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.