside. He's worth the risk.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      As opposed to Lincecom and Haren--I would prefer a flyer on Hughes (max. 3 years 40 million). Good point on getting away from the House that Ruth (George??) built and the AL East. I am not sure how much better than Correia he would be but worth a flyer more so than Haren or Lincecom.
    1. twinkiesfan11's Avatar
      twinkiesfan11 -
      I'd be thrilled to see the Twins take a chance on Hughes over yet another ground ball specialist. As a fan I just can't stomach another year of watching that garbage. He's demonstrated the ability to pile up some K's which would be pretty valuable in this rotation. If 3 years at $10 million a year would get it done they'd be adding a reasonably priced #4 starter to bridge the gap to and maybe even contribute to the next competitive wave.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Some great comments and analysis.

      I do like Phil Hughes too. Better than Lincecum. I'd be willing to give Tanaka a 6yr $60M deal and his Japanese team the $60M posting bid. Maybe (likely) a bit rich for the Twins. He's likely to fall somewhere between Matsuaka (Red Sox) and Darvish (Rangers), with the needle falling closer to the Darvish side.

      The fly ball thing. It's sorta frustrating, but maybe a strength?

      "Target Field: where fly balls go to die" - is that what it will be known as?

      Much like the Dome or "Homer-dome" or the fast turf of the Piranhas, maybe the Twins need to find players who play to the strengths of Target field. Assuming it's given up it's colors as to what type of players thrive there. Btw, I'd love to hear assessments on this. Righties? Lefties? Pull/opposite field hitters? speed of the grass? Fly ball pitchers? How ground balls do at Target field versus the rest of the stadiums?

      If Target Field is indeed the place where fly balls die. It would seem that high strikeout and fly ball pitchers would be the way to go? It seems the Twins are going after power arms since 2012 (Terry Ryan).

      If I'm not mistaken, I think the Twins were interested or almost acquired Phil Hughes in the Santana trade a few years back. Must have liked him? I can't recall. I know the Red Sox were offering Jon Lester, but we wanted Clay Buchholz and/or Ellsbury.

      I'm for a 3yr $21M incentive laiden contract. ERA under 3.80 gets him $3M a year. IP over 200 gets him another $3M per year. Possible $13M Phil Hughes, whattaya say?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan34 View Post
      I'm for a 3yr $21M incentive laiden contract. ERA under 3.80 gets him $3M a year. IP over 200 gets him another $3M per year. Possible $13M Phil Hughes, whattaya say?
      I'm almost positive that won't get Hughes to even return your phone call.

      We argued a bit over Hughes in the creation of the handbook. I think he's going to get more than many expect... Three years, $35m is a good starting point. I don't see him getting less than $10m a season.
    1. amjgt's Avatar
      amjgt -
      Given the parallels with 2006 (new TV contract = GMs spending tons of money) i would be shocked to see Hughes get anything less than 4/50.

      If I was going to go on record with a guess.... 4/54 with a team option in year 5. I realize that's an insane price tag for a pitcher with Hughes numbers, but I'm sticking to that guess. (Gil Meche is a decent comp and he got 5/55 in 2006)

      That number probably comes down a little bit if the Yanks do a Qualifying Offer. If you are the Yankees and you think Hughes' free agent market value is anywhere north of $40M, why wouldn't you make the Q.O.? He has to turn it down, right?

      Thankfully, they will need to make the Q.O. before it becomes obvious that the F.A. market is going to be flush with money.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      I don't see Hughes getting more than Edwin Jackson money (4/$52m). Jackson was just a year older and had more consistent numbers.

      Also, the Meche contract shouldn't be used as a baseline for anything. Most of us doubled over in laughter when we heard those contract numbers. Meche was young and decent (and had one very good year for the Royals) but the amount he received was not in line with anyone else on the market.
    1. markos's Avatar
      markos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post

      2. Flyball pitcher + Target Field + Byron Buxton + Aaron Hicks = Yay!

      3. Any time a guy gets to leave the AL East, it's probably going to help him a bit.
      2. Flyball pitcher + Target Field + Josh Willingham + Alex Presley + Oswaldo Arcia = Cover your eyes! Hide the children!!!

      3. Due to scheduling quirks, Hughes only had 1 starts against Boston, the best offensive team in the AL East. In contrast, he had 7 starts against Toronto (8th) and Tampa Bay (9th), both who were around league average offenses. Further, 3 of his worst starts came against San Diego (12th), Seattle (12th) and Kansas City (11th) - not exactly offensive powerhouses. Overall, his average opponent Runs per game was 4.40, which is only slightly more than the league average of 4.33.
    1. amjgt's Avatar
      amjgt -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I don't see Hughes getting more than Edwin Jackson money (4/$52m). Jackson was just a year older and had more consistent numbers.

      Also, the Meche contract shouldn't be used as a baseline for anything. Most of us doubled over in laughter when we heard those contract numbers. Meche was young and decent (and had one very good year for the Royals) but the amount he received was not in line with anyone else on the market.
      Jackson didn't have draft pick compensation tied to him, right?
      Regardless... Agree to disagree.

      I think we are going to be doubled over with laughter a lot this offseason (See: Lincecum, Tim)
    1. twinkiesfan11's Avatar
      twinkiesfan11 -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan34 View Post
      If I'm not mistaken, I think the Twins were interested or almost acquired Phil Hughes in the Santana trade a few years back. Must have liked him? I can't recall. I know the Red Sox were offering Jon Lester, but we wanted Clay Buchholz and/or Ellsbury.
      I'm 99% positive I remember reading during the Santana tradefest that the Twins were very high on Hughes and even intended to draft him in the Waldrop slot in the 04' draft but were beat to it by the Yankees. Not sure that's relevant anymore but an interesting tidbit.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      I'm afraid that even borderline mediocre pitching is going to be really expensive this year, at least in relation to how much Ryan is willing to spend.
      Hughes and Jackson compare fairly well stat wise, would Terry do a 4/52m? I can't see it.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.