Missing the Boat on Dusty Hughes


Aaron Gleeman gave his thoughts on the Dusty Hughes claim and related Rob Delaney designation today and if you read my column on Saturday you already know I have a very different opinion. Not only are Aaron, and many other Twins writers, ignoring the differences in quality and quantity of each pitcher’s stuff, they are also ignoring the organizational differences that come into play here.

They are differences that aren’t necessarily recognizable when looking at a players stats or performance up to this point. When a player changes organizations, the circumstances change. For Dusty Hughes, the status quo has changed heavily in his favor.

As with every other Royals player who took the mound in 2010 (and 2009 and 2008 and …) Dusty Hughes was pitching with one of worst defenses behind him in all of baseball. That fact surely plays a role in how aggressive a pitcher is, or is not, when deciding how to approach opposing batters. With a swiss-cheese defense backing them, Kansas City pitchers routinely tried to be too fine or too precise and often times that led to walks or other routinely unfortunate outcomes. We also need to recognize the fact that Dusty Hughes was working with the pressure of 2010 being his first, and possibly only, shot to make a statement that he belonged in the major leagues.

Beyond those points, it seems everyone is underselling the Twins organization and coaching staff. Rick Anderson is regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the game. I’d personally put him in the top 3 but I’m biased and obviously haven’t put pen to paper to rank the pitching coaches in the majors. Even if I were to spend a night, day or weekend taking up such a task, I’m far from an expert on pitching coaches and I don’t know how relevant my conclusions would be.

Turning to the manager, I hope to know one would argue the point that Ron Gardenhire is a better manager than the tandem of Trey Hillman and Ned Yost could ever dream of being. I mean I really hope I’m safe in assuming we are all on the same page there.

With the Minnesota Twins, Dusty Hughes is going to be put better position to have success. This is true in terms of instruction, situations and expectations. I don’t say this to disparage the Royals organization. I like Bob McClure as a pitching coach well enough, but he’s just not in Anderson’s class. Going off the top of my head I’d probably rank McClure somewhere in the middle of the AL pitching coaches. Fairness in conversation, he seems like a genius compared to some of the others that preceded him over the last decade. Similarly Ned Yost is a decent enough manager (Trey Hillman was flat-out awful) but he’s simply lacking compared to Ron Gardenhire.

All of the above is nice and relevant, but it really all comes back to the defense, or lack thereof, for the Royals staff in 2010. How could any pitching coach or any manager tell any Royals starter, or reliver, with a straight face to pitch to contact last year? “Don’t worry, Yunie will come up with it” probably wasn’t uttered very frequently out at Kauffman stadium.

To Dusty Hughes, Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are going to seem like the second coming of Roberto Alomar and Ozzie Smith in their primes. On that alone, I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s going to pitch with a bit more confidence in 2011.

The point of all this is not to completely excuse Hughes’ performance or his 1.42 SO/BB ratio last season. I’m not even saying that he will be good enough to make the Opening Day roster, but I think it is safe to assume that he will be even better in 2011 based on the change of scenery and circumstances if he’s given the chance.

Even if all of the above was way off-base and untrue – and I don’t think that is the case – Hughes is the better pitcher of the two and the Twins did the right thing choosing Dusty over Delaney.

Now whether they should have designated someone other than Delaney …