A world of extremes for Hughes
WHAT IS THIS, RED LOBSTER?
I understand that it was Memorial Day, but red caps? Red is a patriotic color? You go whisper that at Joe McCarthy’s grave and see if his rotted hands don’t shoot up out of the ground and drag you down under the dirt. Besides, the Yankees just looked plain undignified.
… On the other hand, if you win all your red-cap games by 10 runs, maybe red caps can be fashionable.
PHIL HUGHES, SO NEAR AND YET SO NEAR
Assuming the Yankees don’t use Thursday’s day of rest to skip a rotation spot — and Joe Girardi hasn’t done that so far this year — Mr. Hughes will next pitch Sunday at Cleveland. He’s made one career start at Jacobs Field and did very well, throwing six innings of one-run baseball back on August 10, 2007. The Indians don’t have quite the same roster now — Hughes won’t be striking out Kenny Lofton twice this time around — but the meat is the same. Cleveland has one of the league’s most strikeout-prone lineups this year, something that could play into Hughes’ hands. Parenthetically, they also sent down Matt LaPorta, one of the top power prospects in baseball, who had mostly rented space on their bench over the last few weeks. Very wasteful, especially when the players currently in his positions, Ryan Garko and Ben Francisco, are not current or future world-beaters …
Back to Hughes: Monday in Texas was just a taste of his abilities, and the trick for the Yankees and Hughes himself will be to exploit his talents more consistently. I know that seems obvious, but Hughes has been either all or nothing in his brief career. When Hughes is on, he’s been dominant. In his eight career wins, his ERA is 1.44. In his losses, it’s 11.53. Now, all pitchers have this sort of split between their best days and their worst, but Hughes has been particularly extreme. The difference has largely been one of control: On the bad days, Hughes can’t get his pitches over, his walk rate shoots up, and the home runs follow. That said, when it works it really works; a more typical ERA in winning games is something in the 2.00s. The Right Stuff Hughes is overwhelming. On yet another hand, part of a starting pitcher’s job is to give his team to win whether he has the stuff to pitch a no-hitter or not. Hughes isn’t there yet.
Hughes should eventually have fewer days when he’s just a glorified batting practice pitcher, but it’s difficult to say when things will click into place, or if further Minor League experience would be a help or a hindrance. The only thing that’s certain is that the upside is huge and there’s no sure way to get at it except to keep trying. Right now, bad days have actually outnumbered the good (with “in between” outnumbering both). American League pitchers make a quality start just under half the time this year — the rate has stayed fairly constant since 2005. For his career, Hughes’ rate is 33 percent. When he’s good he’s very good, when he’s bad he’s worse, and if he could just shift a few of those bad ones onto the good or even “Mr. In-Between” pile (the guy Johnny Mercer said you don’t mess with), the Yankees would have a star on their hands.
It could be that Texas was the beginning of the shift, and that Cleveland will be continuation of it, or maybe Hughes struggles again and the counter resets. Patience is obviously warranted.
BRIAN BRUNEY HEADS BACK TO THE DL …
… Another stay for Brett Tomko. The battle for relief help as the trade deadline nears is going to be intense. Many of the teams that have dropped out of their division races have done so in large part because of their lack of quality relievers. Sure, the Nationals will trade you one of their relievers, but do you want one? (Nightmare scenario: Ron Villone’s scoreless 11.1 innings this season suddenly makes him attractive trade-bait.) Sure, the Rockies may want to move Huston Street, and there might be a couple of other semi-attractive hurlers out there, but it’s definitely going to be a seller’s market. As I stated in a previous entry, the Yankees would be best off if they aggressively sorted through the David Roberstsons (welcome back, Dave) and Mark Melancons of the world now so they know whether they have to go hard after relief help or they can save their chips for bigger game. Thus my minor-key carping about Tomko: he’s not part of the solution set, and he’s taking up the roster spot of someone who very well may be. Who better to spend trash time innings on, a 99-year-old vet or a kid who might show you something?
MORE FROM ME
? For those with access to Baseball Prospectus, I’ve got a bit up on the worst offenses of all time, springboarding from the current Giants. No Yankees on the list, though I could have dragged in the 1913 team, I guess …
? Wholesome Reading has been updated, with more to come on the evolving Supreme Court and Prop 8 situations. Warning: Politics!