As you no doubt have found out by now, Phil Hughes has signed with the Minnesota Twins. On one hand, you likely thought this was a crazy and reckless move by the Twins, throwing 24 million dollars at a pitcher who has been wildly inconsistent and who was 4-14 last year with an abominable 5.19 ERA. At least Ricky Nolasco, the other big signing for the Twins in their attempt to make their rotation better, was good last season, after all.
But, get this: this could actually end up being a good move. Maybe.
For one, keep in mind the type of pitcher Hughes is. He’s a fly ball pitcher. Last year, 46.5% of balls hit off Hughes ended up as fly balls, according to FanGraphs. That’s a lot, and it is especially dangerous in stadiums like the new Yankee Stadium, which is a hitters park that at times seems to turn routine fly balls into unexpected home runs. Compare that to Target Field, however, where the opposite seems to happen: if I had a quarter for every time it looked like Joe Mauer had just hit one over the wall only for it to fall short (either turning into a double or a fly-out, depending on the outfielder and the part of the stadium he hit it to), I’d have many quarters.
It’s entirely possible that, with more of his games in a more spacious stadium, Hughes will be able to cut down on the gopher-balls and deflate his ERA quite a bit. Although it’s admittedly a small sample size (and he was facing Twins hitters), Hughes’ regular-season numbers in his three games and 21.1 innings at Target Field seem to back this assessment up. He is a career 2.53 ERA pitcher in those three games, and gave up just one HR (That’s one HR every 21.1 innings, compared to one HR every 5.015 innings in the current Yankee Stadium). If Hughes can replicate anything close to that performance when he pitches in Minnesota wearing a Twins’ jersey, he could prove to be a reliable two or three starter for the Twins, and certainly an improvement over the revolving door they had last season.
And, what’s more, there is also the fact that at times, Phil Hughes’ roller-coaster career has climbed very high. Back in 2010, for example, he was an All-Star who went 18-8 (more on that next sentence). As recently as 2012, he won 16 games, although, as Brian Kenny would tell you, that more-or-less tells you nothing (and, what’s more, he also lost 13 games). Could Hughes be heading for another upward trend? Well, that has yet to be seen, and the answer may well make the Twins look like geniuses (or fools).