After his downright disastrous start last Saturday, I took a venture into the PITCHf/x realm on Monday and determined that, for whatever reason, Phil Hughes was not pitching inside to hitters. He really hadn't shown stellar command of his 4-seamer in either of his first two starts, and the fact that he was working away and missing away made it much easier for hitters to look for a certain pitch in a certain area and tee off on it. Having done that analysis just a few days ago, I couldn't very well sit by and let his start last night go un-analyzed. So let's play another round of America's newest favorite Yankee-related game, "Did Phil Hughes Pitch Inside Last Night?"
Survey says- Sort of. Hughes had his fastball working much better last night than in his first two starts, and he did do a better job of spreading it around the zone than he did against Baltimore. He also had his slider working real well and he used that as his swing-and-miss pitch much more effectively. Against righties, Hughes worked the inner half of the plate and the inside corner better than he did in his last start. There's still a few more pitches in the middle of the zone than I'd like to see, but when he's mixing that with fastballs in, up, and down, and sliders down and away, it's easier to get away with those pitches.
Against lefties there wasn't much change, still a very obvious attempt to work the outer half of the plate and away. What made it easier for Hughes to be successful with that approach last night was his improved fastball command. Look at the pitch plot below and you'll notice that the highest concentration of fastballs thrown are either right inside of or just off of the outside corner. There are very few pitches in the fat part of the zone and a healthy dose of changeups and sliders mixed in. Hughes located his fastball better away, mixed in his offspeed stuff to keep hitters guessing, and had more success executing his game plan as a result.
There were still the two ugly gopher balls mixed in last night, but that's just part of the Phil Hughes experience. What's important is that he bounced back strong from each of those home runs he gave up and stuck with what he was doing. Hughes threw fewer 4-seamers last night (55.0% of his 109 pitches) and fewer first-pitch 4-seamers than he had been (53.8%). He threw his fastball for strikes (78.3%), worked it inside more to give hitters more to think about, and effectively mixed in his offspeed pitches. The result? 7 innings of 2-run ball with 6 strikeouts and no walks. It sounds simple, and for some pitchers it is, but this type of outing and approach is what Hughes struggles with. He was able to execute last night and he pitched a very good game. If he can continue to locate his fastball where he wants to in the zone and start to work both sides of the plate with it, he'll continue to have success.
(Stats and plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers. Hughes photo courtesy of Getty Images)