By Tommy Rancel //
Coming off his worst start of the season, Phil Hughes looks to rebound tonight against the Oakland Athletics. Sure, the five runs allowed in 3.2 innings last time out hurt fantasy owners, but it may have bought you more time with the Yankees’ young righty. While some suggest New York should be counting pitches thrown (102 pitches in his short 3.2 inning outing) and not innings, the common belief is Hughes is on an innings limit rather than a pitch limit. There is no public number, but that limit is believed to be around 170-180 innings.
In 2010, Hughes has thrown just under 145 innings. That is up from the 105 (combined major and minor leagues) he threw last season. That potentially leaves fantasy owners with 25-35 innings of Hughes to work with. We don’t know if they will all be starts, or if he makes a couple more starts and then shifts to the bullpen. There is a good chance, though, that those will be above-average innings.
Despite last week’s bump in the road, Hughes is still 15-6 with a 4.12 ERA. According to fielding independent pitching (FIP), which measures home runs allowed, walks, and strikeouts, he has actually been a tick better (4.02 FIP) than his ERA. His 7.61 strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) is slightly above average. Moreover, he does a good job of limiting walks (2.68 per nine). His home run rate is so-so at 1.18/9 IP, with some of that number attributable to his home ballpark being a launching pad for left-handed hitters.
If Hughes remains a starter, you might be able squeeze two or three wins out of him in the four or five starts he has left. On the other hand, if he splits his time between the rotation and the bullpen, hi ratios might actually improve.
*Phil Hughes Year-To-End Projections by Bloomberg Sports
Hughes did dual duty in the major leagues during the 2009 season. He made 44 appearances in relief, but also made seven starts. In his time as a reliever, he had a 1.44 ERA and struck out 65 batters in 51.1 innings. That translates into a K/9 of 11.43 – a number generally reserved for the elite.
Regardless of what the Yankees do, make sure Hughes remains in your plans as we shift our focus toward the playoffs. That said, make sure you have a contingency plan as well. For that, look no further than Hughes’ teammate Ivan Nova.
The 23-year-old right-hander has made four appearances for the Yankees – including two starts. He sports a shiny 1.93 ERA and his 2.89 FIP isn’t too shabby either. With Andy Pettitte injured, A.J. Burnett struggling, and Javier Vazquez in the pen, there is a chance that Nova remains in the Yankees rotation through September.
Looking at his peripheral stats, Nova’s K/9 (7.07), BB/9 (1.29), and HR/9 (0.56) suggest the kid is not just throwing hard (94.1 mph average), but also pitching well. Of course, these are small-sample size number. Still, with five or six starts left this season, pitching for a team that offers plenty of run support, Nova’s a decent pickup, especially if your league is deeper than the standard mixed format.
For more on Phil Hughes and other young starters facing innings limits, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.