Phil Hughes Struggles: Should Joe Girardi Rethink Bullpen for World Series?

GregCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 28:  Manager Joe Girardi (L) of the New York Yankees takes Phil Hughes #65 out of the game in the top of the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game One of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 28, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Phil Hughes hasn't been his dominant self this postseason, as has been very well documented. So far, his line reads:

4.2 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 6 K.

That works out to a .557 BABIP, but it's not like he's been giving up weakly hit balls. Thirty-five percent of the batted balls against him have been line drives. Usually, I wouldn't be worried over a few bad innings. I mean, it happens to everyone.

The numbers themselves would barely change Hughes' projections, but there has been concern over his mechanics recently. Mechanics aren't something that Pitch F/X deals with, but there may be something else that Pitch F/X can show us that explains why he is struggling.

I took an aggregate collection of Hughes' September data and compared it to his October data via TexasLeaguers.com Pitch F/X tool. I'll spare you the graphs and data, because the movement on his pitches hasn't changed. His fastball, curveball, and cutter velocities and movement haven't really changed.

The question then becomes: What has changed?

Well, a few things. In September, he threw his fastball 77.8 percent of the time. In the postseason, he's thrown it 66.7 percent of the time, while almost doubling the percent of curveballs he's throwing.

So there you have it—it looks like he should just get back to throwing his fastball more.

Actually, that's probably not the case. His curveball has been extremely effective in the playoffs. Batters have swung and missed at 35 percent of the curves he's thrown, and only put 20 percent of them in play.

Hughes' fastball has been a little less effective than it was in September, but not substantially. He's thrown a few less strikes with it, and has had a slightly lower whiff rate. Those aren't causes for concern, though, as he's facing better hitters in more important games now.

The Pitch F/X data doesn't give me anything conclusive about Hughes' struggles. There are really no substantial changes.

So what is going on with Hughes? If there is nothing in the data, why has he struggled more than he did at all during the regular season? I can't answer those questions.

My best guess is that it's just a fluke, and he'll be fine going forward. That's what the numbers tell me, and the Pitch F/X data doesn't do anything to persuade me otherwise. Hughes was successful all season long; a few bad outings don't change that. Joe Girardi should still have faith in Hughes as his No. 1 setup guy.