TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.

Read more about them.

TwinsCentric: On Phil Hughes and reestablishing the curve

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: April 18, 2014 - 8:44 AM

Over his career, Phil Hughes has seemingly been one solid secondary pitch away from taking over the world.

Since his prospect days, his curveball was considered this dangerous weapon. For Hughes, unfortunately, the pitch never manifested into that killer pitch as projected. Eventually, the pitch was unceremoniously dropped from his arsenal in 2012.

When asked why the deuce took the backseat to other pitches in his repertoire, Hughes cited his inability to execute as one of the main reasons.

“It was one of those things where basically it became a first-pitch strike pitch and that’s all I was using it for, and that’s not what I want it to be,” Hughes said in the clubhouse this spring. “But it was out of necessity because I was kind of looping it up there. It wasn’t a good thing.”

In his final year with the Yankees, Hughes certainly favored the pitch to start an at-bat off. While he threw the pitch just 11% of the time overall, he spun it up to the plate a nearly quarter of the time on the first pitch to a hitter. Opponents, trained to seek-and-destroy fastballs on the opening pitch, often allowed the big bend to sail past only to find themselves down in the count no balls and one strike.

As the at-bat would progress, Hughes had the tendency to then lean on his impressive fastball. Much like former Twin Scott Baker, Hughes would target the top of the zone with a 92+ heater and would register a high amount of swing-and-misses with an equally insane amount of foul balls.

With two strikes, and fear that the looping curve would be tipped out of his hand, Hughes stuck to the fastball and slider -- demonstrating a near fifty-fifty split in usage between the two. The results left something to be desired as his .253 opponent batting average against in two-strike situations, the second highest in the game last year, suggested that the current plan was not working. On top of that, his 44% foul ball rate with two-strikes meant he handed out a lot of souvenirs to the ticket holders in the gated community areas of the stadium but also that his pitch count increased quickly. This translated to premature clubhouse showers.

So with all that in mind, but without all the numbers to back it up and just ball guy-type intuitive stuff, Hughes focused on redeveloping the curve to be a legitimate weapon in those types of circumstances.

“Coming into spring it was a conscience effort to make sure I finishing that pitch and keep my hand out in front so you don’t pick up any spin or have it pop out of my hand,” Hughes explained.

Camouflaging your secondary pitches is one of the biggest keys in pitching and, to Hughes’ concern of keeping the curve from “popping” out of his hand, is a big one from that particular pitch. The looping curve, as he described it, is one that has the tendency to come out of the pitcher’s hand a bit higher than a fastball.

“A lot of times with curveballs, more than any other pitch, it will go above the fastball plane,” major league pitching instructor Tom House told the Washington Post in 2012. “And if it goes above the fastball plane, then the hitter knows it’s not a fastball.”

Which means they sit and let it pass. Or they swing out of their cleats at it. Either way, it becomes a less effective pitch.

Through three starts in 2014, it is hard to tell if the tinkering has worked. He has thrown more curveballs throughout each plate appearance but the amount of times hitters have swung at it has decreased. Plus, no one is chasing after the pitch out of the zone, which means it is not getting buried for strike three. While his strikeout rate has climbed so far this season and may not be directly due to his curveball (12 of his 17 K’s have come on fastballs) it is possible that just occasionally flashing the curve keeps hitters off of his fastball.  

“It’s altering sequences,” Hughes said this spring, “I’ve gotten into some predictable sequences for the most part, so once I get my changeup and cutter going I can kind of alter those a little bit, you know, flipping a few first-pitch curveballs, always keeping it different, that will be good.”

In terms of his curve -- his large, looping pitch thrown around 74.1 mph on average -- hitters will see it mainly early in the count (16 of the 44 were thrown on first-pitch) or occasionally with two-strikes (another 18 were thrown in two-strike situations). In both instances, hitters refrained from swinging. Of the 44 thrown, just 14 (31.8%) have been offered at. That’s quite a low total for a curveball overall.

Does predictable sequencing explain why Hughes’ curveball has been roundly ignored by opponents? Or is the big loop helping hitters differentiate his curve from other pitches? Some attribute the modern hitters’ ability to lay off these slower breaking pitches to improved analytics and scouting reports.

In Boston, a Providence Journal article noted that the Red Sox staff was tightening up their pitch types, moving to cutters and splitters instead of sliders and curves, because the late break of the former would confuse hitters better than the looping curve or long tilt of the slider.

“There’s more knowledge in a game now of bat paths and technologies and studies and charts and hot zones, so you can get a picture of somebody’s bat path and where they like to hit the ball,” Red Sox catcher David Ross told the Providence Journal’s Brian Macpherson. “Guys try to stay off that as much as they can off the fastball with a cut or a sink or sharp breaking stuff. The big breaking ball is pretty much obsolete.”

While Ross may consider the big breaking ball obsolete, Hughes still breaks his out, just not at the same rate as he did a few years ago while coming up with the Yankees when it was considered a plus-pitch for him. It was last year when Hughes started to feel that hitters were not reacting to the pitch the same and shelved it in favor of the late-break cutter. This season, while he’s thrown his curve more frequently than last year, it is still the cutter that is thrown in greater abundance. Unlike his curve, the cutter is (1) swung at, (2) swung at out of the zone and (3) missed at a higher rate.

So maybe the curveball is the savior of a pitch for Phil Hughes that it was made out to be in spring training. He still is doing many things right at this juncture, such as leading the staff in strikeouts and avoiding home runs. If, however, he can find some help in reducing his unsightly batting average on balls in play or the amount of foul balls that has blown up his pitch count so frequently, he might be able to stay on the mound beyond the typical five innings of work.

Final123456789RHE
Minnesota000000000040
Detroit «00100002X340
@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:D.Price(15-12) L:K.Gibson(13-12) S:J.Nathan (35)
HR: MIN- None DET- I.Kinsler (17)

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Calgary 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
Purdue 38 FINAL
Minnesota 39
Western Ky 38 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How confident are you the Twins will improve in 2015?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT