photo © 2008 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)This season has been a huge disappointment for the Yankees regarding Phil Hughes in the starting rotation. His velocity has been down and his pitches are getting hit with the highest contact rate of his career at 92.9 percent. He is clearly suffering from some issue this season along the same lines of what we saw with Joba Chamberlain in 2008 and 2009.
The Yankees have big pressure to produce year in and year out like the Red Sox and perhaps this leads to decisions like the Yankees have shown in moving young arms back and forth from the bullpen. Now I am not a supporter of the Verducci rules saying pitchers should not surpass an increase of 30 IP from year to year. but I believe there is some limit that will result in fatigue or injury.
In 2007 and 2008 Joba was switched with the “Joba” rules from starter to closer several times. His innings did not increase then, but he had a case of elbow tendinitis. His velocity then fell and NY made a shocking choice to send him to the rotation as he came back in 2009. He then went on to throw 157.1 innings in 2009.
It was clear he was no longer the same and the team realized the best shot to realize the best of Joba would be a return to the bullpen. He had some bad luck in 2010 so we should ignore the ERA, but his FIP of 2.98 was elite. The issue here is his velocity was still down from 2007 and so were the strikeouts. He is still a great reliever, but perhaps he could have been even better or perhaps a more valuable starter if played properly.
Knowing what happened in 2008 with Joba it was shocking to see the Yankees follow a similar pattern in 2009-10 with Hughes. Always a starter in the minors Hughes had some injury troubles in his entrance to the majors, but luckily they were non arm injuries.
When the Yankees made the choice to send Hughes to the Pen in 2009 his velocity climbed nearly 2 mph to 93.8. Something you should expect in smaller appearances. Interestingly though is when he went back to starter in 2010 his velocity stayed near 93 mph, which was higher than his previous starter levels. It seems he was still throwing like a reliever, which isn’t a good sign and could have put extra stress on his arm.
Now we look at 2011 and there is something wrong with Hughes. His velocity is down even for the cold weather, but also his curve ball is a mess. He primarily throws a curve that drops 8-9 inches, but this year his curve has been fairly flat with only a -6.5 vertical movement. This shows in his curve ball linear weight of -3.77 per one hundred pitches.
Obviously we have gone through this before in 2005 with Jonathan Papelbon who suffered shoulder issues when moving back and forth. The Red Sox made the solid choice to leave him to the pen and it has worked so far. His effectiveness has been questioned lately, but largely his velocity has held and he has topped 67 IP every season other than 2005 and 2007.
Thankfully the Red Sox made what seems to be the right choice, but what should this mean for some of the current options. The Red Sox have moved Felix Doubront, Michael Bowden and Rich Hill. Based on the decisiveness used with Papelbon I would think these would be permanent choices.
I would be highly surprised to see Dubront or Bowden return to the rotation (especially in Boston) and Rich Hill is probably not going to be back in the majors.
The Red Sox have made early and solid decisions with pitchers on where to put them. Fans expecting players like Dubront to suddenly be stretched out to go in the rotation over Daisuke Matsuzaka are probably going to be disappointed. Just ask the Yankees fans who now have to count on a resurgent* Bartolo Colon.
*The velocity is still not at 2008-09 levels although it’s up from 2010. His movement and stuff has largely been the same. His slider has been very effective so far, but I’m fairly sure that his 11.1 IP so far is not in any way a good representation of what the Yankees would get with him in the rotation.