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.
By Bloomberg Sports://
Man vs. Machine: Episode 5 — In a special from Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures, Mets legend Keith Hernandez sits down with Bloomberg Television’s Michele Steele and Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw, to discuss the Fantasy Bulls and Bears for the second half of the season. In the fifth episode, the focus is on pitchers.
Today’s Position: Pitchers
The Machine (Bloomberg Sports) says:
Dan Haren is one of the best pitchers in baseball. While his WHIP and ERA were up significantly in the first half, his underlying statistics tell a different story. His BABIP of .339 is well above average and should regress in the second half.
Don’t expect the 3.14 ERA of last season, when Haren posted an abnormally low .270 BABIP, but expect regression to the mean, which will help improve his WHIP and ERA from here on out.
Haren gave up more than his share of home runs in the first half. His career high in home runs allowed is 31, and batters have already hit 19 against him this year. Combined with the expected regression in BABIP, Haren should post excellent numbers during the second half and the Bloomberg Sports computer thinks he could be a steal.
Luke Gregerson is a different kind of bull. He hasn’t gotten unlucky (his BABIP is in fact extremely low for the season at .204 and should come up) but he is undervalued in fantasy leagues nonetheless.
His phenomenal 11.0 K/9 and 0.73 WHIP can really buoy your fantasy pitching staff, a point previously discussed by Eriq Gardner on the Bloomberg Sports Blog (http://mlblogsbloombergsports.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/pitchers74.jpgarchives/2010/03/true-value-of-great-relievers-unfinished.html).
Gregerson had a rough end to the first half of the season, but his overall numbers were fantastic and he could contribute greatly from an often overlooked spot – middle reliever. Gregerson could also get some occasional save opportunities in the second half which would increase his value even more; in keeper leagues, he’s a good bet as the Padres’ future closer and Heath Bell‘s heir apparent.
The Man (Keith Hernandez) says:
“I like Jair Jurrjens, who has missed most of the first half of the season for the Braves. He is a pitcher who has a fine track record; has always been successful. The Braves were wise to keep him out almost the entire first half. I look for Jurrjens to really give the Braves a boost and have a terrific second half.”
“I love Francisco Cordero. The Reds are a ball club that can hit and he will have a lot of save opportunities. He’s a veteran, his ERA has been in the fours, but it won’t be at the end of the season. I’m putting my money with Francisco Cordero.”
The Machine (Bloomberg Sports) says:
Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the top pitchers in baseball. But the Bloomberg Sports computer doubts that he can continue to dominate at quite the same level. This makes him a sell-high candidate. His 8.0 K/9 leaves him just short of elite territory, while his .248 BABIP goes far in explaining his .197 batting average against and 2.20 ERA, which should regress in the second half.
Jimenez’s greatest value so far is in the wins category, where he leads the league with 15. Wins, however, are extremely difficult to predict, because they rely so much on run support and defensive support. The Bloomberg Sports computer only projects an 8-5 record for Jimenez in the second half of the season. That would still leave him with an astounding 23 wins for the year, but also far short of the 15 wins he compiled during the first half.
Matt Capps is another pitcher who has sterling statistics so far. After a rough season last year where he compiled a 5.80 ERA, he has that number down to 3.18. Combine that with a .358 BABIP in the first half (which should go down) and it might be somewhat puzzling that we have him as a bear for the second half.
Capps does not have an elite strikeout rate for a closer (7.4 K/9), which limits his value to some extent.
Saves depend a lot on the situation and are not directly under the player’s control. Bloomberg Sports sees Capps accruing only 12 more saves during the second half of the year, half of his first half tally.
Capps is another player who could find himself traded. If this happens, he could easily end up as a set-up on a contending team, in which case he could see even fewer saves. Sell high on Capps now before these questions catch up with him.
The Man (Kieth Hernandez) says:
“I’ll go with the Yankees Phil Hughes who got off to a fabulous start. He’s a curveball pitcher, but still very young. He’s still learning and this season is going to wear on him.”
“I’m [also] looking down at Florida with Leo Nunez, who has developed a new pitch, a change-up. He throws very hard, but has fallen in love with that change-up. This is one of the worst bullpens in baseball. I see the batters catching up with the change-up and giving Leo a lot of trouble.”
by Eno Sarris //
Any time a pitcher has an early-season ERA more than two-and-a-half runs lower than their career ERA, the easy tendency is to attribute the success to luck. And to some extent, this is true – it’s very, very rare for a 4.00 ERA pitcher to put up a full season with a 2.50 ERA. But young pitchers also make strides, and real progress shouldn’t be discounted. Where does Phil Hughes fall in this spectrum? If you look at the spider graph below from Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools, he’s certainly looking good right now.
First, let’s tackle the low-hanging fruit. Batters have a .162 batting average on balls in play against Hughes right now. That number will regress toward the .286 career BABIP that Hughes has accumulated. That means more dinks and dunks and line drives past outstretched gloves – and more runs. Hughes has also stranded 87.4% of his batters on base; MLB average for that largely luck-based stat is usually around 70% MLB-wide. So we know that some correction is on the way with Hughes.
But Hughes has also made some legitimate strides. Check out Hughes’ fastball velocity on FanGraphs; much was made of an initial drop in his velocity, from the mid-90s to a less exciting 91 MPH. Then the team moved him to the bullpen, where pitchers traditionally add about 0.7 miles per hour in velocity according to this study by Jeremy Greenhouse. In the bullpen, Hughes’ fastball started crossing the plate at an average velocity of 93.7 MPH, making him an outlier in terms of adding gas. The good news is that Hughes is currently starting and he retained some of that extra oomph, as he’s averaging 92.4 MPH this year.
Typically, when trying to get at the true talent of a pitcher that is suffering from either bad or good luck, it helps to look at a players’ FIP (fielding-independent pitching). This number strips out BABIP, strand rate, park effects, defensive impact and other factors to get at what a pitcher “should” be putting up in an ERA scale. Hughes’ FIP right now is 3.14, based mainly on his excellent strikeout rate (8.64 K/9). But if you look at Hughes’ xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching), you’ll see that he’s sporting a more moderate 4.26 number. What gives?
Hughes’ xFIP takes into account that the home run per flyball rate across baseball comes in between 9-11% and that few pitchers stray far outside of this range. But right now, Hughes has a 3.3% HR/FB rate. Even regressing that towards his low career 7.5% number would mean more home runs are on the way.
Wait, you might say – Hughes has a 0.27 HR/9 in 300+ minor league innings, and a 0.83 HR/9 in the majors. Why can’t he limit the number of home runs he gives up? Well, once the ball is in the air he has less control. About one of every 10 fly balls leaves the park across baseball, and that number holds steady, which has spawned more than one impassioned plea for the use of xFIP over FIP. The best way to limit home runs is to keep the ball on the ground, that much we can understand. Hughes is a flyball pitcher with a low groundball rate (36.2% this year). He doesn’t fit the homer-suppression profile.
Rest-of-season projections that use this knowledge of home run rates predict that Hughes will put up about a 4.3 ERA from here on out. This sounds like a big letdown, but it would still result in an ERA around 3.70 for the year. If you told a Hughes owner that he would get a 3.70 ERA with a WHIP under 1.3 and almost one strikeout per inning from his pitcher by the end of the year, he’d be thrilled. Unless you get a knockout sell-high offer on Hughes, hang onto him.
For more on Phil Hughes, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.