Layoff Doesn't Explain Phil Hughes's Worst Start of the Year

Run of bad starts continues against the Mariners

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010  |  Updated 4:15 PM EDT
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Layoff Doesn't Explain Phil Hughes's Worst Start of the Year

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At one point during the middle innings of Tuesday night's 7-4 Yankee loss, Al Leiter explained one way that the 10-day layoff between starts was affecting Phil Hughes.

Leiter said that you weren't seeing a lot of breaking pitches from Hughes because they required a little more touch and feel to throw effectively and that touch and feel weren't there when you've taken so much time between starts.

A nice theory to espouse since it connects Hughes's bad start on Tuesday -- 5 2/3 innings, 10 hits, seven runs -- with the so-called Hughes Rules that have been put in place to limit Hughes's innings.

Given how poorly things went when the Yankees enacted similar rules for Joba Chamberlain last season and you've got a perfect little scandal to deflect attention from the excellent Yankees record through 75 games and get the fan base roiled up. 

It would be much nicer if it were true. Oh, Hughes looked terrible on Tuesday night but he pitched exactly the same way he has pitched all season. He threw fastballs and cutters 85 percent of the time, which indicates a lack of feel for his breaking pitches as long as you willfully ignore the fact that Hughes has thrown fastballs and cutters 85 percent of the time all season. It also helps if you ignore that Hughes wasn't getting beaten on breaking pitches Tuesday night.

But who are we to argue with such a golden storyline as the Hughes Rules causing the demise of the great Phil Hughes. How dare we try to defend the indefensible Yankee decision to protect Hughes's arm! This man was throwing gem after gem before the damned nerds got involved with their science and technology to ruin everything.

Yeah, that's not true either. Hughes has been great this season but any attempt to blame Tuesday night on the layoff must deal with the fact that he had posted a 5.30 ERA in his last three outings. Makes it hard to say that it was a case of rustiness on Tuesday night and also makes it hard to say that it was simply a bad start mixed among great ones. There's a pattern here, from the diminishing results to the overreliance on two pitches, that helps point out areas where Hughes can improve as he moves forward. 

Getting almost any pitcher from April to October at optimum effectiveness is a process. For Hughes, it involves more rest than it might for another pitcher but that's less significant than whether or not he's going to be able to adjust his approach and keep hitters from getting wise to what he's been doing so far this season.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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