The Minnesota Twins made two big free agent splashes this past offseason. Targeting much-needed pitching rotation help, the Twins signed both Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to free agent contracts. Of the two, Nolasco received the biggest free agent contract in Twins history. However, Phil Hughes had been the darling of the first half, until now.
Phil Hughes had a very up and down career with the New York Yankees. A first round pick in the 2004 Major League Baseball draft, the Yankees had high hopes for Hughes. While there were high points throughout his career, expectations were never met. Although Yankee Stadium is one of the most unfriendly ballparks to any pitcher, Hughes couldn’t make it work.
In signing Hughes, the Twins looked at his road splits, away from Yankee Stadium, Hughes was a different pitcher. At Target Field, a place where the baseball goes to the gaps to die, Hughes projected to be a solid fit.
After a tough first month of the season, in which Hughes gave up four earned runs in each of his first three starts, the Twins had a pitcher with an ERA over 5.00. Once the calendar turned to May, Hughes lit it up.
From May 4 to June 11, a span of 8 starts, Hughes pitched to a 5-1 record with a 2.15 ERA striking out 46 batters and only walking two batters.
Fast forward from June 17 through his last start yesterday on July 19, a span of seven starts, and Hughes has regressed to the tune of a 5.63 ERA while giving up 29 earned runs. Those 29 earned runs are more than double the 13 earned runs he was touched for in his previous eight starts. So where did it all go wrong.
Hughes is still striking out batters while pitching around walks (37K/4BB in last 7 starts), but batters are squaring him up at a significantly higher rate. With a line drive percentage at 20 through his strong 8 starts, it has jumped to 28% through the last seven.
Not only are balls being hit harder, but batters are now swinging to the tune of a .404 avg on balls put in play. That number has spiked from the .289 mark through Hughes’ stronger 8 starts. Also, in 5 of his last 7 starts, Hughes has given up at least 5 earned runs, a mark that is tough to offensively rebound from.
While the overall numbers aren’t all bad for Hughes (4.06 ERA, 109K, 12BB), he has gone from bad to great, and then back to mediocre again. The Twins are hoping that Phil Hughes can turn things around and be the ace of their staff.
If the lifetime numbers are any indication, he still has it in him, but stopping this rough patch is of the utmost priority for now.