|Here's Phil not throwing a change-up.|
I'm not worried. No, what worries—or rather—my main problem with Phil Hughes has been his reluctance to add a meaningful change-up to his arsenal.
Look at A.J. Burnett last night. He threw 16 changeups last night—for him that's a ton. And last night, without his best knucklecurve, being able to go to his change-up 16 times—and getting some swings and misses—was huge. Hey, look! A.J. has a 3rd go-to pitch!
Hughes doesn't. Which was fine when he was an 8th inning guy. Coming in for an inning, like he did in 2009, Hughes could uncork his heater/cutter and let it fly. Which he did. And then he could change the hitters timing with a nice curve and basically that was all he needed. In 2009, as the 8th inning guy, his K/9 ratio was 10.05. He didn't need his change and as a result, that season he threw it only 0.6% of the time.
And it also worked fine for the 1st half of last year—those pitches were so good it got Hughes to the All-Star game. But then batters caught on. And then Hughes couldn't get strike 3. When batters figured out there was no change-of-pace pitch coming, they could foul off his pitches until a mistake came their way.
Want proof? Since batters figured Hughes out halfway through last season, his ERA is over 5.00. Batters' contact percentage has climbed through the roof and Hughes' SwStr percentage has steadily dropped. Not having a change-of-speed pitch has made him predictable and has rendered his other pitches less effective Hughes.
Let's use Ian Kennedy as an example. Coming out of USC, Baseball America said that Kennedy's best pitch was his fastball, and with the Yankees, he didn't rely on his change-up that much. And it showed. However, since being traded to the Diamondbacks, Kennedy has refined his change-up and used it over 18% of the time last season. In fact, its so good its become his strikeout pitch. Fangraphs rated it as a 16.4 wCH—good for 5th best in the game. And as a result, his WHIP dropped to 1.201.
So, what the heck, Phil? You've got a popping fastball, a nice complimentary curveball. What's with not developing a good change and committing to it? CC Sabathia, for all his power pitcher reputation threw his change over 17% of the time last year. King Felix threw it 16% last year. Heck, even Ivan Nova is committed to using his change. Yet you only use it less than 3% of the time.
So, no I'm not worried about the lack of velocity. That'll come back. It's the not trying to learn an offspeed pitch that bothers me.