I’ve been kind of dreading this one because there really isn’t a lot of good things to say about the season that Phil Hughes had this year. So let’s dive right in.
EXPECTATIONS: The Yankees and their fans ignored the fact that Hughes posted a 5.15 ERA over his final 18 starts in 2010, chosing instead to focus on his reasonable 4.19 ERA and strong 18-8 record instead. Because of this, he was typically looked at as a strong no. 2 behind CC Sabathia coming into the season. Yeah he struggled late, but it’s hard to hold a 24-year-old accountable like that.
SHOWING UP OUT OF SHAPE: He’s just 24, but complacency seems to have already kicked in. Hughes showed up to spring training out of shape and the Yankees had to put him in their “fat camp” just to get him ready for the season. The scary part is, this wasn’t even the first time this has happened to him.
EARLY DISASTER: It didn’t take long to realize that Hughes was not up to expectations. In his first three starts he had a 13.94 ERA over 10.1 innings. He wasn’t missing any bats as his stuff was completely flat and to make things worse he had no command whatsoever. To top it all off, he was struggling to put away the hitters he managed to get ahead on. After just three starts it was clear that they couldn’t just keep sending him out there.
PHANTOM DL: Perhaps the most alarming thing about Hughes was that his once 93-96 mph velocity dropped to more of a 89-91 mph level. There was nothing wrong with Hughes physically, but the Yankees put him on the DL and gave him anti-inflammatory medication as a precaution. After he returned from the DL his velocity rose slightly to the 91-93 mph range.
6-MAN ROTATION AND A MOVE TO THE PEN: After Hughes came back he had a decent game here and there, but never regained any level of consistency. The Yankees switched to a 6-man rotation so they wouldn’t have to give up on him and when that didn’t work, he moved to the bullpen.
VERDICT: His 2011 season was so bad that it has changed the perception of his 2010 season as well. He didn’t even pitch enough innings where he could feel like he accomplished anything at all. It’s getting to the point where some fans have given up on him and while he is still young, it’s easy to see why.
GOING FORWARD: The company line is that the Yankees still see Hughes as a starter, but that seems like something of a joke as they gave up on Joba Chamberlain for far less. Hughes’ overall stuff is underwhelming and he doesn’t appear to have a deep enough repertoire for the rotation. Unless there is a drastic change going forward, a permanent move to the bullpen may be the only way to salvage his career.