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Dec 22

On the Phil Hughes, Twins Extension

Phil Hughes (65) pitching for the Yankees.

Phil Hughes (65) pitching for the Yankees.

Phil Hughes probably could have waited another two years, pitched for the relative pittance of 8 million per through 2016, and probably signed an Anibal Sanchez like 5-year/60 million dollar deal at the age of 31, but Hughes and his CAA representative Nez Balelo turned a great 2014 into 42 million guaranteed.

Christmas comes early to the Twin Cities.

Last season, Hughes was one of the top bargain free agent pickups of the year, posting a season full of career bests as a starter across the board: innings pitched, ERA, FIP, WHIP, K/9, BB/9, and HR/9. Taken out of the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium to the neutral Target Field, Hughes tendency to work up in the zone didn’t hurt him as badly as it might have otherwise, and he dropped from 35 and 24 homers the prior two seasons to 16 last year. His HR/9 of 0.7 was his lowest since he was reliever way back in 2009.

It wasn’t all ballpark effects. Hughes relied more heavily on his cutter last year, throwing the pitch slightly over 20% of the time with left-handers finding the pitch particularly difficult as they hit just .195 with one home run. Add in a low to mid-90s fourseamer and a wickedly sharp curve, Hughes struck out a career best 186 batters. I really could watch him throw curves all day. They’re that damn good.

The big story for Hughes was his amazingly low BB/9 of 0.69. It was the third lowest rate for qualified starters since the beginning of the Expansion Era in 1961, and his K/BB ratio of 11.63 set a new Major League record. He walked 16 batters. To put that into perspective, Nolan Ryan walked 200+ twice and 150+ five times. Last season, there were only 36 relievers who walked fewer than 16 batters during the year.

Okay, well, odds are that’s not happening again.

Entering 2014, Hughes’ lowest walk rate was 2.2 set in 2012, and his best K/BB ratio was 3.59 set the same year. Those are probably more reasonable numbers to wrap the mind around, more in line with what the Twins are likely to see from Hughes going forward, and I’d imagine they’d be just fine with that.

They’re making out just fine in this deal.

The big danger for the Twins is that Hughes propensity to work up in the zone eventually bites him as his fastball loses zip. He’ll be 29 next year, and there aren’t any indications that he’s lost anything as his average velocity has remained steady. His workload over the years hasn’t been appreciably heavy—no C.C. Sabathia like 250 inning marathon seasons for instance—and he’s had just one year topping 200. Early in his career Hughes seemed injury prone, but since 2011 he’s missed a total of 16 games (not starts) to injuries. He’s now made 30+ starts in three straight seasons.

There’s always the risk that comes with any pitcher, and the Twins might be buying with rose colored glasses after Hughes’ exceptional ’14. If so, they’re not paying a premium. It sounds like Hughes found a place where he’s comfortable pitching, wanted to stay there for the long term, and gave up money to do so.

I’m all Bob Cratchit and good tidings to all on this deal. No “Bah, humbugs” here.

Phil Hughes photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

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