Pitchf/x Thoughts: Switching Roles Part 2 - Phil Hughes

ARLINGTON TX - OCTOBER 22: Phil Hughes #65 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers in Game Six of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22 2010 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Phil Hughes


So Last week I took a look at Joba Chamberlain to see if there was a difference in his pitches as a reliever compared to as a starter, and if that resulted in different results.  The answer was: yeah the pitches seemed maybe to be faster, but it's hard to tie that directly to the improvement of his statistics in 2010.

Phil Hughes did the Reverse of Joba:  Whereas Joba used 09 to convert from reliever to starter and then converted back in 2010, Hughes went from starter to reliever in 2009 before converting back to a starter this past year.  How did his pitches change?  Did he drop/add a pitch in either role?  And can we trace the changes in results (Hughes was moderately, but not greatly, worse as a starter) to the shift in roles or is it something else? 

Results after the Jump.

Hughes Pitches and their Movement:

Phil Hughes has at least 4 pitches:  A (four-seam) fastball, a change-up, a curveball, and a cutter.  He may have a two-seam fastball as well as a four-seamer as it seemed like there might have been 2 fastballs at times in 2009 (and even less often in 2010) as a starter, but it's really l hard to tell, so I'll be discussing all of Hughes' fastballs together. 


The following table (Table 1) shows the movement and velocity of Hughes' pitches each of the last 3 years in each relevant role:

Year Pitch Type Starter or Relief # Thrown Average Velocity Average Horiz. Spin Deflection
Average Vert. Spin Deflection
2008 Change Starter 34 80.000 -9.435 5.988
2009 Change Reliever 1* 84.700 -12.400 6.760
2009 Change Starter 8 83.263 -8.497 6.709
2010 Change Reliever** 1** 86.200 -11.990 3.150
2010 Change Starter 101 84.636 -9.108 6.509
2008 Curve Starter 141 71.906 6.509 -9.542
2009 Curve Reliever 165 77.505 7.265 -7.844
2009 Curve Starter 133 76.444 7.728 -7.449
2010 Curve Reliever** 2** 75.050 6.890 -9.875
2010 Curve Starter 495 75.769 5.956 -8.736
2008 Cutter Starter 57 83.572 4.354 4.234
2009 Cutter Reliever 104 89.200 1.196 5.259
2009 Cutter Starter 128 87.663 0.343 6.153
2010 Cutter Reliever** 1** 88.600 5.450 7.290
2010 Cutter Starter 502 88.635 -0.442 6.722
2008 Fastball Starter 385 91.082 -5.354 10.769
2009 Fastball Reliever 552 94.632 -5.021 10.285
2009 Fastball Starter 354 92.252 -6.173 9.914
2010 Fastball Reliever** 21** 93.167 -4.023 9.327
2010 Fastball Starter 1874 92.517 -5.834 9.991

Table 1:  The Movement and Velocity of the pitches of Phil Hughes over the last three years as a reliever and as a starter.  Results as a reliever are highlighted in light blue. 
To Read:
Horizontal Spin Deflection:  The amount in inches that the pitch breaks horizontally due to the spin of the ball.  A Positive Horizontal Spin Deflection means that the pitch goes in on Left-Handed Batters (LHBs) while a Negative Horizontal Spin Deflection means that the pitch goes in on Right-Handed Batters.
Vertical Spin Deflection: 
The amount of inches the ball drops/"rises" as compared to how we would expect gravity to make a pitch drop.  So a Fastball with 10 inches of Vertical Spin Deflection "RISES" 10 inches more than it should if gravity was the only force acting on it and a curveball with -10 inches of Vertical Spin Deflection drops 10 inches more than a pitch thrown that is just acted on by gravity.
Table Cells marked with asterisks (*s) shouldn't be taken too seriously due to small sample size.
** Hughes made one appearance as a reliever in 2010 at the end of the season.  I've included the results for the sake of completeness.
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So, what do we see here?  Well, in 2009, when Hughes split time as a reliever and as a starter, he certainly seemed to have more gas on his pitches as a reliever.  Still, this effect (a difference of over 2MPH on his fastballs), should not be overstated....Hughes was a reliever starting in June, and pitchers tend to increase their velocity in the summer months.  So some of this difference could just be caused by weather changes (an increase in temperature).  Still, it seems like there was clearly some velocity increase from the switch to being a reliever.  The movement of his pitches seems to have remained the same despite the role switch.

Meanwhile, like Joba, Hughes completely abandoned his change-up as a reliever.  I wonder if dropping the change-up is a normal thing for starters converting to relief around the majors, or if it's just a Yankees thing (for pitchers who don't have clearly great change-ups). 

Now that we've found this velocity increase as a reliever, lets look at Hughes' results:

Hughes' Pitch Results:

NOTE:  For all the Tables below, I use the same statistics.  They are explained in the following legend:
TABLES LEGEND:
Whiff rate = Swinging strikes/swings
Swing rate = Swings/total pitches
Swinging strike rate = Swinging strikes/total pitches
In Wide Zone percentage = Percentage of pitches located within a wide (two foot) strike zone
RV100 = Run value per 100 pitches (A measure of pitch effectiveness).  Negative Values are GOOD for pitchers, while positive values are BAD
RVe100 = Expected run value per 100 pitches (A measure of pitch effectiveness, controlling for luck on certain batted ball types.)

 

Pitch Type Year Batter Handedness Starter or Relief # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Sw Strike Rate In-Wide-Zone % GB % RV100 RVe100
Change 2008 L Starter 33 30.00% 30.30% 9.09% 24.24% 50.00% 3.6867 3.4219
Change 2010 L Starter 99 27.59% 29.29% 8.08% 35.35% 53.85% -0.5092 0.5774

Table 2:  The Results of Hughes' Change-Ups.

Hughes only throws the change-up as a starter, but it's not a particularly good pitch in any event.  Hughes uses the pitch against opposite-handed batters, like many pitchers, and doesn't get particularly many swinging strikes with the pitch.  His ground ball rate is decent, however.  Still, when Hughes is a reliever, it wouldn't seem like much of a sacrifice to lose this pitch. 

 

Pitch Type Year Batter Handedness Starter or Relief # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Sw Strike Rate In-Wide-Zone % GB % RV100 RVe100
Curve 2008 L Starter 68 20.00% 29.41% 5.88% 61.76% 75.00% -1.7146 -1.6186
Curve 2008 R Starter 73 9.38% 43.84% 4.11% 73.97% 37.50% 0.1958 0.463
Curve 2009 L Reliever 96 17.24% 30.21% 5.21% 48.96% 69.23% -0.7642 0.8403
Curve 2009 L Starter 65 22.73% 33.85% 7.69% 43.08% 66.67% 3.3935 0.4834
Curve 2009 R Reliever 69 20.69% 42.03% 8.70% 56.52% 57.14% -2.0603 0.2726
Curve 2009 R Starter 68 27.27% 48.53% 13.24% 57.35% 73.33% -0.3481 -1.6295
Curve 2010 L Starter 299 25.26% 31.77% 8.03% 48.49% 54.29% -0.9009 -0.7668
Curve 2010 R Starter 196 9.09% 28.06% 2.55% 56.63% 53.66% 3.6669 1.519

Table 3:  The Results of Hughes' Curveballs as a starter and as reliever, over the last three years:

Hughes' Curveball has not been particularly great throughout his career, with it only once (as a starter in 2009 against Right-Handed Batters) resulting in a good swinging strike rate for a curveball.  In 2010, as a starter of course, the pitch has just been absolutely horrid against Right-Handed Batters, with an amazingly low whiff rate of just 9%.  There isn't any real reason for this I can find, as the aim of the pitch has remained constant throughout the last there years (he changes his aim based upon batter handedness so that the pitch is low and away to both left and right-handed hitters).  And the change is so dramatic that it could just be a random flukish outlier, but it should be watched in the year to come.

Oh and looking at this and his aim, we don't seem to see much of a difference (aside from the aforementioned fluke) for Hughes as a starter vs Hughes as a reliever, although admittedly, Hughes didn't use the curveball too often as a reliever.

Pitch Type Year Batter Handedness Starter or Relief # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Sw Strike Rate In-Wide-Zone % GB % RV100 RVe100
Cutter 2008 L Starter 18 0.00% 61.11% 0.00% 66.67% 20.00% -4.0822 -0.1842
Cutter 2008 R Starter 39 20.83% 61.54% 12.82% 76.92% 0.00% 0.3338 0.8351
Cutter 2009 L Reliever 26 23.53% 65.38% 15.38% 88.46% 33.33% -4.5935 -3.6926
Cutter 2009 L Starter 38 15.00% 52.63% 7.89% 68.42% 28.57% 3.9184 -0.6009
Cutter 2009 R Reliever 78 36.59% 52.56% 19.23% 67.95% 23.08% -4.769 -2.8628
Cutter 2009 R Starter 90 9.76% 45.56% 4.44% 67.78% 12.50% -1.3381 -0.7519
Cutter 2010 L Starter 170 20.75% 62.35% 12.94% 68.24% 36.59% -0.0225 0.305
Cutter 2010 R Starter 332 17.84% 64.16% 11.45% 76.81% 38.27% -2.0968 -1.0526

Table 4:  The Results of Hughes' Cutters as a starter and as reliever, over the last three years

Hughes' Cutter is thrown far more against right-handed batters (like a slider) than against left-handed batters.  The end result is that are statistics as a reliever against left-handed batters is subject to really small sample sizes and so I don't take it too seriously. 

In the small sample we do have of how his Cutter was effective as a reliever, it was far superior to that as a starter, due to a ridiculously high 37% whiff rate.  As a starter, especially this year, the Cutter has still been very effective (and in fact it's been extremely accurate, with a good fastball-like 77% zone % against right-handed batters).  Still, despite the small sample size issues, it seems like this pitch was superior in results as a reliever.  That said, the pitch was still fairly good for him as a starter.

Pitch Type Year Batter Handedness Starter or Relief # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Sw Strike Rate In-Wide-Zone % GB % RV100 RVe100
Fastball 2008 L Starter 177 8.70% 38.98% 3.39% 64.41% 32.26% 2.4399 0.7835
Fastball 2008 R Starter 208 8.16% 47.12% 3.85% 62.50% 34.15% -0.0014 0.6549
Fastball 2009 L Reliever 299 20.29% 46.15% 9.36% 64.55% 48.48% -1.9658 -1.8743
Fastball 2009 L Starter 169 15.38% 46.15% 7.10% 62.72% 34.48% 1.1828 0.6631
Fastball 2009 R Reliever 253 27.81% 59.68% 16.60% 77.47% 8.57% -3.4913 -1.995
Fastball 2009 R Starter 185 14.61% 48.11% 7.03% 64.86% 23.08% 0.3856 -0.6605
Fastball 2010 L Starter 1030 13.65% 49.81% 6.80% 65.83% 34.09% -0.3924 -1.1118
Fastball 2010 R Starter 844 20.68% 55.57% 11.49% 74.53% 25.40% -1.7204 -0.8482

Table 5:  The Results of Hughes' Fastballs as a starter and as reliever, over the last three years

Of course, this pitch is the big one: the fastball.  Hughes' fastball is his bread and butter, and it's extremely effective, as seen this year.  Against Left-handed batters this year, the pitch has been reasonably effective: It's swinging strike rate is slightly above average (6%) and it's GB% is poor, but not horrible.  Against right-handed batters, the pitch is an EXTREME fly ball pitch...but that doesn't matter, the pitch is still extremely effective!  This because the pitch gets a greatly above-average swinging strike rate - like that of a change-up rather than a fastball. 

But while the pitch is effective when Hughes is a starter, how effective is it when he's reliever?  The answer: It's even more effective, getting swinging strikes an amazing amount of the time.  The Pitch's aim seems roughly the same regardless of what Hughes' role is, so I'd guess this increase in whiffs is due to the pitch having increased velocity as a reliever. 

(Note: If you're wondering why the pitch seemed so ineffective in 2008, it's because the pitch was aimed lower.  Fastballs get swinging strikes when aimed high, and for some reason, he didn't locate high in 2008.) 

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Conclusion: 

Last week, I came to the conclusion that while Joba had improved in the last year as a reliever, it didn't seem likely to have been caused by his change in role, and was more of a coincidence. 

But with Hughes, his better performance as a reliever would seem likely to be caused by his increased velocity.  After all, that's the only thing that seemed to change on his pitches, and both his fastball and his cutter, his two most frequently used pitches (well the curve's close in use to the cutter) were better for Hughes as a reliever.  So yeah, the role change does make a difference.

That said, I wouldn't necessarily conclude that Hughes ought to therefore be a reliever.  Both the fastball and the cutter were still pretty good for him as a starter.  And I can't imagine that terrible curveball whiff rate will continue...it's too low to be anything but a fluke.  The Curveball isn't a great pitch in general, but it should therefore improve regardless of his role next year.  Thus he should be probably a better starter next year if he stays in this role.  And well, starters are simply more valuable than relievers.  So I'd say he should stay where he is.  But of course, it depends on what the Yankees have. 

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Administrative Note:  These first two articles in this column are what I'd love to do every week, but well, I suspect I won't have time.  So the weekly column will more frequently be shorter pieces about interesting odds and ends I find while doing Pitchf/x work, and I hope you'll all find them as interesting as I did when I found them. 

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