Friday, October 2, 2009
What Might Phil Hughes the Reliever Tell Us About Phil Hughes the Starter?First and foremost, we don't know if Hughes the starter would have the same kick-ass mustache. That is an intangible that can't be quantified, but it is important.
It should be pretty obvious to everyone (at least the readership here) that for MLB pitchers, relieving is easier than starting. This is readily apparent when you look at the number of failed starters who have gone on to have success as relievers, or look at the splits of players who have performed in both roles, or look at the average performances of the two groups. Despite the fact that we'll likely be inundated with columns about how Hughes should stay in the bullpen and be groomed as Mariano's successor, the Yankees will hopefully do the smart thing and put Hughes back in the rotation in 2010.
We can use the information we have about players who have performed in both roles to make an informed estimate about how a player would perform if his role is changed. We do have to be aware that there are physical reasons that a player may not follow the normal path when they are converted from one role to another. A truly dominant reliever may not have the stamina or the arsenal to be effective multiple times through the order. We also know that velocity tends to decrease when shifted from the bullpen to the rotation, generally on the order of 2-3 mph.
Here is a table that shows how I convert a starter's line to a reliever's, or vice versa.
The first row shows what happens when you move a starter to relief, on average. They allow about 13% fewer hits, about 20% fewer runs, about 33% fewer HRs, and strike out about 17% more batters. The only thing that gets worse is the walk rate, and it's a minor uptick of around 3%.
Conversely, you can see what happens when a reliever moves to the starting rotaton in the second row. They give up 15% more hits and 26% more runs, HR rate goes up by almost 50%, and they strike out about 15% fewer batters.
So if we take Phil Hughes's 2009 line as a reliever and convert it to the equivalent in the starting rotation and then combine it with his actual time in the rotation, it'd look something like this:
It's obviously not realistic to expect Hughes to be quite that good as a starter. What we'll need to see is how he does with a little less velocity and with an increased need to rely on his third and fourth pitches, especially as he works through the batting order multiple times.
Still, Hughes's relief stint has been a lot of fun to watch, and it's given us good evidence that the Hughes we heard about in the minors who was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball was not just a figment of some scout's imagination.
I wonder if the Royals would still be willing to do Reggie Sanders for Hughes? Sanders behind Alex Rodriguez in the five spot would make the Yankee offense unstoppable.
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