Former Yankee Phil Hughes made his retirement official this past Sunday.
Keyword “official” as Hughes hasn’t pitched since August of 2018 due to a string of injuries and health issues, so his tweet with the announcement came as no surprise. Despite his misfortune (matters such as thoracic outlet syndrome and line drives breaking your shin aren’t health negligence – they’re bad luck) Hughes put together a pretty good major league career and was a very valuable player for the Yankees, and later the Twins.
Hughes was a first round pick of the Yankees (23rd overall) in 2004, logged 1,291 innings and posted 11 WAR for his career (5.8 with the Yankees).
Put a pin in the first round draft pick part, we’ll come back to that…
In the Yankees championship season of 2009, Hughes logged 86 innings in mostly key spots preceding Mariano Rivera, and posted a 152 ERA+. It should be noted that those 86 innings came over 51 appearances so his value far exceeded the “come in and get one batter” variety reliever. In 33 of those 51 appearances, Hughes came in with the game tied or with the Yankees holding a lead of two runs or less.
Then in 2010 as a starter, Hughes threw 176 innings, posted a 103 ERA+ and earned himself an All-Star nod. He had a similarly good year in 2012 throwing 191 innings and posting a 101 ERA+. Quite often fans make the mistake of seeing those numbers and consider them pedestrian season performances, when they are in fact, more indicative of a very valuable player.
Look at it this way:
There are 1,458 innings in a 162 game season. 1,458 times a team gets an opportunity to score runs then has to take the field to prevent the other team form scoring. If a pitcher throws 191 innings, as Hughes did in ’12, that’s 13% of his team’s innings over the course of the season. If that pitcher posts a better than league average ERA, as Hughes did in ’12, that means your team spent 13% of the season – the equivalent of 21 games – with a competitive advantage, as he was more likely to be better than his counterpart than not.
That is a very valuable player, and it’s why you should be OK with starting pitchers who throw 250 IP at an elite level winning MVPs. I digress…
Hughes moved on to Minnesota and had his best season in 2014, posting a 111 ERA+ over 209 IP. Even more impressive, he led MLB in K/BB ratio (very rare for an AL pitcher who doesn’t face other pitchers) and also posted the lowest BB per 9 in baseball (0.7 BB per 9…!) The performance was good enough for him to finish 7th in what was a loaded season for AL starters deserving of Cy Young award attention.
Despite the injuries cutting short what would have been an even better career, Hughes was a valuable piece of some very good teams, and I hope he’s remembered as such by the fans. (He earned $67 million over the course of his career, which should tell you something about how valuable the front office numbers crunchers thought he was.)
I hope we get to see him at Old Timer’s Day soon. Hopefully breaking Swisher’s bat with a cutter on the hands.
But before we part, let’s revisit Hughes being a 1st round draft pick of the Yankees:
The Yankees have had 32 first round draft picks on Brian Cashman’s watch. Of those 32 players drafted, here are the WAR leaders, as Yankees:
I’m leaving that without comment. I’ll see myself out…
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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