Thursday, October 31, 2013

Free Agent Target: Phil Hughes

Continuing along the theme of finding cheaper free agent SP targets, Phil Hughes presents another opportunity. Hughes, like Haren, is a fly ball pitcher whose fly ball tendencies might play well with the Royals’ outfield defense and home stadium. Hughes has been a Yankee, which means his fly ball tendencies do NOT translate into good results since that stadium is a home run haven. What kind of pitcher is Hughes? 

Hughes threw a fairly standard 4 seam fastball/slider/curveball/changeup mix in 2013. He relies extensively on his fastball, which at 93mph has good velocity. He has not yet experienced a velocity decline, and he will turn only 28 during the 2014 season. An impending velocity decline is not likely. His fastball appears not to have great movement, but he has strong command and control over it. He tries to stay on the outer third of the plate with his fastball against all batters but can miss over the plate and up. Hughes uses it at a high percentage throughout the count against all hitters. 

Hughes’ slider is his out pitch (in 2013). It has fairly good horizontal and vertical movement, and he can locate it well against both RHH and LHH. He tends to keep it low and outside and gets good whiffs with it. He significantly increases its usage as he gets ahead in the count. Interestingly, a slider has never been a big part of Hughes repertoire until 2013. He used to feature his curveball and a cutter more in the past, but his cutter was nonexistent in 2013. 

Hughes' curveball has less horizontal and vertical movement than Wainwright's, but it has more movement than Wade Davis'. Hughes uses it more against LHH and keeps it on the outer third of the plate. If Hughes used it more against LHH while he was ahead in the count, his pitch mix might become more unpredictable. Since he shows an ability to locate it against LHH, he should be able to locate it against RHH, but he hardly uses it against RHH. Including his curveball more against RHH might help to make him more unpredictable. Unfortunately, if he misses his location with the curveball, it seems he gets burned. 

Hughes' last pitch is his changeup. He uses it almost exclusively against LHH and keeps it on the outer third of the plate like his curveball. The movement it exhibits is fairly similar to his fastball but is thrown at 85mph. It appears to be very hittable, but his changeup seems to function more as a pitch to fool a LHH expecting a fastball every once in awhile. Pitchers don't often throw changeups to same-handed batters unless the changeup is their out pitch (James Shields). 

Relative to all starting pitchers, Hughes K% was exactly league average in 2013, and his BB% was a little bit below league average in the good way. Hughes got hurt in 2013 from his low LOB% and dingers. For his career, Hughes gives up far fewer home runs in away games, suggesting that his home run problems are a result of pitching roughly half his innings at Yankee stadium. Hughes' peripherals show a pitcher who is slightly below average to average at best. He has never pitched 200 innings in a season, but the Yankees have switched him from a starter to reliever throughout his career. With the Royals' outfield defense, his LOB% and home run rate could improve. 

Hughes would come cheaper than Haren, and he is much youngerHughes' reliance on his fastball suggests that he still tries to throw rather than pitch. If he experiences a velocity decline, Hughes' effectiveness might drop off a cliff. However, the Royals just worked with Ervin Santana on this kind of issue, so the Royals pitching coach could potentially handle a velocity decline and teach him how to use his off-speed stuff better; Dave Eiland, the Royals' pitching coach, was the pitching coach for the Yankees during Hughes' earlier years. Maybe Shields could show him something about a changeup. 

The FanGraphs crowd thinks he'll get about $16 million over 2 years; MLB Trade Rumors thinks he'll get $8 million for 1 year. Should Hughes give 180 innings of league average pitching each year, either contract will be solid value. Hughes has had injury issues in the past, which should deflate his value, but the Yankees are not expected to give him a qualifying offer, which means that the Royals won't have to give up a draft pick to sign himHughes is more medium risk, medium reward while Haren is more high risk, high reward. The pitching market has not developed yet, and the only signing so far is the Lincecum contract, which may or may not reflect the market, so it is difficult to speculate on dollar figures. My preference is Haren over Hughes, but if Haren becomes priced out of the Royals budget, Hughes is a cheaper, viable alternative due to his fly ball tendencies, the Royals' outfield defense, and his decent peripherals. 

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