Phil Hughes was the toast of baseball through May as he appeared nearly unhittable. He was 6-1 over the first two months to go along with a 2.72 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 57 strikeouts over 56.2 innings of work. Over the next four months, however, he was not nearly as effective.
For the entire season he posted the following line:
146 Strikeouts (7.45 K/9)
58 Walks (2.96 BB/9)
It would be easy to attribute his overall ERA as tiring down the stretch, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, after May Hughes failed to post a sub-4.00 ERA in any month:
- June – 5.17 (31.1 innings)
- July – 5.52 (29.1 innings)
- August – 4.22 (32.0 innings)
- September – 4.85 (26.0 innings)
It is easy to look at the wins and get distracted from the other numbers, but you would be doing yourself a major disservice. Yes, Hughes has a significant upside in wins thanks to playing for the Yankees. He won 11 games over the final four months of the year, despite his struggles on the mound. However, it is not something that we can simply count on.
His effectiveness in general just wasn’t there. After striking out over a batter an inning in the first two months, he fell to 6.72 K/9 over the final four months. His ERA was at 4.91 and his WHIP was a pedestrian 1.34.
So, which is it?
For one, his home run rate was excessive towards the end of the season, at 1.59 from June on. Yankees Stadium (where he posted a HR/9 of 1.69) or not, that number is excessive. Yes, his fly ball rate is on the higher side (47.4% for the season), but you would expect him to improve upon this number.
There is also hope in the strikeout rate, given his career minor league strikeout rate of 10.01. Is he going to be that good? No, but his mark over the first two months is significantly more believable then over the final four.
With that said, the main question comes down to if Hughes can actually succeed in the AL East or not. Let’s take a look at how he did in 2010:
- Baltimore – 2-0, 2.41 ERA over 18.2 innings
- Boston – 2-1, 3.60 ERA over 25.0 innings
- Toronto – 1-2, 7.29 ERA over 21.0 innings
- Tampa Bay – 1-2, 4.74 ERA over 19.0 innings
With Boston improving their lineup significantly, these numbers certainly are cause for concern and could help to limit his value. How much so? Let’s take a look at how I’d project him for 2011:
180.0 IP, 16 W, 3.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 160 K (8.00 K/9), 62 BB (3.10 BB/9)
His control is solid and should help him maintain a solid WHIP (my projected number is based on a BABIP of .299). Assuming he can improve on the number of home runs he allows (the projection has a HR/9 of 1.10), he should be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA.
However, I would temper your expectations. It is easy to look at the wins and the first two months of ’10 and get excited about a “future ace”. The last four months of the season should certainly open your eyes. He does have the stuff to be a special pitcher, but he calls the toughest division in baseball home, as well as pitching in a hitter’s paradise. You couple those two things and there is as good of a chance that he struggles.
He absolutely is usable in all formats, but consider him more of a mid-rotation option and not a fantasy ace heading into 2010.
What are your thoughts on Hughes? How good could he be in 2011? Is he someone that you are targeting on draft day?
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Make sure to check out some of our 2011 projections: