Yankees Current State Of The Union + The Phil Hughes Question
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By Nicholas Rossoletti (Yankees Correspondent/Trade Correspondent): Follow @nross56
As April came to a close and May began, the Yankees found themselves in an all so familiar place. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were atop the American League East. It seems like this struggle between century old rivals has dominated the AL East for the better part of the last 15 years.
This year was supposed to be different as New York and Boston were both expected to cede the division to the Baltimore O’s, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, and perhaps that will still be the case, but after five weeks of the season, it certainly seems like the demise of the Yanks and Sox was greatly overstated.
Part of the reason that the Yankees have managed to prove their naysayers incorrect has been their stellar starting pitching. Each of the top four Yankee starters has pitched well to start the season, but as the title of the article suggests, there is one pitcher who has stood out especially in the last several weeks.
His performance leads to this question: Is Phil Hughes finally becoming the pitcher he was always touted to be? Is the 26-year old right hander finally blossoming into a strong 1/2 starter? The numbers, at least early on, scream YES.
The Phil Hughes Question:
Through 6 starts, several numbers jump out when it comes to Hughes. His K rate is up to 23% which is increased 3% from last season. This equates to almost an entire extra K/9, which is up to career high of 8.74 through his first 6 starts.
Another big indicator of success is a BB rate of 4.7%, which again is down almost a full percentage point from last season. Hughes’ fielding independent pitching stats are also encouraging.
His xFIP of 3.79 and his FIP of 3.51 tell us that his mid-3’s ERA of 3.60 is justified and likely not subject to too much regression if he continues to pitch at this level. All of these numbers paint Hughes as a top 20-25 starter at this point in the season, and currently, the best starter on the New York Yankees.
What is even more impressive is that if this continues, it would show a trend of Hughes evolving as a Major League Starter, which going into his contract season may be cause for the Yankees to pay this young man a significant portion of money.
For those of you who have read me on Twitter and/or in this space before, I am eating a bit of crow on Hughes at this point. I’ve long said that Phil’s fly ball prone pitching style would play better outside of Yankee Stadium, and while I do believe he is the glue that holds this rotation together, I have been critical of his inability to keep the ball inside the park.
His Fly Ball Rate is still fairly insane at 49% (league average is approximately 36%) for a pitcher playing in a small ballpark, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Each of the last three seasons, Hughes has improved.
His Strike Out Rate continues to rise, his Walk Rate continues to fall, he pitched 191.1 innings last year (answering the durability question) and despite missing spring training has pitched all 6 of his starts this season.
I’m beginning to think that the Fly Ball Rate/Home Park analysis may be the difference between Hughes being a very strong #2 starter moving forward or a potential ace in a larger park more suited to his style.
In either case, as the Yankees’ pitching staff ages, there has been almost a panic driven question of who will lead this staff into the future. At this point, Phil Hughes has done nothing to discourage the belief that he is both the present and the future of this New York Yankees staff.
In the upcoming week, Hughes will avoid a start in Colorado, which is a great thing for a Fly Ball pitcher, and instead, he will see the new and improved Kansas City Royals in Kaufman Stadium.
On the offensive side of the game, the Yankees continue to scratch and claw their way to victories. The biggest Yankee question mark resides at Third Base where Kevin Youkilis had been over performing his peripheral statistics until a back injury lead the oft-hurt Youk back to the Disabled List. The Yankees struggles with injury at the hot corner comes at a very unique time.
It has been reported that Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees regular Third Baseman and resident pariah, was cleared to resume baseball activities. As such, A-Rod’s rehab from off-season hip surgery has moved out onto the playing field, which barring setbacks accelerates his timeline for return to the Yankee lineup.
Rodriguez is a polarizing athlete to say the least. His antics and poor play during the American League Playoffs last season were widely publicized and critiqued. The off-season led to yet another PED scandal where Rodriguez’s name was linked to a Miami based clinic in a ground breaking story by the Miami New Times.
I won’t waste time or energy espousing my thoughts on any of Rodriguez’s past behavior. Nor will I speculate as to his off the field issues. All I care about, all Yankees fans truly care about is will he be able to contribute when he is healthy.
The answer to that question in my opinion is yes. Is Rodriguez the all-world bat that drove the two most lucrative contracts of the 00’s? No, he isn’t. Is he better than Kevin Youkilis if he plays at last year’s level? Yes, he is.
As we previously discussed in this space in the past, Youk just hasn’t shown the recognition of the strike zone to continue to play at his early season level. Tie into that analysis this back issue, and it is questionable what exactly the Yankees can expect from Kevin moving forward.
A-Rod’s numbers last season indicate a deterioration in skill, but he still shows signs of value at a position of great need for this organization. Rodriguez’s 9.6% BB rate would be a significant improvement over the 5.6% BB Rate that Youk has posted to this point.
It is worth noting that should Youk be able to regain his command of the strike zone that the difference between the two players would shrink significantly.
However, a three year sample of Youkilis’ numbers shows a dramatically decreasing BB rate and increasing K rate. While A-Rod’s numbers show a three year regression as well, the decrease in Strike Zone recognition has not been as dramatic on Rodriguez’s side of the ledger.
I have not included Jayson Nix in the analysis because Nix is a “band-aid on a bullet wound” if you will. Nix is a below replacement level player forced into everyday action by desperation not talent.
All in all, a healthy Rodriguez may lead to many things. It may lead to distraction. It will certainly lead to more press, but it also means something on the field, which is the return of the best third base option the Yankees have on their roster right now.
As week 5 of the season comes to a close, it is important for Yankee fans to remember that this team is still better with its regular pieces than without them.
I know the beginning of the season has been exciting. Being the under-d0g, being told that your favorite team is nothing more than cellar dwellers is frustrating.
Then to watch as that same team denounces its critics as it rises to the occasion is absolutely one of the greatest feelings in all of sports. It is one of the reasons we love these games the way we do.
With that all being said, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter do not make this a worse team. They do nothing but make the squad better. Until they return, let us hope that the Yankees drag their April successes into the month of May.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***
A big thank-you goes out to Our ‘Trade and Yankees Correspondent’ Nicholas Rossoletti for preparing today’s featured article. Nicholas is a young professional living in downtown Miami. He is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid Yankee supporter.
Having grown up during the last two decades, he counts Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as his favorite ball players of all time. He believes in sabermetrics and that new stats have already changed the way the baseball industry sees players.
He was for Trout over Cabrera, he thinks RBIs tell you a lot more about a team than a player and that defense and pitching, ultimately, win championships. Rational thought and introspective analysis over the narrative is how we come to understand the game we love.
The narrative is just a way to keep those who don’t really love the game watching. Feel free to follow Nicholas on twitter and talk the game of baseball Follow @NRoss56
“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~ Al Gallagher, 1971
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Posted on May 8, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged @nross56, @Nross56 on twitter, @nross56 twitter, alex rodriguez, baltimore, baltimore orioles, blue jays, boston, boston red sox, colorado, colorado rockies, curtis granderson, derek jeter, jayson nix, Kansas city, kansas city royals, Kaufmann Stadium, kevin youkilis, mark teixeira, new York, new york yankees, nicholas rossoletti, orioles, phil hughes, rays, red sox, rockies, royals, tampa, Tampa Bay, tampa bay rays, toronto, toronto blue jays, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.