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Phil Hughes is thriving in Minnesota (and away from New York)

May 22, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

Phil Hughes Getty Getty Images

Once upon a time Phil Hughes was the best pitching prospect in baseball, but his Yankees career came to a disappointing end last season as he went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 146 innings before hitting the open market as a free agent.

Minnesota signed Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract anyway, believing that getting out of New York would help him rediscover the potential he once had as a prospect. And so far at least it’s gone exactly according to plan for the Twins.

Hughes tossed seven shutout innings against the Padres last night to improve to 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA, including a fantastic 47/6 K/BB ratio in 54 innings. That strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is right around Hughes’ career mark of 7.6, but the walk rate is totally uncharacteristic.

Last season Hughes walked 2.6 batters per nine innings and his career walk rate is 2.7 per nine innings. This year he’s walked 1.0 per nine innings and Hughes is currently on a streak of 147 consecutive batters without issuing a walk. That includes five straight zero-walk starts, during which time Hughes is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA and 27/0 K/BB ratio in 33 innings.

It’s early still, but so far $24 million for three seasons is looking like one of the offseason’s best investments.

  1. proudlycanadian - May 22, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    The comment “Once upon a time Phil Hughes was the best pitching prospect in baseball” sounds like a fairy tale to me. Everyone else knows that the best prospect was Joba Chamberlain rather than Hughes.

    • happytwinsfan - May 22, 2014 at 3:36 PM

      I thought it was Phil Coke.

      • pete2112 - May 22, 2014 at 3:48 PM

        Actually, it we’re talking about this time period, it was Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes and Joba.

      • happytwinsfan - May 22, 2014 at 4:02 PM

        I only thought of Coke because he’s my favorite Tigers pitcher, and I’m guessing PC has similarly fond memories of Joba.

      • dcarroll73 - May 22, 2014 at 10:20 PM

        Nice pete, you beat me to it. My first thought with this riff was Kennedy. He certainly has the best resume so far. As a Yanks fan, I wish Hughes nothing but the best except against the Yanks (or if against all odds the Twins make it to the Series and oppose my other team – the Giants – hey, I am old enough that I still think of it as two separate leagues, and I get to have a favorite in each league – and in my old brain still two NY teams.)

    • Kevin S. - May 22, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      No, in 2007 it was Hughes on top. Joba wasn’t considered the better prospect until those twenty-four innings down the stretch.

    • Kevin S. - May 22, 2014 at 3:53 PM

      In 2007, Phil Hughes was #4 on Baseball America’s list, #2 on B-Bro’s, and #4 for Keith Law.

      • proudlycanadian - May 22, 2014 at 5:08 PM

        Kindly do not let facts interfere with a nice narrative.

    • ctony1216 - May 23, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      Funny story about Joba … Last Sunday night at Fenway Park, Joba gets up in the visitor’s bullpen and starts warming up. Right away, a few Red Sox fans start yapping at him. Moments later, the entire right field section starts chanting “Yankees Suck!” “Yankees Suck!” at Joba, who hears them and starts laughing. He grabs his Tigers’ jersey with the word “DETROIT” on the front and shows the fans (see, it says Detroit!). Fans keep chanting Yankees Suck. Joba shouts at Torii Hunter, who’s playing near the bullpen in right field, and Joba asks Torii “WTF?”. Hunter shrugs his shoulders and they both laugh it off. Joba was very cool about it. He pitched a shutout inning too.

  2. pete2112 - May 22, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me. As a Yankees fan, we’ve seen this before with countless players that were either signed, were traded here or brought up through the organization as in Phil’s case. While some players thrive in the pressure of playing for the Yankees, others just never can get past that hump. I always look back to when Kenny Rogers became a Yankee and how he never seemed comfortable playing in this type of environment as a good example of this. As for Phil, no hard feelings at all as I think he seems like a nice guy and I’m glad he’s finding success, finally.

    • Bryz - May 22, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      I’m not sure if it’s the pressure or not. Personally, I think just getting out of Yankee Stadium is what’s helping him. However, shortly after arriving in Minnesota, Hughes did comment on how the media was far more mellow than in New York.

    • peymax1693 - May 22, 2014 at 4:13 PM

      He had flashes of brilliance like he is apparently showing in Minnesota, but then things would inexplicably go south. Remember the mysterious “dead arm” that he had for pretty much all of 2011?

      • jfk69 - May 22, 2014 at 6:45 PM

        Dead arm…Yankee speak for crappy performance without diminishing trade value.

      • Kevin S. - May 23, 2014 at 6:25 AM

        Yes, the Yankees are the only team to diagnose their pitchers with dead arm.

    • ctony1216 - May 23, 2014 at 8:16 AM

      As a Yankees fan, I’ve always wondered why these pitchers can’t make it in New York. I have about 5 different theories:
      1. short porch in RF; 2. the Media (“So, why did you suck so bad again today?”); 3. Lousy pitching coach; 4. Obnoxious fans (they start booing after warm-up pitches); 5. The Yankee thing — when you’re in NY, you have to “be” a Yankee, and when you leave, you can just pitch.

      Nice to see Hughes do well in Minnesota, just like it’s nice to see A.J. do well in Pittsburgh last year.

  3. happytwinsfan - May 22, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    Every time a Twins pitcher fails, there’s a crowd of local wanna be general managers ready to call Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson an idiot. Does this make him a genius? Did he “fix” Hughes instead of wrecking him with “pitch to contact”, “Twins way”, folly.

    Gloat, gloat.

    • tuberippin - May 23, 2014 at 9:36 PM

      Counterpoint: The Twins also signed Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Correia this past off-season. So it’s a 33% success rate so far…

  4. nolanwiffle - May 22, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    To quote Snake Plissken in “Escape From New York” (and I’m paraphrasing here)…..”F***k you, I’m going to Minneapolis.”

    • pete2112 - May 22, 2014 at 3:46 PM


  5. dluxxx - May 22, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    I’m telling you it’s the beard. He musta had some sort of weird facial tic that kept tipping his pitches, and hitters don’t see it now with the beard. Or he’s like Sampson only with facial hair, or something like that.

    Or, maybe he’s just happy to be able to drink tap water and breath the air.

    • pete2112 - May 22, 2014 at 3:53 PM

      Hey, it’s not that bad in NY. They pump in fresh air to the stadium so all of the corporate guys in their box seats are comfortable.

    • Kevin S. - May 22, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      The tap water in New York is incredibly clean. The air you’ve got me on.

      • sportsfan18 - May 22, 2014 at 6:58 PM

        all those 100 yr plus old water mains, that break and have leaks… What’s leaking into your water on it’s way to you?

      • ltzep75 - May 22, 2014 at 8:24 PM

        The tap in NY is pretty far from incredibly clean.

      • Kevin S. - May 22, 2014 at 9:19 PM

        There are other links, but really, even cursory research would tell you NYC is known for its quality tap water.

    • dluxxx - May 22, 2014 at 3:59 PM

      It was an Atmosphere reference.

  6. 18thstreet - May 22, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Do we really know that it was the pressure of playing in New York that overwhelmed him? It seems to me that Phil Hughes could probably walk down the streets of Manhattan without being bothered, whereas in a smaller city, a player like Phil Hughes is a gigantic celebrity.

    Maybe he got better coaching. Maybe he has a better catcher. Let me be clear: I have no idea. But I have my doubts that this is simply about “getting out from the big city lights.”

    • pete2112 - May 22, 2014 at 3:56 PM

      I agree with you. It could be anything or it could be just as simple as a change in scenery. Having said that, it’s still very early in the season. Let’s not get carried away here with his start. He’s had good starts in the past…. although not many stringed together.

    • Kevin S. - May 22, 2014 at 3:57 PM

      The walk rate went from pretty good to microscopic, and the fly balls (which he’s still giving up at basically the same rate) have predictably stopped leaving the yard.

      • dluxxx - May 22, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        That second part is key.

    • lukedunphysscienceproject - May 22, 2014 at 4:10 PM

      When people talk about the pressure of playing in New York, they’re really not talking about the celebrity fish bowl effect. You’re right, just about anyone on the Yankees short of Derek Jeter could walk around the streets of Manhattan and not be bothered.

      The problem, IMO, is the media and talk radio. They are brutal. What he couldn’t do in Manhattan is walk a block without seeing a headline in 3 inch letters saying what a piece of garbage he was or walk by a radio without hearing a caller suggesting that he throw himself off a bridge. Some guys can take it, some guys can’t.

      I had a feeling Hughes would bounce back once he got out. I’m happy for him.

      • lukedunphysscienceproject - May 22, 2014 at 4:15 PM

        Not looking for any credit by saying I predicted Hughes would bounce back…..I thought Joba would too, and I’m not looking so good on that call.

      • peymax1693 - May 22, 2014 at 4:17 PM

        I also think he probably isn’t dealing with several members of the media sticking recorders in his face and repeatedly asking him why he doesn’t win more.

    • shaggylocks - May 22, 2014 at 4:14 PM

      Yes, I’m sure he can walk down the street unmolested in New York, but the Minnesota media is surely less rabid than the New York media. I grew up in New York and my wife’s family is from Minnesota, so, if the media pressures in those two cities are anything like my Thanksgiving dinners, I imagine the MN media is much more polite and less in your face about any new tattoos and/or piercings. So there’s that.

      • dluxxx - May 22, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        Nope, they’re probably just saying “That’s Interesting” which is Minnesota for “I hate it.” Welcome to the land of Passive Aggressive.

        Me? I’m just aggressively passive…

      • happytwinsfan - May 22, 2014 at 5:34 PM

        We don’t ask about tattoos or piercings. We silently condemn them.

      • shaggylocks - May 23, 2014 at 3:35 PM

        EXACTLY. The talk radio hosts would be all, “Hmmm, that was an interesting inning Hughes had last night when he walked in the winning run. Not the way I’d do it, but I’m sure he’s trying really hard and feels bad about it. But his posture is improving, and he looks so handsome when he stands up straight!”

  7. rathipon - May 22, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    Extreme fly ball pitchers and Yankee Stadium are not always a great combination. That might have something to do with it too..

    • highpowered350 - May 22, 2014 at 4:38 PM

      He sucked in Old Yankee Stadium also

      • Kevin S. - May 22, 2014 at 9:13 PM

        He pitched less than 50 innings at the old stadium, all prior to his 23rd birthday.

  8. shaggylocks - May 22, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Okay, but what’s his Tango W/L record this season?

  9. wilmyers09 - May 22, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    proudlycanadian Hughes was the best prospect and joba was second

  10. barrywhererufrom - May 22, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    It is easy to pitch in those non pressure starts like he does in the twin cities. Finally the marriage of a pitcher who led the league in fly balls was not going to work at Yankee Stadium. This situation kind of reminds me of the Ian Kennedy situation. Finally we know what Kennedy has done after his first succesful season away from the Yankees. I hope for Hughes sake that he doesn’t morph back into an average pitcher once again..

    • mikhelb - May 22, 2014 at 5:18 PM

      Ian, Pavano, Burnett are just three names of recent pitchers to suck in the NYY but have more or less good seasons away from the pressure cooker that is NY.

      • genericcommenter - May 22, 2014 at 6:14 PM

        Well, in some of those cases it’s probably not so much NY as it is the AL East and the stadiums.

    • happytwinsfan - May 22, 2014 at 5:38 PM

      “Non pressure starts”? Excuse me, but we do prefer to win games as often as possible.

      • genericcommenter - May 22, 2014 at 6:13 PM

        Yeah, but pitchers don’t win games.

  11. miguelcairo - May 22, 2014 at 6:23 PM

    What the hell Phil.

  12. jfk69 - May 22, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    If you put him in Citi field he would an all star. By the same token Granderson away from that short right field porch looks like an 8 million dollar ball player. Not the 15 million the Mets are paying.
    When you play 81 games at home. It would make too much sense to tailor your ball players to the home field.

  13. echech88 - May 22, 2014 at 7:02 PM

    I had a feeling this would happen kind of like it did with Pavano going to the Twins.

    Only problem is that if the Twins ever get to the postseason, these types of players that thrive outside the spotlight usually crumble when the light is back on them.

    • jfk69 - May 22, 2014 at 8:00 PM

      Your point is valid. The intangible is. Some of these players now have a new found confidence that that carries them thru where as before they would immediately crumble.

  14. bmadormo - May 23, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    Good for Hughes
    His pitching style just did not match up with Yankee stadium. All those fly balls left the park.
    His best work was his time in the bullpen. It was time for him and the Yankees to move on from each other

  15. 4cornersfan - May 23, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    Phil is a fly ball pitcher (2 to 1 ratio FB/GB). This does not go well in Yankee Stadium, something that you would think should have occurred to the yankees. He always had good stuff, just too many HR. In the big parks in Minn. and other teams in their division he is going to have success

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