Fantasy Baseball Hot Streaks: Phil Hughes


Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

When you look at his 2014 numbers, it’s difficult to understand why Phil Hughes is available in more leagues than he’s not. Looking at his last six starts, explaining his availability gets even tougher.

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Now, Hughes is far from a baby, so is there anything different he’s doing this year?

A big difference is that he’s no longer facing the AL East on a consistent basis. Before he actually signed with the Twins, I went over the difference in his career numbers against the AL East vs. the rest of the league. While his numbers against the AL Central weren’t great, they were significantly better.

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The move from the AL East to the AL Central is a big upgrade for pitchers, as was the move from Yankee Stadium to Target Field. So considering all of that, the uptick in production was somewhat predictable. But is there anything else to consider?

Looking at his Fangraphs page, we see that he’s using his cutter significantly more this year, which does explain a few things.

  1. Drop in Strikeouts: It’s the one big drawback of a cutter. Even if we look at the great Mariano Rivera, Hughes’ former teammate, it was not hard to find closers that struck more hitters out. While Hughes is pitching significantly better than his career numbers would suggest, he is striking out fewer hitters, which is a result of the cutter.
  2. Control: Something that Rivera always excelled at. Hughes has been well above average at throwing strikes over the last few years. But if we look at those numbers over his last six starts, the zero walks is really the first thing that jumps out. The added use of the cutter contributes to that, as cutters are generally around the plate and in the strike zone.
  3. Fewer Hits: The H/9 could still be better, even over the last six starts. But Hughes has allowed more hits than innings pitched in 2011, 2012, and 2013. So the 8.5/9 over these last six starts is a big step in the right direction. The use of the cutter definitely helps explain this. As we went over, it’s not a particularly hard pitch to make contact with, but it is difficult to hit hard.

Now, I’m a huge fan of the cutter, and of pitchers not in the American League East. If you’re not quite on board with any of those notions, another question does come up. If you’re looking for a pitching upgrade, is there a serious reason to not sign Phil Hughes? Not at all.

As we went over a few weeks ago, it always makes sense to ride the hot streaks out as they’re happening. Even a weak pitching staff shouldn’t be in such a precarious position at this point of the year that they can’t take a bad start or two. Once those happen, then it may be time to drop Hughes. But until then, I’d give anyone asking about Hughes a green light to pick him up.

Again, I like the cutter and when a pitcher begins to throw better when using it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. But you can never have too much good pitching on your fantasy team.

So unless you find yourself in the unique position of having a pitching surplus, I’d say that Phil Hughes is a guy you want around.