The Prospect Corner with Adam G.

7 01 2008

Three days ago WaxHeaven.com had it’s biggest day in its 2 1/2 month history with close to 1,000 page views in one day thanks in part to Adam G. and his second write up of New York Yankees prospect Joba Chamberlain. Today, he has sent in his newest article on another hot prospect among Yankee fans and card collectors, Phil Hughes.

Phil Hughes

Well guys, I thought that by writing a follow up Joba Part II post I would be able to clarify some of my primary opinions about him, but it seems to have only stirred the pot over at the Baseball Think Factory. I’m not a Sabermetrics stud and I don’t even understand all the things stat people spend their time talking about, so I’m not too worried that a few of them had a few qualms with my work. I really just wanted to point out to the average fan and card collector that when compared to other options, Joba is a very promising guy to focus on. I am also interested in helping collectors understand the statistics that provide the best means of clarifying which prospects are worth investing in and what it all means in terms of the baseball card market. Maintaining a proper perspective is paramount to minimizing risks, and my intention for every post I write is to provide a bit of perspective when assessing a prospect. I’m flattered that the guys at The Baseball Think Factory would even bother reading my work. Thanks to the folks over at TBTF for taking an interest. At current it seems that most stat guys aren’t interested in cards, and most card collectors aren’t interested in heavy stat analysis, but I think if we can get the two sides to take interest in one another it can only mean good things for the card collecting hobby.

Moving on, I think now would be a good time to look at Philip Hughes while Joba Chamberlain is still fresh in our minds. I had the opportunity this past spring to watch Hughes pitch in Tampa for Spring Training and listening to the buzz from the Yankees fans while he was on the mound was amazing. Most fans will casually follow a ball club throughout the year and only pay attention to individual players after an outstanding major league performance, but the Yankees faithful know a lot about their up and coming talent and are very excitable. At times while sitting in the stands it felt like I was surrounded by George Castanza’s immediate family. There’s nothing quite like a Yankee’s fan.

Anyways, if I was a Yankees fan I’d be pretty excited right now, too. The Red Sox may have been the most recent victors of the World Series, but the Yankees are really loading up for a long term run. Besides Chamberlain, one young pitcher that has caught a lot of people’s attention is Phil Hughes. At 21 years old he had a minor stint in the majors this year, and although his season was marred by a leg injury, he still did very well for himself.

Those numbers aren’t bad, but I think Yankees fans were hoping for more. Before we brush off Hughes’ first big league stint as a luke warm non-event, I want to give you his monthly breakdown for 2007:

Generally I don’t like to base prospect evaluations off of month-by-month stat analysis, but I think it is worthwhile to note that Hughes spent his summer bouncing between AA ball, AAA ball and the major league team after his early season leg injury, and it seems that he took a while to find his stride. His August numbers could be due to all that bouncing around.

Looking at his September numbers, I think we can begin to see what kind of potential Hughes really has. Though his strikeout rate dropped compared to August, he showed better control with only 10 walks and managed a 2.73 ERA. Of course, every pitcher is capable of having a good month every now and then, so I don’t expect Hughes to keep his ERA under 3.00 all the time. However, I think Hughes could be a good candidate for a sub-4.00 and even sub-3.50 ERA within the next year and here’s why:

It is very likely that Hughes will be able to maintain a major league GB% close to 50%, and I think he could keep a K/9 rate of 7 or higher with a low BB/9 rate of less than 3. To give you an idea of where that would put Hughes compared to active players, let’s look at Andy Pettitte’s stat line from 2007:

Just for fun, here’s a few more comparisons from the 2007 season:

As you can see, there’s a lot of variance between each of these pitchers, but we can get a feel for where Hughes might fit in. I think something close to the following stat line might be a fair prediction for Hughes in 2008:

Considering that Hughes will benefit from some of the best run support in the majors, I think his win total is going to be fairly high. His ERA will fluctuate throughout the season, but once he settles into a rhythm I think he’ll string together some really nice starts. With his 2004 Bowman Chrome Auto RC currently trading steadily in the $80-90 price range, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it bounce up to $150 or higher some time next season if he doesn’t get traded to the Twins. If you haven’t picked up any of his cards yet, now would be a good time to look into that.

Now that we’ve looked at the 2008 season, let’s start thinking more long term. In order to come up with some decent 5 year projections for Hughes, here are the minor league stats from a few comparable pitchers that have spent a few years or more on a major league ball club (some pitchers do not have available GB% stats for their minor league career, so I will be using the GB% average from their time in the majors):

If these pitchers are any indication as to what we can expect from Hughes, I’d say that over the next 2 seasons Hughes will probably keep an ERA in the 3.75 to 4.00 range and then by the age of 24 or 25 we’ll begin to see him consistently post an ERA under 3.50 or better. As long as he stays with the Yankees and stays off the DL, I think he could win 15 games a year, and possibly 20 by the age of 25. If I was a Yankees fan, I’d be pretty excited about that.


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6 responses

7 01 2008
chemgod

I am a big Phil Hughes fan but I see him more of a Pettite than a Clemmens kind of pitcher.

8 01 2008
ethanmichaels

I don’t think you can compare him to pitchers who transitioned to the majors 20 years ago because the average ERA was obviously lower, and the level of competition was different.

If you look at the comparisons you provided which are most recent, and represent the contemporary difficulty in transitioning, I think you see some growing pains before pitchers post ERA’s below 3.5 or even below 4.

Sabathia posted ERA’s of 4.39 and 4.37 in his first two full seasons at the major league level.

It also took Bedard and Bonderman at least two years at the major league level before they were posting ERA’s below 4.

Do you know if there’s a site to compare minor league numbers? It would be interesting to compare him to more young pitchers who put up similar numbers and recently transitioned.

8 01 2008
Adam G.

I agree that you can’t compare ERAs from different eras, but I think K/9, BB/9 and GB% stats are constant enough that they can be used as baseline comparisons. I don’t put much weight in ERAs (or batting averages for that matter) but it seems that most of the baseball world is obsessed with ERAs.

Sabathia had a much higher walk rate than Hughes so that, I believe, is what kept his ERA above 4.00. Actually, at the age of 22 Sabathia had a BB/9 rate of 3.01 and posted an ERA of 3.60. Last year he had a BB/9 rate of 2.06 with an ERA of 3.22 and this year his BB/9 was 1.38 and he posted an ERA of 3.21.

As for Bonderman, I still don’t know what his problem is. I think a lot of his issues are in his head. He actually has NEVER posted an ERA below 4.00. He gives up a lot of hits and HRs, and he was rushed to the majors for some reason.

Erik Bedard was 23 years old when he played at AA ball, whereas Hughes was 20, so that puts Hughes on a much steeper developmental curve and places him in the sub-4.00 ERA range at about 23 years old or sooner.

So far I haven’t found a site to compare minor league stats, but I keep my own charts on players for quick reference. There are very few young pitchers that are comparable to Hughes, but I tried to include as many as I could find. He is a special talent and should do very well for himself and the Yankees.

Thanks for the comments,
Adam G.

9 01 2008
Ethan Michaels

I don’t think you can say that Hughes will do it at the same age as Sabathia, when Sabathia had so much more major league experience. I was talking about time after they make the major league level. No matter what someone’s age, they still have to go through those growing pains.

Curious, do you have any thoughts on Buchholz?

9 01 2008
Ethan Michaels

Oh, and I agree that ERA isn’t nearly as valuable as peripherals, if the average ERA went up, isn’t it likely that the peripheral stats have gone up as well? If not, how would you account for the large increase in ERA if batters aren’t getting more hits, more walks and maybe even striking out less.

10 01 2008
Ethan Michaels

By the way, I did some more research and I found what I believe to be the best comparison to Hughes (at least among MiLB prospects this decade). What about Josh Beckett?

Beckett – 1.75 ERA, 5.91 H/9, 2.12 BB/9, 12.29 K/9, 47% GB*
Hughes – 2.03 ERA, 5.56 H/9, 2.16 BB/9, 10.18 K/9, 50% GB

*MLB GB%, couldn’t find his MiLB GB%

And both made their major league debuts at age 21, so there isn’t the discrepancy in ages like there is with most other prospects.

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