The Minnesota Twins have reportedly agreed to terms with right-hander Phil Hughes on a three-year deal worth $24 million dollars according to Lavelle E Neal of the Minnesota Star Tribune. The long-suffering starter pitched his entire career in pinstripes, never able to live up to his significant prospect hype.
His results have yet to match his stuff, with a 1.322 WHIP and a career 4.54 ERA in over 780 big-league innings in spite of a still-hard fastball that averaged 92.1 mph in 2013. When he’s been able to have his ERA drift down toward the four-ish area that his FIP and xFIP are consistently in, Hughes has shown that he’s an effective back-end starter. He has struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings while walking only 2.8 and his real problem has always been his propensity for giving up homers in Yankee stadium’s tight confines. As an extreme flyball pitcher, the short porch at Yankee stadium regularly gave Hughes fits, as he gave up 76 career dingers at home versus only 36 on the road.
The move to Target Field in Minnesota represents a chance for substantial improvements in Hughes’ results. He is moving from one of the most home-run friendly parks to Target’s spacious fields and the fourth lowest home-run park effect in 2013. At $8 million per year, the deal could end up being a bargain for the Twins as a below average HR/FB rate would make Hughes a formidable mid-rotation arm. Even with poor 2013 results, Hughes would have been the Twins’ leader in starter K/9 last year by a wide margin, and his 1.3 WAR would have tied him for second on the team amongst starting pitchers. Given the Twin’s lack of strikeout pitchers, Hughes relatively high K numbers made him an obviously attractive target for the Twins, and the chance to put up numbers in a home environment that suits his skills means that this is a deal that should work wonders for both sides. His walk rates have always been an area of strength and with a .324 BABIP in 2013 it appears there’s a lot of room for regression-based improvement on top of the change in scenery.
Phil Hughes has had to endure a lot of time in the wilderness for the privilege of pitching somewhere that doesn’t punish him for his skillset, but by signing with Minnesota he has finally been able to see the fruits of his labors. Don’t be surprised, then, if he ends up making this deal look like a heck of a steal at this time next year. Everyone always thought he’d be an ace, although I don’t know if being the best pitcher on the Twins necessarily makes you one of those.