Sunday, March 4, 2007

John Sickels on Phil Hughes

I'm a fan of John Sickels, though I personally think that he really stretches to fill his blog with new material every day. There is a lot of fluff in between the good stuff. Sickels is a genuine prospect expert in the stat-head mold, and his opinion is golden. One of those fluff pieces that he likes to project his opinion on he calls his "Crystal Ball". He'll take a prospect or young player and try to guess what he thinks the player's career will look like.

The Crystal Balls are incredibly arbitrary and ultimately meaningless as a whole. Sickels projects things like trades and injuries. The important information that can he gained from Sickels in this case is about a player's peak. How good does Sickels think this player will be?

Sickels recently took a look at Phil Hughes. He predicted Hughes to go down with Tommy John at age 26, ruining the better part of his upper peak. This is a meaningless besides that Sickels expects any young pitcher to have injury problems. What does Sickels expect out of Hughes?

First off, he's going to have a transition period to the majors. He'll pitch a little over 200 innings of 4.20 ERA ball his first two seasons. Starting his third season (age 23) Hughes will put together three bonafide ace seasons, where he should win a Cy Young or two. Sickels has him throwing 230 innings of 3.00-3.15 ERA ball. He sees him retaining his excellent control in the majors (2.20 BB/9 during this time). He sees him striking out about 7.5-8.0 per 9. After the Tommy John surgery, Hughes has a few ace-like seasons, but for the most part becomes an innings eater. He finishes with a David Cone type career.

I disagree with Sickels on a few things here. First off, he's not going to the minors in 2008. He may very well post an ERA in the low 4s, and the Yankees very well may put an innings limit on him, but he's not making only 25 starts. Second, I don't think that Hughes is a Tommy John risk at his peak. He has no mechanical red flags, no max-effort red flags, and no workload red flags at this point. He is as good of a bet to stay healthy as any top-flight prospect. Third, I don't see Hughes as maxing out at 8.00 K/9. Hughes doesn't strike a ton out by accident in the minors. I see him with the occassional 8.50-9.00 K/9 season, which will result in one or two sub-3.00 ERA seasons.

I do agree with Sickels that Hughes will become a major innings eater due to control. I love how Sickels sees him maintaining a league-low HR rate of 15-20 in a 230 innings season. Bottom line, Sickels thinks that Hughes is the real deal, and he very clearly is not a Yankee fan.