Phil Hughes blames inconsistent changeup for second-half fade, but do the numbers agree?

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Phil Hughes discussed his second-half struggles with Brian Costello of the New York Post and explained that relying less and less on his changeup during a successful first half caused the pitch to lose effectiveness when he needed it down the stretch.

Hughes made his first All-Star team by going 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA in the first half, but then sunk to a 4.90 ERA in the second half. He tossed seven shutout innings against the Twins in Game 3 of the ALDS, but then got knocked around in both ALCS starts versus the Rangers.

It seemed like I could do no wrong in some games where I didn’t throw [the changeup] at all. It’s hard to keep something fresh in your repertoire when you’re never using it. I felt like that might have hurt me a little bit, just not having it. Then, maybe when fatigue set in and I really needed that changeup to help me get through these games, it just wasn’t there.

The numbers jibe with Hughes’ comments, sort of. He used his changeup very little all season, throwing it just 3.5 percent of the time. He relied on it more often in September, throwing it 9.5 percent of the time, but barely used it while struggling in July (4.2 percent) and August (2.0 percent). And while Hughes may not have been comfortable with how his changeup felt while upping its usage in September, Fan Graphs’ data shows that the pitch was actually more effective in September than it was during the first five months.

Perhaps the lack of changeup consistency played a role in his late-season decline, but it seems more likely that Hughes throwing 176 innings after totaling 175 innings between the majors and minors in the previous two years simply caused him to wear down.

Report: Jose Ramirez close to four-year extension with Indians

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Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports that third baseman Jose Ramirez is finalizing a four-year extension with the Indians. The deal is said to be worth north of $30 million, and may crest $50 million if all options are exercised. While the extension won’t take effect until the 2018 season, it guarantees Ramirez a $26 million sum with two options worth $11 and $13 million and will give the Indians control of the infielder through the 2023 season.

Ramirez, 24, is entering his fifth season in the Indians’ organization. He posted career-high numbers during his first full season in the majors, slashing .312/.363/.461 with 11 home runs, 22 stolen bases and 4.8 fWAR in 2016. He’s projected to have a strong follow-up season at the plate and will likely see some time at second base as Jason Kipnis works his way back from a shoulder injury.

Although 2016 only showcased the beginning of Ramirez’s success with the club, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman says it’s a standard move for Cleveland to “sign their stars early,” and indicates that Ramirez was rumored to want the deal. Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors adds that the extension will keep Ramirez under club control through three arbitration-eligible years and one year of potential free agency.

Diamondbacks return Rule 5 pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

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Diamondbacks’ right-hander Tyler Jones is headed back to the Yankees, the teams announced on Friday. The Diamondbacks had previously selected Jones in the Rule 5 draft last December, but elected to leave the 27-year-old off of their 40-man roster heading into the 2017 season. Rule 5 draft rules stipulate that when a player is not kept on the receiving team’s roster, the player must be offered back to his original team.

Jones signed a minor league contract with the Yankees prior to the 2016 season. He pitched to an impressive 2.17 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 13.2 SO/9 over 45 2/3 innings with Double-A Trenton, but was unable to make the leap to Triple-A or beyond during his stay with the organization.

Jones’ outlook with the Diamondbacks appeared slightly more promising. GM Mike Hazen described the righty as a power arm with a “good fastball and power curveball” after selecting him in the Rule 5 draft, and early reports indicated that Jones would be in the mix for a bullpen spot. A rough spring performance — underscored by his lack of experience at the Triple-A and major league levels — undid most of that confidence, however, and the Diamondbacks weren’t willing to keep him on the active roster throughout the entire 2017 season in order to acquire his control rights.

Jones is set to open the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, per a report from the Yankees.