Phil Hughes: 10 Reasons the New York Yankee Will Be an All-Star Again in 2012

Joe Acampado@@AwesomepadoCorrespondent IApril 6, 2012

Phil Hughes: 10 Reasons the New York Yankee Will Be an All-Star Again in 2012

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    Just about everyone seems to be picking Phil Hughes to be the New York Yankees' breakout player.  

    Hughes has made great strides since having dead arm troubles last season.  He was an All-Star in 2010, when he went 18-8, and is looking to reach that status again.

    Last season, Hughes showed up out of shape and with an arm that couldn't hit 90 mph.  He was shut down with a dead arm after three miserable outings.  Hughes came back and slowly started getting back to form.

    In the offseason, he continued to work to get back to his 2010 form.  This spring, he showed up in shape and demonstrated to everyone why he was once the Yankees' top pitching prospect.

    Hughes is looking to capitalize on his success in spring training and be the Yankees' No. 2 pitcher.  If he can do that, then he'll be an All-Star in 2012 for sure.  

    Here's how and why he'll do it.

Health, Health, Health

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    I can't emphasize enough the importance of health in baseball, or any sport.  You can't play if you're always getting hurt.  Even the best player and the best team know one injury could derail a season.

    Phil Hughes is finally healthy and in shape.  He's also showing what he can do when his health is at its best. It's allowing him to have peace of mind when on the mound.  

    Hughes isn't compensating for an injury or trying to hide it.  He's just going out there and pitching.  And he's pitching pretty well.

    Good health allows pitchers to go deeper into ball games.  That means better chances for getting a win.  More innings also means more stats, possibly more strikeouts and a lower WHIP and ERA.

    The way Hughes has been pitching, if he can take the mound every five days, he'll have no trouble racking up All-Star stats.

A Stronger Bullpen

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    Back in 2010, the only sure thing in the New York Yankees bullpen was the ageless Mariano Rivera.

    Joba Chamberlain was a shell of what he was in 2007-2008.  David Robertson was still an unknown who was known for striking out some hitters while also allowing runs.  Rafael Soriano was still closing for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    This season, however, Robertson has proven that he can handle the setup job, and Soriano is a solid addition to the bridge to Rivera.  Once Chamberlain becomes healthy and rejoins the team, the bullpen will be that much stronger.

    The Yankees have one of the best bullpens in baseball.  They have the best in the AL East.  

    The Rays and the Boston Red Sox are without their closers for the start of the season.  The other two teams are the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles—let's just say that their teams aren't known for their bullpens.

    A stronger bullpen means Phil Hughes will be in line for more wins.  The bullpen won't be blowing that many leads.  Robertson and Soriano can get the hold, while Rivera comes in to close the game out and get the save.

A Fiercer Lineup

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    No pitcher is an island.  All pitchers need the backing of their lineup.  

    Unfortunately for Phil Hughes, the core of the New York Yankees lineup is a year older.  Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will be visited by Father Time once again this season, which means a natural regression in their abilities.

    Not helping matters is the 40-year-old Raul Ibanez.  Sure, this is an older lineup, but that doesn't necessarily mean everyone's getting worse.

    Curtis Granderson had a career year last season and will likely fall back to what is considered his norm.  He won't fall drastically, however, and will still be one of the game's most feared hitters.

    Mark Teixeira is still a home run and RBI machine, even if he can't solve the shift every manager puts on him.  He'll continue to smash towering home runs into right field.

    Robinson Cano had a down year for him but a good year by anyone else's standards.  He's ready to take that next step and be the Yankees' best hitter in name, on paper and in real life.  

    Everyone knows he can; we're just waiting.

    To a lesser extent, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez will be contributors to the offensive production of the lineup.  Gardner is going to steal bases and score runs.  Nunez will be filling in at shortstop or third base whenever Jeter or A-Rod needs a rest from playing the field.  

    This year's lineup is stronger with more options than just waiting for A-Rod or Teixeira to hit a home run.  A strong lineup means more runs.  More runs means more wins.  Hughes will love the runs his lineup gives him.

His 2011 Second-Half Resurgence

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    Before the All-Star break: 0-2, 10.57 ERA, 15.1 IP, 5 SO, 6 BB, .368 BAA

    After it: 5-3, 4.55 ERA, 59.1 IP, 42 SO, 21 BB, .258 BAA

    Hidden in that second-half ERA is the 1.84 ERA that Phil Hughes posted in 14.2 innings in September.

    Hughes was getting better toward the end of last season, and he continued to do so in the offseason.  All that hard work finally started paying off in spring training.

    Most baseball players, especially the younger ones, are less inclined to noticeably regress from an improvement from the previous season.  Pitchers generally find what works for them and stick to that in the next season.

    After all, if it's making them successful, why change it?

    Hughes didn't lose any of his improvements. At this rate, he will continue to improve to All-Star status.

The Return of His Fastball

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    At the start of last season, Phil Hughes was having trouble hitting 90 mph.  At all, not just consistently.  

    Hughes couldn't hit 90 mph with his fastball even if his job depended on it, and it did.

    Hughes was hovering around the upper 80s on his best days, topping out at around 89 mph.  This was due to shoulder fatigue and inflammation from having his role on the team played around with. 

    His arm couldn't handle the sudden innings jump.  Again, it's important to stay healthy.

    The New York Yankees placed him on the DL to rest the arm and see if he could get back to his usual 92-93 mph mark.  He did, and he's been better ever since.

    Hughes can throw his fastball both inside and outside with good velocity.  Solid control of his fastball will allow him to get hitters out and also make all of his other pitches better.  His fastball is also a little faster this year, as he can consistently get it up to 93 mph.

    Every pitcher needs his fastball to help him be successful.  Hughes' fastball is back and even better than before.  He'll have no trouble getting outs and raking in the wins.

See If You Can Hit This Curve

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    Back in the minors, Phil Hughes was primarily a fastball/curve pitcher.  He still is, but he tinkered with his curveball once in the majors.

    The curveball he was using was a spike curve similar to Mike Mussina's or A.J. Burnett's.  The spike curve didn't work well for him—Hughes' other pitches couldn't complement it, and the pitch couldn't get many people out.

    In the minors, Hughes used a 12-to-6 curve with a solid break.  He's started using that again, and it's clear that this is the better curve for him.  

    When paired with his better fastball, it'll get outs when he needs them.

    Hughes started using a cutter more often in the majors, but he's better as a fastball/curve pitcher.  The cutter is still good (more on that later), but his curveball is what he needs to rely on to be successful.

    If he can continue to improve his fastball and curveball, then he'll be one of the better pitchers in the majors.  Becoming an All-Star will be an easy feat for him.

The Rest of His Pitches

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    A cutter and changeup rounds out Phil Hughes' repertoire.  

    A successful pitcher needs at least four pitches, including two strong ones to rely on.  These are the pitcher's go-to signature pitches.  The other two complement those two and are to keep the hitters off balance later on in the game.

    A two-pitch starter can't be successful, because the hitter will easily recognize his pitches the longer the pitcher stays in the game.  The best pitchers pitch late into ballgames and need those pitches to get hitters out.

    Hughes' cutter was once his favorite pitch.  Luckily, he went back to his curveball, but his cutter's not that bad of a pitch.  He just overused it, and hitters took advantage of that.

    The cutter has a good, tight break which can induce ground balls.  His changeup is a straight change that is thrown to fool hitters.  It isn't an out pitch; it's just something different for hitters to look at.

    These pitches make his improved fastball look even better.  That's a good thing, since he's going to need to rely on his fastball if he's going to become an All-Star.

The Competition

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    There is only a select number of All-Star spots.  True, MLB seems to keep adding more every year, but it's still a relatively small number compared to how many players are in the MLB.

    Once you take out the perennial All-Stars, such as CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Evan Longoria and Albert Pujols, you're left with a bunch of guys who either had a good first half and deserve to be All-Stars, or a first half good enough to be considered and thrown in.

    Phil Hughes definitely doesn't fit into the latter category.  Just look at all of the other pitchers in the league.  Outside of the aces, how many of them are as good or better than Hughes and have a good enough team to back them?

    Looking at the AL East alone, Jon Lester or Josh Beckett will likely be an All-Star, maybe even both.  

    Then there's David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, who will likely follow James Shields to the All-Star Game.  Ricky Romero is the Toronto Blue Jays' ace and will be an All-Star barring any drastic setbacks.

    Other than those guys, there are not many pitchers in the New York Yankees' division to challenge Hughes for a spot on the AL All-Star roster.  Even position players, outside of the elites, won't really be a threat to Hughes' spot as long as he can continue to pitch well.

    Hughes doesn't belong in the top tier of pitchers, but he's making a strong case to join the second tier.  

    Once the top-tier pitchers and position players are in (and there aren't many of them), those in the second tier will fill up the rest of the spots.

He's Better Than He Was in 2010

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    2010 was Phil Hughes' best season.  Sure, we're only working with a small sample that is compounded by the fact that he was playing musical chairs with being in the rotation and in the bullpen.

    Hughes went 18-8 with an ERA of 4.19 and a WHIP of 1.25, and was also an All-Star that season.

    People seem to place a lot of importance on Hughes' 2010 season and make it his peak.  A closer look at the season reveals Hughes was great for two months, good for the next two weeks, fluctuated from solid to bad for the next month-and-a-half before being kind of good for the rest of the season.

    Hughes had an ERA of 2.54 at the beginning of June.  By the end of June, his ERA had climbed to 3.58, and by the end of July, it was 4.07.  Needless to say, Phil Hughes wasn't exactly a great pitcher all season long.

    This year, Hughes' fastball and curveball are better.  He's healthy.  His shoulder's fine.  He doesn't have to worry about being sent to the bullpen.  Hughes is just going to go out there every five days and pitch.

    In spring training, people, myself included, were saying that he was back to his 2010 form.  What I meant was that he was back to his form of the first two months of 2010.  

    With his overall improvements, Hughes will be better than he was in 2010 and will be an All-Star for sure.

The Potential Is Still There

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    Back in 2007, Phil Hughes was the New York York Yankees' top prospect.  

    He was heralded as the savior of a thin rotation and was supposed to be part of the youth movement, along with Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, that would set up the rotation for the future.

    Five years later, many believe he won't reach that potential.  He'll still be a solid, maybe even good pitcher, but most don't believe he'll ever become the Yankees' future ace.

    While he won't be the ace thanks to CC Sabathia, he can still be a great pitcher.  Everything's still there; he just has to put it all together.  

    Injuries and playing around with his role on the team hurt his potential.  Hughes is slowly starting to climb back to the pitcher he should've been.  

    He still has the potential to be a No. 2 starter with the way he's been pitching.  If he becomes the Yankees' No. 2, then he'll easily be an All-Star.