Sports Outside the Beltway

Yanks fans: Have patience with Phil Hughes

- From Project Prospect.

Is Phil Hughes destined to disappoint? Well, that depends on the fans. He’s about to enter a very tumultuous period for pitchers. In a study done by Nate Silver and Will Carroll for an article published in February of 2003 regarding injuries to pitchers they said:

“However, the risk does appear to be to some degree dependent on a pitcher’s age. For the very young pitchers in our study–ages 21 and 22–the risk of injury is significantly higher, in excess of 20 percent.”

In fact, their study showed that the attrition rate doesn’t reach that level again until a pitcher’s age 37 season. For many pitchers, attrition is at its highest point in their careers during their age 21 and 22 seasons. So, it is in Brian Cashman’s best interest to put pitch counts on him and limit his innings over the next couple of years. He does seem prepared to exercise restraint, which should mitigate the risk detailed above, but not remove it.

Greg Maddux, for example, made his major league debut at age 20 and had his first full season at age 21. His ERA’s in those years were 5.52 and 5.61, respectively. He settled in at age 22 and has gone on to have a remarkable career. Tom Glavine is a similar case, being called up at age 21 and struggling in both that and his age 22 season. But the 5.54 and 4.56 ERA’s were followed up in his age 23 season with a 3.68 ERA.

Curt Schilling was called up in his age 21 season and he struggled as well. 9.82 and 6.23 ERA’s followed before he had his first strong major league season. And it wasn’t until his age 25 season that he had his first dominant year as a starter. John Smoltz was called up at age 21 and was knocked around to the tune of 5.48 runs per 9 innings. He settled in the next year with a 2.94 ERA.

How about the three pitchers mentioned above as the best in the majors in 2006? Roy Oswalt didn’t get his call up until he was 24 but did hit a bump in the road in Single-A at age 22. It was his only professional ERA above 4.00 aside from a limited stint in Triple-A before his major league debut. He posted a 2.73 ERA in 28 appearances that year.

Brandon Webb, like Oswalt wasn’t called up until he was 24. Like Oswalt, has had a stellar major league career thus far. But Johan Santana appears to be a better comparison. He was called up at age 21 and struggled so much he started his age 23 season in Triple-A. He’s been the best pitcher in baseball ever since.

It’s not until we start looking at some of the all time greats – Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens… – that we see pitchers called up this young without struggling. Of course, it is possible Hughes will end up being an all time great but it’s far more likely he’s going to struggle a little in his first season or two. Yankees fans need to keep this in mind as they watch him grow.

New York can be a very difficult place to struggle. Jose Contreras comes to mind as an example of an extremely talented pitcher who couldn’t get it together in pinstripes. Hughes is likely going to have his ups and downs before he settles in as the pitcher he’s going to be throughout his career.

Have some patience with him. He’ll be a fine pitcher some day.

I couldn’t agree more.

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