Phil Hughes is Already an Ace

CC Sabathia and his 7 year-$161MM contract? Expensive but proving worthwhile after winning a championship in his first year. He clearly could afford the Sizzler after hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy (Shakespearean aside: Really MLB? Does your marketing department suck to the point that you can’t even name your championship trophy something cool? I mean, your satellite package sucks, you don’t allow footage to be posted on youtube, and Bud can’t do the right thing by invoking the “for the betterment of the game” clause and giving my man Armando Galarraga his deserved perfect game. It’s like the whole league is stuck in some bizarro universe where they want to piss off their fans. I’ve now successfully raised my blood pressure 20 points thanks to this digression.)

AJ Burnett and his 5 year-$82.5 MM contract? Supposedly in line with the market for a number two starter. (Boy, did I pick the wrong profession.) The man has obviously spent a good portion of his salary on pie and plastic WWE championship belts.

Javier Vazquez, his $11.5MM contract, and losing Melky Cabrera and Arodys Vizcaino (who in 12 games of A ball for the Braves is 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA, a .995 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9)? Totally not worth the ransom to get the guy who is the equivalent of a 12 year old who dominates dodge-ball when playing against 10 year olds but goes home with a bloody noise when he plays against kids his own age and size.

Andy Pettitte and his one year-$11.75MM contact? What looked to be a lifetime achievement award is turning into a bargain. However, while a 7-1 record with a 2.47 ERA looks nice, his peripherals indicate regression may occur. A 6.29 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, and .86 HR/9 (numbers that Zips predicts will only get worse) equate to a xFIP of 3.99. While I love what Andy has been able to do, I think he might need to start using that bible for prayer instead of pitching it (pun intended!) in infomercials to stay at his current pace.

Which brings us to the Yankees supposed number five starter. While his blog is no longer as cool as it once was, Phil Hughes has never been such a hoss on the mound. This year, the soon to be 24 year old pitcher, is rocking a 7-1 record and 2.54 ERA. Pettitte, whose boasts the same record and slightly better ERA, cannot come close to comparing to Hughes’ peripherals: 9.05 K/9, 2.83 BB/9 (OK because his K-Rate is so high), and only .57 HR/9. That equates to a 3.60 xFIP — and if you don’t like the home run adjustment xFIP makes then a 2.85 FIP! To exhibit the starting-pitchers-are-infinitely-more-valuable-than-relievers argument, Hughes already has a 1.9 WAR this year. Last year, when he was mowing down the opposition like Kobiyashi Joey Chestnut does hot dogs, he only accumulated 2.2 WAR. He truly has taken the next step.

But why? What did he learn in his time in the ‘pen that is allowing him to excel as a starter? He has learned the power of the force attacking the strike zone. He is no longer playing cute with his off-speed stuff — mainly his excellent curve ball — which only remains excellent when thrown at the correct frequency. He has gone from throwing the hook 22.9% of his pitches in 2008 to just 13% in 2010. Making up for the loss is his new super-duper cutter taught to him by none other than Mariano Rivera (aka The Cutter God…its true — l think Homer wrote about him). Hughes throws his new pitch of mass destruction 24.7% of the time at rate of nearly 2 runs above average per 100 times thrown. By attacking the zone with the hard stuff, Hughes has gotten ahead of hitters and controlled at-bats allowing him to use his 12 to 6 curve at the opportune times.

If I had the chance to vote for the AL All-Star starter I would choose Phil Hughes. Some may make the argument for David Price, but I would tell them to check the peripherals. Hughes has been the most dominant force in the AL to date, and if he is not the AL ace come July 13, he has at least become the Yankees’ ace.

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