• 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. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      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.

      Welp. You're probably right. If Lincecum, Pence, and the contracts signed so far are any indicator of the Free Agency season...it's best not to get caught up in a few bad contracts for mediocre pitching.

      Maybe Ryan Dempster is a better indicator than the other names mentioned...then factor in a few years younger.

      I can't see the Yankees offering him a QO and him not taking it. It would likely handcuff a team thinking of signing him. Add to the fact the A's and the Cardinals and Nationals have been getting #1, #2, and #3 level production from top draft picks the past few years - giving up a 1st or 2nd to sign Hughes (not a #1, #2, or #3 production) might not be as palatable as in years' past.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      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.
      Could not agree more. The entire 2000's they economically constructed teams just strong enough to win the crummy Central, but too flawed for playoff success. Signing Phil Hughes is just going in the same direction. Can we aspire for more?
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I don't think the right way to spin this is that we're getting a guy who needs things to be easier to be successful, the point is that if we sign a guy and put him in a better position to pitch better - we'll receive a better bang for our buck.

      I think Hughes and Johnson represent the best chances for that scenario.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I don't think the right way to spin this is that we're getting a guy who needs things to be easier to be successful, the point is that if we sign a guy and put him in a better position to pitch better - we'll receive a better bang for our buck.
      This. You go after guys that have underperformed in other locations for any number of reasons: home stadium, division, playing time, style of play, etc. You don't hold it against a guy because his last spot was a bad fit; you exploit the situation when the market is down on a player because his last spot was a bad fit.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      It will take 4/50 or so, imo. I'd do that. What else are they spending the money on? My sig is a dream, imo.

      edit: 4/60 is my new prediction, 2 minutes later
    1. Wookiee of the Year's Avatar
      Wookiee of the Year -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinkiesfan11 View Post
      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.
      You never know--I remember hearing last offseason that the Twins didn't like Edwin Jackson because when they scouted him as a high schooler, they thought his motion made him injury prone. So it could still be relevant to them.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I'm not high on Hughes, but I'd be fine if they signed him. It would indicate that A) they are finally taking free agency seriously and B) the intentional but unfortunate idea that this team has to target only groundball pitchers is over.

      Question though, if Hughes is the ace (gag), does he still get to pitch the Wild Card game hosted at Yankee Stadium? He may get away from a heavy dose of AL East moving to the AL Cental in the regular season, he still has to beat them in the playoffs which should be the goal.
    1. amjgt's Avatar
      amjgt -
      Circling back on 2006...

      Because of the glut of money being tossed around in 2006, the following 2 years had relatively few signings more than $10,000,000 (total contract).

      I'm certainly not in the "hold your nose until 2015/16" camp, but it could be that our money is more wisely spent those years, when a) there might be some relative bargains, and b) we are closer to competing.

      I'd like to think that agents saw all of this coming and targeted their clients contracts to end this season, but I often give people too much credit, and this year certainly doesn't seem very strong for the quality of free agents out there.

      What is all of that pointing to?...... TANAKA!!!!!

      Break the bank, Terry.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Question though, if Hughes is the ace (gag), does he still get to pitch the Wild Card game hosted at Yankee Stadium? He may get away from a heavy dose of AL East moving to the AL Cental in the regular season, he still has to beat them in the playoffs which should be the goal.
      It should only be the goal if you believe Hughes is the best pitcher you're going to field in the next 2-3 years.

      Let's hope that's not the case.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      I'd rather overpay for Garza.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Hughes would be a great signing. Got to mention that his BABIP in 2013 was .324 too...

      In 2013, a down season, Hughes had 7.5 K/9 and his FB averaged 92.4 mph. Since pitch F/X came out (2006) the Twins did not have any RHP who matched this combination. In his down season. The closest was Garza (2007, 7.3 K/9 and 94.2 mph FB). Only Santana 3 times (2004-6) and Liriano twice (2006, 2010) matched or exceeded those numbers for the Twins.

      Just another perspective...
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      The Lincecum prediction was 4 years and $64 million. It ended up being 2 years and $35 million.

      I guess I don't understand quite the discrepancy in the those two predictions (Hughes and Lincecum), but I certainly understand the discrepancy between the prediction and the actual.

      The Hughes prediction is 3 years and $30 million. I cannot imagine much less, certainly, unless Hughes is willing to go 2 years and $24 million or so. He might be willing to do that given his age, hoping for a bigger payday when he is still under 30 (but wanting more stability and money than just a one-year deal).

      I do like incentive-laden deals. Maybe a 2/24 base with $2 million incentives (X innings with under 4 ERA) each year. Or 3/33 and the same to max at 3/39.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      The extra TV money is much more likely to drive up yearly salary, not the number of years. See Lincecum.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      I wish there were better options out there, but Hughes is really one of the best targets this year. Love the way Leviathan put it; you'd be giving him a better chance to succeed.

      I looked at his average fastball velocity while he's been in the majors, no decline there. So he probably hasn't lost his "stuff". Just needs to figure something out, I suppose.
      Fangraphs Pitch F/X
    1. ND-Fan's Avatar
      ND-Fan -
      I think he worth shot at signing he still 27 years old and still has potential improvement and his style of pitching would fit well into Target Field. He would fill number 3 starter for sure for Twins and if he had some improvement maybe number 2 starter. Add him to rotation we would have number 5 starter in Correia , Number 4 starter in Gibson, and him at number 3 Starter. We also would have Diamond coming back that could be another 3 or 4 starter if he could return to 2012 performance. Then if the Twins would go after top line pitcher addition to Hughes in free agency the Twins would have starting pitching staff. With likes of Worley, Hendricks, Deduno, and May still prospect category with some possible upside to fill in spot if one above has trouble performing. Aslo we would have myer, wimmers, and several other prospects coming up in next year we could develop fair starting pitching rotation. The Twins need to sign one quality starter like Hughes and one top of the line starter. The Twins can easily sign couple of players like this not significant effect on payroll now or in the future. The Twins are going to be stocked on players from minors for next 3 to 4 years so salary is not going to be a problem with young players filling in number of starting positions. Aslo Twins have no significant long term contracts other than Mauers for next 4 years so there should be room add other players if needed to become a competitive team. What I am afraid is going to happen instead the Twins will try to trade for quality starter instead of using free agency because their afraid of free agency and commitment in doing so. Ryan doesn't want to take risks of spending money on free agency in case the player bombs or is hurt ending his career. The Twins are going to have break there traditional way of rebuilding if they want the revenue and attendance continue in near future .
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      This. You go after guys that have underperformed in other locations for any number of reasons: home stadium, division, playing time, style of play, etc. You don't hold it against a guy because his last spot was a bad fit; you exploit the situation when the market is down on a player because his last spot was a bad fit.
      Playing time, I agree. Style of play maybe. Injury obviously. Conflict with coaches maybe. There are certainly reasons players might struggle in one situation and thrive in another.

      Home stadium? Questionable IMO. Division? No.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Playing time, I agree. Style of play maybe. Injury obviously. Conflict with coaches maybe. There are certainly reasons players might struggle in one situation and thrive in another.

      Home stadium? Questionable IMO. Division? No.
      The division argument is debatable but I don't see how the home stadium is debatable at all.

      Over the course of his career, here is the home/road ERA of Hughes:

      4.96 / 4.10

      That's 735 innings of work. That's a huge discrepancy, especially when you factor in that the vast majority of pitchers have better numbers at home, not away from it. Their defenders are more comfortable, they're (usually) more comfortable, and the opposing hitters are uncomfortable.

      I don't understand how home stadium wouldn't be important. If you're a flyball pitcher, do you want to pitch in Dodger Stadium or Minute Maid Park? If you're a groundball pitcher, do you want to pitch in Wrigley or the Astrodome? Home stadiums have enormous impacts on pitchers.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Whatever Lincecum signed has no bearing on the rest of the world. 2 years ago he turned down a 4 year extension because he didn't want that kind of commitment. Lincecum does what he wants because that is what he wants to do. If he passes his physical that will push his career earnings to 99 million. There is no pressure on him to do anything but what he wants to do. As a medium tier pitcher and young Hughes should get a 4 year contract. A perfect fit for the Twins as he has the prerequisite plays poorly in Yankee stadium bit down pat.
      Side bit here. Can one of you stats guys tell me the wisdom of compiling xfip as a home versus away stat?
      era home vs away 4.94 4.10
      xfip 4.28 4.35
      fiip 4.80 3.78
      sorry, I wasn't going to find a different site that had all of the rest of the era predictors. The baseball prospectus article on the predictor stuff showed reliability for all of the predictors was the same with a large enough sample size. 700+ innings was more than a large sample size IIRC.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I'm all for signing Hughes. He's a risk but he is a guy that could substantially improve. It's likely that he is at least a solid starter and it doesn't sound like he will get unreasonable money.

      And getting out of Yankee Stadium should help a lot especially since it seems hard to hit a HR to RF in Target Field. HR/FB% at home is 13% and 7% on the road.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      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.
      Inflation is a b.
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