Monday, January 29, 2007

How Good is Phil Hughes?

All right. I've asked the same question of two sophmores, but can my methods handle a rookie?

Phil Hughes
it the top pitching prospect in baseball. No, Dice-Kai is not a pitching prospect, nor should he be ranked ahead of Hughes even if he was one, but that is another story.

Hughes is one of the more enigmatic prospects in recent memory. Twenty-two teams passed on him before the Yankees had a pick in the 2004 draft. The Yankees, knowing what other teams did not, barely let him throw a pitch that year. They taught him a curveball, let him throw one minor league game, and stashed his golden arm away for the winter. Hughes hit A ball with a storm in 2005, dominating hitters for a 1.97 ERA, 9.44 K/9, and 2.10 BB/9. He earned a promotion to Tampa, where he would pitch 17 more innings of 3.06 ERA before being shut down with mild shoulder concerns. That was one year ago. Since then, you all know what happened.

Hughes has a career minor league ERA of 2.13, K/9 of 10.21, BB/9 of 2.05, and a miniature .23 HR/9. He has the minor's best power/command combination, an exceptional curveball, and a developing changeup. On top of it all, he hold it all together with plus "moxy", or whatever you wish to call it.

He has the kind of package that we see in great pitchers. Mark Prior. Jake Peavy. Chris Carptener. Curt Schilling. Roy Halladay. He is on the level of these right handed pitchers. He has the potential to be even better. Hughes is the kind of prospect that cannot be overestimated.

What do the projection systems say? They are pretty conservative:

CHONE: 4.05 ERA, 90 ip, 75 K, 35 BB, 11 HR
ZiPs: 4.06 ERA, 164 ip, 127 K, 58 BB, 15 HR
PECOTA: 3.91 ERA, 130 ip, 108 K, 45 BB, 14 HR
Average: 4.00 ERA, 128 ip, 103 K (7 per 9), 46 BB (3.23 per 9), 13 HR (.91 per 9)

(Marcel does not project minor league players. These systems don't try to predict playing time accurately, so adjust mentally for whatever playing time you predict for Hughes in 2007)

I included the PECOTA projection because it seems to be floating around every site. PECOTA is a projection system from Baseball Prospectus, which any true stat-head needs to have a subscription to. I think that these projections are lowballing Hughes. I think that Hughes' K rate will dip in his major league season to about 7.5 per 9, but his BB rate will stay in the mid-2s.

Hughes is a unique prospect because few others have combined the power, ground ball rates, and control that he owns. Baseball Analysts just did an excellent study on pitchers who have the best combined groundball and K rates in the minors. Hughes was #2. Unlike any of the other top names on the generated list, Phil has plus-plus control. That is why he is truely special.

I think that Hughes will post a lower ERA in 2007 than those projection systems expect. I think that he'll allow more home runs than he ever did in the minors, but his groundball rates will still remain above average. The Yankee defense should be pretty good in 2007 (more on that tomorrow), so Hughes should gain a boost there.

My prediction: 3.67 ERA, 116 innings, 95 K, 35 BB, 11 HR.