Minnesota Twins 2016 Opening Day Starter: Case for Phil Hughes
Could Phil Hughes be the Minnesota Twins Opening Day starter in 2016?
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We at Puckett’s Pond believes there are three legitimate candidates to be the Minnesota Twins’ opening day starter in 2016: Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson. There is no clear cut winner. None of those men are prototypical aces. All three have some downside and all three have facets that would make them well suited for the position.
Our Daniel Phyle has made the case for Gibson and Jordan Wickstrom is a proponent of Santana. Today I’ll be looking at Phil Hughes’ candidacy for the honor.
To be honest, I personally see more merit in Santana or Gibson being the opening day starter. However, someone had to take his case and he could realistically be named the opening day starter. I’ll put his pros in point form.
- Hughes was the opening day starter last year. There is something to be said for the status quo. He would be the familiar option. Hughes’ tenure as Twin is longer than Gibson or Santana.
- Hughes is starting the Twins first spring game. Teams will often use their best starter to kick of their spring slate. Mike Berardino does note that the Twins current spring rotation set up would leave Santana scheduled to start the regular season. But plans change and starts get shuffled around.
- Hughes is one year removed from an excellent 2014 season. He posted a sensational strikeout to walk ratio (11.63), a 2.65 FIP and a 3.52 ERA. He pitched 209.2 innings and was 7th in Cy Young voting in what was the best season of his career. Hughes’ numbers dipped significantly in 2015 but he was struggling with a back injury and missed a month of playing. By all indications, Phil Hughes is ready and completely healthy for 2016. The cliche “best shape of his life” has been tossed around. If his health remains intact, he should see a shift back towards his 2014 numbers.
- Even with Hughes’ difficult season in 2015, he has much longer track record than Kyle Gibson. Gibson’s had two full seasons as a starter and one partial season. Hughes is a 9 year veteran (5 full seasons as a starter, one as a reliever primarily and three partial seasons). Santana has been around longer than Hughes but Santana has a PED black mark on his resume. Hughes arguably has the better career numbers as well.
- Though only 29, Hughes is a clubhouse leader and a veteran mentor to the Twins’ younger pitchers. In cases where there isn’t a clear cut ace, it often makes sense to hand the honor to the starter the other pitchers most respect. He’s the “captain” of the rotation as it stands. Having handled the responsibility before, he’ll be able to handle the pressure and not succumb to jitters or nerves.
As I said, Hughes wouldn’t be my first choice but with three candidates in roughly the same echelon, he wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Paul Molitor will be weighing these 5 points as he considers Hughes for the opening day start.