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  • 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. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      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.
      In this case, xFIP isnt a good metric. It removes home runs allowed and replaces it with "expected home runs". Well, Hughes' problem is that he gives up a ton of flyballs in a stadium that punishes fly ball pitchers. Normalizing that number is ignoring reality.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      The Lincecum prediction of 4/64 and his signing at 2/35 is informative. Sorry. Maybe that prediction was exaggerated, but still. Lincecum was definitely right below the Tanaka-Garza-E. Santana-Jimenez line. Hughes is with Arroyo and others just below that.

      I would not necessarily count on Phil Hughes wanting a 4-year deal. I would expect that he might prefer a 2-year deal because he could see it as a make good contract and still be 29 (as opposed to 31). So he would take more money per year for two years, yet still less than Lincy. Think about it. A one-year deal could make it all the worse if he has another semi-par year. A two-year deal gives him more assurance and gives him a second year to improve. A four-year deal right now for $50 million (at most) could preclude him from a good contract as a 31-year old.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      In this case, xFIP isnt a good metric. It removes home runs allowed and replaces it with "expected home runs". Well, Hughes' problem is that he gives up a ton of flyballs in a stadium that punishes fly ball pitchers. Normalizing that number is ignoring reality.
      That becomes the problem with a lot of these metrics. There are cases they do not work. fip biases against a pitcher with good control and a hard but not impossible to hit pitcher
    1. notoriousgod71's Avatar
      notoriousgod71 -
      If he's the only signing- no thanks.

      If he's a precursor to multiple signings- yes.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      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.
      This is the most compelling argument I have seen in this particular debate. That is a very large sample size. If he can put up a 4.10 era on the road, it would not be unreasonable to expect him to match or better that mark at Target field.

      The bad news is that a bunch of other teams are looking at that split and probably coming to a similar conclusion. He is going to get paid. There is no need for him to take a shorter term deal. He is the guy it makes the most sense to me to take a chance on because the term of this contract will during the players prime. This is the guy I expect them to go after the hardest.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Just using my eyeball... I've never been a Hughes Fan. I've seen him pitch a handful of times and he has never impressed me and this includes starts away from Yankees Stadium in pitchers parks.

      He Wilts... from what I've seen. Some pitchers will dig in when they need to dig. Hughes doesn't in my opinion.

      With that said... No matter what my eyeball says... I'll take him... He would still be an improvement over some of our current guys. I'll take improvement no matter how marginal.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Ultimately some strange concerns. It reminds me of . . . the Vikings cycling through bad QBs . . . three bad ones ain't enough!

      Buy Jimenez or Santana and Hughes. Stop complaining about sucking.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      I would not necessarily count on Phil Hughes wanting a 4-year deal. I would expect that he might prefer a 2-year deal because he could see it as a make good contract and still be 29 (as opposed to 31).
      This is what I would expect. I'd almost be concerned if he wanted a 4 year deal, because he might think he's peaked. That's probably overanalyzing, though.

      The Twins should overpay him for 2 years and hope for the best.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by raindog View Post
      This is what I would expect. I'd almost be concerned if he wanted a 4 year deal, because he might think he's peaked. That's probably overanalyzing, though.

      The Twins should overpay him for 2 years and hope for the best.
      I wouldn't be concerned if he wanted a 4 yr deal. 4-5 year deals are the standard for pitchers. Typically pitchers want the most guaranteed money although sometimes a pitcher wants a ONE year deal so he can get a longer deal the following offseason.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      I wouldn't be concerned if he wanted a 4 yr deal. 4-5 year deals are the standard for pitchers. Typically pitchers want the most guaranteed money although sometimes a pitcher wants a ONE year deal so he can get a longer deal the following offseason.
      4-5 year deals are not the standard for pitchers.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      4-5 year deals are not the standard for pitchers.
      For good ones they are. Hughes has a mixed track record but he will be in demand this offseason and if he can get 4-5 yrs then he will absolutely go for it. It is not a reason to be concerned that he thinks he has already peaked.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Am I alone in thinking that Hughes will want only a 1 or 2 year deal? He was pretty bad last year. How many free agent starters have ever signed 3+ year deals after a season that bad? That would keep his AAV down, guaranteed.

      Hughes' record the last 4 years is a lot more like Francisco Liriano's than Edwin Jackson's. Liriano accepted a two year deal, and even Edwin Jackson basically took two offseasons to get his desired contract.

      I predict Hughes takes a one-year deal from someone. Even a crazy Gil Meche offer seems unlikely for Hughes at this point (Meche was actually average in the preceding season).
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      Am I alone in thinking that Hughes will want only a 1 or 2 year deal? He was pretty bad last year. How many free agent starters have ever signed 3+ year deals after a season that bad? That would keep his AAV down, guaranteed.

      Hughes' record the last 4 years is a lot more like Francisco Liriano's than Edwin Jackson's. Liriano accepted a two year deal, and even Edwin Jackson basically took two offseasons to get his desired contract.

      I predict Hughes takes a one-year deal from someone. Even a crazy Gil Meche offer seems unlikely for Hughes at this point (Meche was actually average in the preceding season).
      Your reasoning is exactly why I think he would want a two-year deal, since he will still be under 30 when that contract would be gone and he the two years just means more guaranteed money.

      The Twins shouldn't look at one-year deals at all unless there is a true reclamation project like Johnson.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Your reasoning is exactly why I think he would want a two-year deal, since he will still be under 30 when that contract would be gone and he the two years just means more guaranteed money.

      The Twins shouldn't look at one-year deals at all unless there is a true reclamation project like Johnson.
      Let's step back a little bit. If Hughes is offered a 4/40-4/50M deal he will certainly take it over a 2 year deal regardless of when he becomes a FA again. He also will be a lot of more interested in a one year deal so he can re-enter FA again next season. Someone like the National's would give it to him.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      Let's step back a little bit. If Hughes is offered a 4/40-4/50M deal he will certainly take it over a 2 year deal regardless of when he becomes a FA again.
      No doubt, but who would offer it right now? Is there any precedent for a 78 ERA+ starter averaging under 5 IP per start signing anything more than a 1 or 2 year contract?

      I don't think Hughes' potential equals, for example, Edwin Jackson's pre-2013 track record.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Like Lincecom, Hughes is young for a free agent and probably doesn't see this as a last contract. Signing for two years in a situation where he can thrive will lead to a bigger contract in two years. Will he see Minnesota as the place where he can thrive? Would he have confidence in the park, pitching coach, catching situation and overall defense to believe this is the place?
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Why Phil Hughes? Because AJ Burnett. Not only is Yankee Stadium generous giving up the HR but their defense is also not good.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Burnett: now that would have been a good pickup for the Twins. The Pirates essentially got him for 2/13 from the Yanks for a couple middling low minors guys. (Burnett had a partial no-trade, not sure if he would have blocked the Twins.) Bill Smith might have made that move, it's similar to some of his deadline deals.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      Like Lincecom, Hughes is young for a free agent and probably doesn't see this as a last contract. Signing for two years in a situation where he can thrive will lead to a bigger contract in two years. Will he see Minnesota as the place where he can thrive? Would he have confidence in the park, pitching coach, catching situation and overall defense to believe this is the place?
      Exactly. And I think he could be quite interested in TF, yes.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      Not only is Yankee Stadium generous giving up the HR but their defense is also not good.
      Statistically they were middle of the pack, a whole lot better than where the Twins ended up grading out.
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