Daily Archives: June 4, 2012

Has Hughes turned a corner?

Hughes throws a Curve vs Detroit (Zimbio Photos)

Since the Yankees drafted him in the 1st round in 2004, Phil Hughes has always teased us with his immense potential.  He breezed through every level of the Minors going 32-8 with a 2.35 ERA, & 10.1 k/9,  looking like a “can’t miss” front-end starter in the making.  Baseball America rated him the #4 Overall Prospect in the Minors in 2007 and he made his MLB debut that same year.  His Yankees career has been full of up and downs as he was strong in the pen in 09, an All-Star in the rotation in 2010 and a major disappointment in 2011.  With his “fatigued” shoulder no longer an issue and after getting into excellent physical condition this off-season, expectations were high for 2012.

But things started poorly as Hughes went 1-4 with an unsightly 7.48 ERA and 7 HRs allowed in 21.2 ip (2.9 HR/9) over his first 5 starts..   His Fastball was pedestrian, averaging between 91.3 & 92.3 and his breaking pitches lacked bite.  He failed to last more than 5.1 ip in any start as his pitch counts KO’d him early due to his 21.1 pitches per inning.  Yankee fans were fed up with Phil and were clamoring for a switch to the bullpen.  When asked, Joe Girardi repeatedly answered that the organization saw him as a starter and that is where he would stay.  But it was clear Phil needed to make some changes if he was going to remain in the rotation.

In the 6 starts since then, Hughes has reversed his record, going 4-1 and has cut his ERA & HR rates by more than half.  In 40 ip, he has a 3.60 ERA and allowed 6 HRs (1.35 HR/9).  He’s also been much more efficient, averaging 16.25 pitches per inning and has gone at least 6 ip in 4 of 6 starts.  He allowed 3 ER or less in all of the starts except for one.  However, that one outing was against the LA Angels who are surging and one of the top teams in MLB right now.

This one outing could be excused as just a blip against a tough opponent, however, poor showings against good teams have become a trademark for Hughes.  In fact, when we look at how he’s fared against teams below .500 and over .500, it portrays a troubling trend.  This year he is 5-0 with a sterling 2.33 ERA and 1.3 HR/9 against losing teams.  Conversely, he’s a wretched 0-5 with a 8.33 ERA and 2.7 HR/9 against teams with winning records.

So, is the improved performance in his last 6 starts for real or has it been more a product of facing lesser opponents?  I believe the answer lies somewhere in between.  There’s no doubt that Hughes has pitched better starting with his May 1st outing vs Baltimore.  He made a clear decision to be more aggressive and attack with his Fastball.  He’s also picked up an extra MPH on his fastball averaging nearly 93 MPH and has basically scrapped his Cutter.  In his first 4 starts he threw 42 Cutters but has thrown just 14 in his last 6 starts.  When Hughes is spotting his Fastball on the corners and changing eye levels with it, he’s been effective.  Mixing in the Curve and Change are also important to give batters something else to consider, but his FB has been his bread and butter.  In yesterday’s start vs Detroit, he threw 99 Fastballs out of 121 pitches.  That is a startling number of 4-seamers to throw in one game.  It was effective against Detroit as he was able to locate it well against their big 2 hitters and continually challenge the rest of the free-swinging lineup.  But I am very skeptical if this approach will work against the deeper and more patient lineups in the A.L.  Clearly it has not worked so far as he’s been beat up by Texas, Los Angeles (twice), Baltimore & Toronto.  So, while I think Hughes can pitch better than his 8.33 ERA vs Winning teams suggests, I think he will continue to have trouble with better lineups until he can improve his secondary offerings and master command of his Fastball.  With his poor mechanics and short-arm throwing motion, I question whether Hughes will ever make the improvements required to be anything more than a back-end starter who can beat the weaker teams but always struggle against the deeper A.L. lineups.

Hopefully, throwing a complete game vs Detroit  and Justin Verlander will give Phil some confidence and he can carry it into his upcoming starts.  Although Detroit has struggled this yr and most of the lineup couldn’t hit their way out of a paper bag, he still had to face Cabrera & Fielder 8 times so it wasn’t an easy matchup.  Although his next few opponents are all above .500, he may benefit from facing the DH-less and shorter lineups of the Mets, Nats & Braves and put together a run of good starts. So what do you all think of Hughes’ future this season and beyond?  Will he be anything more than a back-end starter and can he be effective against the elite lineups of the league?  He’ll be looking at a sizable raise in his last year of arbitration this Winter and will be a Free Agent in 2014.  What is his long-term future with the club?

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Travel Day

The parity and dominance of the Eastern teams continues, teams who spent big money in the offseason beginning to perform, the Mets finally get a no-hitter,  and former Yankees thriving  are the leading stories this week.

Beasts of The East

One-third of the  2012 MLB season is now in the books.  The most remarkable story of the season so far is the incredible dominance that the teams in the Eastern Divisions of both the AL and NL have displayed.  All ten teams in the AL East and NL East are over .500 right now.

The five teams in the AL East are separated by only three games in the standings.  The combined record of the teams in the AL East against opponents from the AL Central and AL West  is 76-54.  Amazingly, only one team in the AL Central and AL West divisions has a winning record against the AL East.  The Texas Rangers, at 12-6, stand alone in defying the power of the AL East.

The five teams in the NL East are separated by only three and half games,  with a three way tie for first place existing among the Nationals, Mets, and Marlins.  The combined record of the NL East teams against teams in the NL Central and NL West is 91-61.

At this point in the season, all ten teams residing in the East divisions of MLB are legitimate playoff contenders.  The intensity in these divisions is unlike anything I have ever seen this early in the year. Every loss by these teams seems agonizing. Every win brings a sigh of relief more than it brings a sense of jubilation.  In this first year of the new format of two wild card teams advancing to the playoffs out of each league, the very strong possibility exists that three teams from each of the East divisions could be in the playoffs this October.

Big Spenders 

After slow starts, the Angels and Marlins are now coming on and playing in the fashion that their fans expected them to after their huge offseason acquisitions while the Tigers continue to struggle.

Offseason acquisitions of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson were expected to solidify an already good Angels team.  Pujols followed an embarassing April performance with a slightly better May, hitting 8 home runs.  Pujols now leads the Angels with 29 RBI’s.

C.J. Wilson leads the Angels in the ERA category with a very good 2.54.

While the Angels recent run to get over .500 and reach striking distance of the Rangers was more about the surges by young stars Trout and Trumbo, it is very logical to assume that at some point in the season that Pujols will return to the prior form he’s displayed in his career.  While the Angels still have issues with plenty of starters struggling at the plate, they are back in playoff contention.

The Marlins gave their fans plenty of hope for a playoff appearance with offseason acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano, and Mark Buehrle.

After a dreadful April, Reyes has raised his average all the way up to .278 by hitting .315 in May and June.

Bell has followed an April that saw him blow 3 saves and lose 3 games with 2 holds and successful save efforts in 10 of 11 save situations in May and June.

Zambrano tied Bob Gibson yesterday for 7th on the all time home run list by pitchers by launching a monster shot. Zambrano is now 4-3 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.

Buerhle went 1-4 in April but has gone 4-1 since then.

The Marlins are now tied for first in the NL East and look every bit the favorite that many thought they would be in the NL East before the season started.  With Hanley Ramirez heating up and Josh Johnson yet to display his best form, the Marlins look like the team with the most upside in the NL East.

The Tigers offseason acquisition of Prince Fielder made them the biggest favorite in MLB to win their division. Fielder has been the best high profile free agent acquisition by far this season.  Fielder is hitting .319 with 9 home runs and 35 RBI’s.  Fielder certainly isn’t responsible for the Tigers’ struggles so far this season.

The Tigers have serious issues with pitching and only Fielder and Cabrera are hitting to the back of their baseball cards.  While it still seems hard to believe that they won’t end up on top in the AL Central, the Tigers are a team with serious issues and may need to make moves before the deadline to contend for an AL pennant.

Santana Tosses A No Hitter*

On Friday night, Johan Santana finally gave the Mets the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise.  After missing the 2011 season due to shoulder surgery, Santana tested his surgically repaired shoulder with 134 pitches.

Because Johan Santana has always been held in such high regard as a player and as a person, because he missed an entire year due to surgery, because the Mets had never had a no hitter in their history, it has been largely ignored that Santana’s “no hitter” wasn’t really a no hitter.

In the 6th inning, Carlos Beltran ripped a shot down the third base line that was ruled a foul ball by umpire Adrian Johnson. Replay clearly shows that Beltran’s  shot bounced off the chalk on the third base line and was indeed a hit.

I don’t mean to rain on the parade of Mets fans or on a great pitcher like Santana. No hitters are special events that for one night, can make any pitcher, team, or its fanbase feel like kings of the world.  I just like special events to be truly special, not the result of human error.

As I stated in my last column, one of the biggest problems that MLB has is the lack of integrity with which umpires are viewed. This problem is exacerbated with the very little use of replay in MLB to review calls.  In the last 3 seasons we’ve now seen a legitimate perfect game robbed by a blown call from Jim Joyce as well as a no hitter go into the record books on a blown call by Adrian Johnson.  “That’s baseball” just doesn’t cut it.  In the year 2012, where every other major sport uses replay extensively, there is absolutely no reason for MLB to cling to the dark ages and continue to allow mistake after mistake to impact games.  Friday night was just another glaring example of why MLB’s refusal to enter the current age in regards to the use of technology makes no sense.  Fans and players want the calls to be right, and the majority don’t care if a game takes an extra five or ten minutes to get them right.

Melky Delivers

The Yankees recently completed a very good trip, going 6-3 on a nine game trip in Oakland, Anaheim, and Detroit despite continuing to fail in RISP hitting situations.  One player that Yankee fans desperately wish hadn’t gotten away right now is outfielder Melky Cabrera.

Cabrera was a very popular Yankee with both his teammates and with fans and his trade to the Atlanta Braves along with pitchers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino for pitcher Javier Vazquez was an unpopular move at the time.  That trade became even more unpopular when Vazquez struggled and wound up out of the Yankee rotation in 2010.  Now? That trade looks like one of Brian Cashman’s worst ever trades.

Cabrera batted .305 for the Royals last year, while hitting 18 home runs and stealing 20 bases. This year Cabrera leads all of MLB with 82 hits in the first one-third of the season. Cabrera is leading the NL with a .371 batting average and has an OBP of .413.

You have to wonder what kind of difference Cabrera could have made with the Yankees last season and this season.

With Austin Jackson(currently on the 15 day DL) hitting .331 this year for Detroit, more than one Yankee fan has wondered out loud what an outfield of Gardner, Jackson, and Melky would look like right now rather than Gardner, Granderson and Swisher.  Jackson was traded with Phil Coke and last year’s 21 game winner Ian Kennedy for Granderson after the 2009 season.  In the offseason following that World Series win, Yankee GM Brian Cashman traded: Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, and Melky Cabrera for what amounts right now to only Granderson.   That was definitely not an offseason that goes on Cashman’s highlight reel.

If The Playoffs Started Now

In the American League the Yankees and Orioles would play a one game playoff    in Baltimore with the winner advancing to play the Texas Rangers.

The White Sox and Tampa Bay would meet in a series in which the White Sox would have the home field advantage.

In the National League the Mets and Marlins would meet in a one game playoff in New York with the winner advancing to play the Dodgers.

The Red and Nationals would meet in a series in which the Nationals would have home field advantage.

Everyone who predicted that one third of the way into the 2012 season that the Orioles, Mets, White Sox and Nationals would host playoff games raise your hand.

Tweet Of The Week

“Yankees underachieving on a level matched only by me in my senior year of high school.” -@Melonsports

Morning Bits: Joba, Pearce, Comerica Park Security

Good morning everyone. The Yankees had a great win yesterday against Justin Verlander and the Tigers. They have an off day today and begin a 6 game homestand on Tuesday, starting with the Rays.

Here are your morning links…

— The Yankees are not happy about the security at Comerica Park and how slow it was to respond to the fan who went onto the field and ran around yesterday.

— Joba Chamberlain is making progress in overcoming his freak ankle injury, via Marc Carig.

— The Yankees have traded minor league first baseman Steve Pearce to the Orioles for cash considerations.

Have a great day!

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