2014 has been another rough year for the Minnesota Twins, who will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Still, there were some bright spots. Brian Dozier emerged as a solid all-around player, Trevor Plouffe had a nice season, and Danny Santana hit .319/.355/.477 in 97 games at the shortstop position. But, the most impressive year of all was had by Phil Hughes, who the Twins signed to a three year deal this offseason.
Prior to signing with the Twins, Hughes had a seven year tenure with the Yankees. He was a very highly hyped prospect, topping out at No. 2 on Baseball Prospectus Top 100 list before the 2007 season. He reached the big leagues that year and had a no-hit bid in just his second major league outing before an injury cut him short. Unfortunately, 2008 was a disappointing year for Hughes who pitched to a 6.62 ERA in just eight starts.
Overall, Hughes owned an ugly 4.53 ERA in seven seasons and 780.2 innings with the Yankees. He made a solid contribution out of the pen in 2009, and had a strong first half of the season as a starter the next year, but his 2013 season saw him post a 5.19 ERA.
In Yankee Stadium Hughes was undone by his flyball tendencies. His ground ball rate of 33.5 percent with the Yankees was one of the lowest in the major leagues. If there was a glimmer of hope, it was that his road ERA was more than a run lower than his home ERA.
The Twins took a plunge in the offseason and signed the big right-hander to a three year deal worth $24 million. In his first season, Hughes has richly rewarded the Twins front office for their faith in him. Over 32 starts he’s thrown 209.2 innings and mustered 6.1 fWAR, the third best mark in MLB. Most impressively, he’s issued only 16 walks for a 1.9 percent rate, while fanning 186 hitters. That comes out to an 11.6 K/BB ratio, which is the best mark in major league history.
Hughes has simply gotten more aggressive. With spacious Target Field hosting half of his outings, his HR/FB ratio has dipped down to 6.2 percent. After allowing 59 home runs in 2012-13, Hughes has surrendered just 16 this season. While he’s always thrown a high rate of strikes, this year his zone rate is up to 61.1, which is a full four percentage points higher than the next closest pitcher, Bartolo Colon.
He’s throwing the same number of fastballs as in previous seasons, but he’s reverted to his cutter, which he had avoided in 2012-13. Though Hughes is missing bats at the same rate, the increase in strikes has allowed him to raise his strikeout rate from 18.9 percent to 21.8 percent. A change of scenery has done Phil Hughes a world of good. This hasn’t been a good year for the Twins, but the Hughes signing is looking like a very good move already. One year after the Yankees relegated him to the bullpen, he’s authored the best K/BB ratio in baseball history.