Dusty Hughes and Rob Delaney

On Thursday the Minnesota Twins claimed LHP Dusty Hughes (28) off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. To make room for Hughes on the 40-man roster the Twins designated RHP Rob Delaney (26) for assignment. Delaney was subsequently claimed off of waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday.

When the news came out that the Twins were replacing Delaney with Hughes on their 40-man roster, I immediately thought it was an upgrade. Never one to rely solely on my initial reaction however I went to the numbers and scouting reports to form a more informed opinion. Once that was in place, I took a look at what some others were saying about the move.

The first place we should start this analysis off is in Kansas City. They are, after all, the team that saw fit to designate Dusty Hughes and kick off this chain of events. A lot of casual fans will quickly conclude that Hughes couldn’t be that valuable if the Royals didn’t want him based on the astounding lack of success the team has had recently. That’s really not the case however. It’s not that the Royals didn’t want Hughes, but they did need to make room of recently signed starter Jeff Francis and Dusty was the requisite casualty of that move.

Earlier in the week when Hughes was DFA’d, Kings of Kauffman Lead Writer Michael Engel had this to say about the soon-to-be Twins lefty:

And the unlucky player cut loose was Dusty Hughes.

I find it confusing.

Hughes had a 3.83 ERA in 56.1 innings in 2010 as the main left-handed reliever. He wasn’t overpowering (5.4 K/9) and not exactly precise (3.8 BB/9), but he did well enough, I thought, to stay with the team.

Dusty’s designation was a bit of a surprise to me as well. As Michael goes on to point out in his column, the move leaves the Royals with only 4 LHP on their 40-man roster. Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis are locks for the starting rotation. Young Cuban Noel Arguelles is still coming back from a shoulder injury that kept him out of action for the entire 2010 season. Noel is also a starter and several years away from the majors. That leaves Everett Teaford as the lone lefty bullpen option, but he is primarily a starter coming off a breakout season in Double-A last year. He was considered a strong candidate for the Royals rotation before the recent signings of both Francis and Chen. One has to wonder if he might not start out in Triple-A and be the first “replacement” starter called up if someone gets hurt in the major league rotation.

All of this continues to paint the picture that Dusty Hughes isn’t that valuable if a team like the Royals were willing to part from him despite having potentially zero LH reliever options to replace him on the 40-man roster. That ignores of course the fact that the Royals have the deepest and best minor league system in all of baseball. While their trio of impact bats (Moustakas, Hosmer, and Myers) get the attention alongside the waves of starting pitching prospects coming up, the relief prospects the Royals have assembled go largely unnoticed. That group is led by the diminutive power arm Tim Collins who just happens to be a lefty (and 21-years old to boot). Other southpaw relievers on the cusp of making a major league impact, and invited to camp, are Brandon Sisk (24) and Blaine Hardy (23). Starting LHP prospect Danny Duffy (22) could be another bullpen option to get his feet wet in the major leagues.

Did the Royals value Dusty Hughes? I think that answer is absolutely, but they are clearly setting up for a 2012 emergence and a run at the division in 2013 and beyond. Dusty Hughes could have helped them this year but would not be standing in the way of Collins, Sisk, Hardy, Duffy or Teaford. All of those guys have equivalent or better stuff, are quite a bit younger and fit into the Royals future plans. With a loaded system and a window that won’t open for a few seasons Hughes simply didn’t fit into the mix in Kansas City.

However, for a team like the Minnesota Twins, acquiring Hughes makes a ton of sense. They are a competitive team right now and will be picked by many baseball analysts as the favorite to once again win the AL Central. Those “experts” that don’t pick them to win the division will put them in the running with the Tigers and White Sox.

If you look at the stats, Hughes might seem underwhelming. It’s hard to get excited about a lefty reliever with a 3.8 BB/9, 5.4 SO/9 and 1.42 SO/BB. He’s far from a lefty-killer on the mound but he did hold lefties to a 0.674 OPS. Compared to the 0.775 OPS that right-handed hitters turned in off him, that is notabley given the fact that 2010 was his first extended shot in the majors. He was also reasonably effective out of the bullpen in 2009 but his overall numbers are skewed as 4.1 of his 14.0 IP that season came as a starter. It was a start that, not surprisingly, did not go well.

Dusty Hughes features a four pitch arsenal that includes a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. He primarily features his fastball and slider (47.1 and 24.4 % respectively) but his curve and changeup are his two best pitches. According to PTLW (pitch-type linear weights) his fastball was just a tick below average at -0.01 per 100 pitches in 2010. His curve was 0.27 runs above average per 100 pitches and his changeup was 0.33 run above average on the same scale. Dusty’s slider was -1.20 runs below average per 100 pitches, which would lead one to believe he should reduce his reliance on it, but the pitch does serve a purpose as a “show-me” pitch in the right spots.

We really only have the 1 year of PTLW data on Hughes since his 2009 data was a small sample size and also includes his spot start which skews the data and doesn’t apply to his future as a reliever. Even though the data here is limited, it falls in line with the scouting reports of Hughes coming up in the minors. Many see him as a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy) but with his mix of pitches I believe he has a future as a solid and reliable middle reliever. Having watched him pitch quite a bit for the Royals in 2010, I saw a valuable bullpen arm who was starting to figure things out. He had a rough month of July, during which he posted an 8.31 ERA and 1.77 WHIP, but over the final months of the season he allowed just 3 runs and 15 hits in 17.2 innings of work. He allowed 1 HR in April and another 2 in May but after that did not give up the long ball to anyone the rest of the season.

I think it is pretty clear that, right now, Dusty Hughes is a viable MLB middle reliever. In terms of ERA+ he has been above average out of the bullpen during his 1st two seasons at the major league level.

Of course, to add Dusty Hughes, the Twins had to DFA Rob Delaney…

Delaney, who is just over 2 years younger than Hughes, had very little problem cruising though the ranks of the minor leagues from A to AA, but he found the hitters in Triple-A to be a bit more of a challenge. Still, in 127.2 career AAA innings with Rochester Delaney has a 4.65 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. His 3.42 SO/BB is a result of a solid 2.7 BB/9 and very strong 9.2 SO/9. It is also worth noting that during his time in AAA he improved both his BB/9 and SO/9 from 2009 to 2010.

With a strong track record at the lower levels and solid peripherals at Triple-A it would seem that Delaney would be more valuable to the Twins than Hughes. The problem lies in their respective stuff. Unlike Hughes who features 4 pitches – 3 of which are around major league average – Delaney’s arsenal features only two pitches, a 90-92 mph fastball and a decent slider. He lacks a third pitch and without a true above average pitch in his fastball or slider, he has no way to deal with left-hander hitters effectively. As a RHP, that significantly limits his role in the major leagues even if you assume that he can get his basically average stuff to play up.

Despite the differences in age, Dusty Hughes has a much better chance to be a solid major league reliever and will almost certainly have a much longer major league career. Some of that has to do with the fact that he throws a baseball with his left-hand as opposed to his right, but it also has to do with his repertoire and quality of pitches as well.

Even if Hughes threw right-handed, I’d rather have him on my 40-man roster than Rob Delaney and as a result the Twins front office made a very shrewd decision here.

As for the Rays claiming Delaney off of waivers, I think that is mostly a case of throwing as many darts as they can at the board in hopes of getting a couple of bulls-eyes. If you don’t believe me then just look at the list of their acquisitions this offseason: Chris Archer, Jonah Bayliss, Dirk Hayhurst, Kyle Farnsworth, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta, Cesar Ramos, Adam Russell, R.J. Swindle, Cory Wade and now … Rob Delaney.

The Royals did what they had to do to field a “passable” rotation. The Rays definitely need bullpen help and probably would have claimed Hughes – instead of Delaney – if the Minnesota had passed on him. As far as the Twins, well they’re better off today than they were earlier in the week and that is a very good thing.

Tags: Dusty Hughes Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins Rob Delaney

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