Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Walks Don't Haunt Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes signed during the off-season to help remedy some of Minnesota's starting pitching woes over the last two seasons. Hughes was coming off a rough final season in New York where he posted an ERA over 5.00 and his WHIP topped out at 1.46. Hughes was charged with a career high 14 losses and he probably couldn't get out of town fast enough.

"Walks Will Haunt" was the message played to taunt opposing pitchers inside the Metrodome. Apparently, Hughes has taken that message to heart as he has been living out that mantra over the last month.

When Hughes takes the mound on Tuesday evening, he is in the midst of quite the impressive streak. He hasn't walked a batter in 147 consecutive batters, a career-best stretch. It has been more than a month since he last walked a batter on April 20 at Kansas City. It is the longest such streak for the Twins since Carlos Silva went 155 batters between walks in 2005.

Since Hughes isn't walking batters, it's easy to assume that he is throwing more strikes. Last season he averaged 67% of his pitches being strikes and that was close to his career mark of 66%. Since joining the Twins, he has been much more efficient with his pitches. In 2014 over nine starts, he is averaging almost 73% of his pitches being strikes.

While Hughes has been in the strike zone more frequently, he has been able to coax more swinging strikes than in previous seasons. In 2013, Hughes got opponents swung at pitches outside of the zone 29.7% of the time. That was very close to his career mark of 30.3%. So far this season, opponents have show more of a willingness to chase pitches out of the zone as opponents have swung at 37.8% of pitches outside of the zone.

Besides swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, opponents have also shown a tendency to swing at more pitches overall. For his career Hughes gets opponents to swing 48.7% of the time and he posted a 48.9% swing percentage a year ago. Because of his ability to get more swings outside of the zone, Hughes is up to a 56.2% swing percentage in 2014.

Hughes has always been known as a fly ball pitcher and that's easy to see from his heat maps from 2013. He gave up 24 home runs last season, 13 to left-handed hitters and 11 to right-handed batters. His heat maps show a change for 2014. He is doing a better job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the zone versus righties. Hughes approach versus lefties seems to be similar but he is tending to stay up in the zone.

Some questioned whether the Twins should give Hughes a three-year deal especially after his recent track record in New York. At this early stage of the contract, things seem to be working out in the Twins favor. Hughes will eventually walk a batter because that's how baseball works.

Let's hope that walk doesn't haunt him...

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