Phil Hughes returns to a familiar role

After a 4-13 start with a 4.86 ERA, Phil Hughes will be relegated to the bullpen and David Huff will take his spot in the rotation. Based on the inconsistency that plagued Phil Hughes’ career, there is a good chance that this will be his last year in pinstripes. If this is in fact his last run in pinstripes, this move to the bullpen could be the best scenario for him.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In his career, Phil Hughes has had more experience as a starting pitcher and one of the frustrations the Yankees and us fans have had with him is the home runs.

Starting pitcher (715.2 innings/129 games) Relief pitcher (56.1 innings/49 games)
Win-Loss Record 50-47 6-2
ERA 4.72 1.44
K (K/9) 579 (7.3) 70 (11.2)
WHIP 1.34 0.91
HR (HR/9) 109 (1.4) 2 (0.3)

The last time Phil Hughes came into a regular season game as a reliever, it was 2011. It was on September 28, in one inning against the Tampa Bay Rays, he struck out one and walked one without allowing a run. That’s not much to assess Phil Hughes’ abilities as a reliever. In 2011, Phil Hughes dealt with some arm problems and was limited to just 14 starts. In the starter role, Phil Hughes was 5-4 with a 5.90 ERA.

Phil Hughes got a longer leash on his role with 26 starts this season but the 4.86 ERA is nothing to write home about.

In his second career start, Phil Hughes had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers before he pulled his hamstring on a pitch to Mark Teixeira. It ended his bid at something special but he would flirt with it again.

In 2010, Phil Hughes had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning in Oakland before allowing the first hit to Eric Chavez. In this season, he made the All-Star roster with an 11-2 record in the first half of the season. He would finish with an 18-8 record that benefited from tremendous run support (6.75).

While Phil Hughes has had some success in the role of starting pitcher, he has been outstanding in the relief pitcher role.

Everyone is probably aware of when Phil Hughes was at his best. In 2009, the Yankees won the World Series and Phil Hughes helped get them there from the bullpen.

Phil Hughes (2009)

Starting pitcher (34.1 innings/7 games) Relief pitcher (51.1 innings/44 games)
Win-Loss Record 3-2 5-1
ERA 5.45 1.40
K (K/9) 31 (8.0) 65 (11.4)
WHIP 1.50 0.86
HR (HR/9) 6 (1.6) 2 (0.4)

From June 14 to June 26 in the 2009 season, Hughes had a scoreless streak of 21 innings. In 16 games during that time, Hughes had 25 strikeouts and just four walks.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Another problem that Phil Hughes has had this season is finding strike three to finish the batter off.

 With Two Strikes 2009 (210 PA) 2013 (318 PA)
BAA .142 .252
K 96 114
BB 14 24
K/BB 6.86 4.75

A .252 batting average against is not bad but beyond the box score, those who have endured a Phil Hughes start in 2013 knows he misses around the zone. In fact, this year Phil Hughes gets strike one a career-high 71.3% of the time. It is strike three that seems to elude him. He often works 0-2 counts up to 3-2 counts, sometimes losing the at-bat. It is a frustrating sight.

An advantage of being a reliever is you can “empty the tank” in one inning. Crank up your fastball or put that extra break on your pitch. In 2009, Hughes didn’t crank it up very high but when he did…

2009 2013 Career
Fastball velocity 93.7 92.4 92.2
Swinging strike % 10.4% 8.5% 8.4%

Once considered a highly touted prospect, drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft, even compared to Roger Clemens, (just in pitching) Phil Hughes could be counting down the days he has left in the pinstripes. Many Yankees fans cannot wait for the day they don’t see Phil Hughes.

With the tight postseason race that the Yankees are in, the Yankees need to do what gives them the best chance at making it as a Wild Card team or, can you imagine, American League East champions. If this means that Phil Hughes shouldn’t start anymore games and David Huff, or another of their franchise-record call-ups should take his spot, then it should be done. For the sake of the Yankees and Phil Hughes’ long-term success, I hope he will be able to turn back to 2009 and be a big part of the already potent Yankees bullpen.

Maybe it will be enough to bring him back in pinstripes! I know, very funny.

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Yankees fan for most of my life. Has always had a love for baseball, whether it be playing it, watching it, reading about it, or writing about it. Tweet me: @adakannayr