On-Base Perception

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Phil Hughes' fading fastball

Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes reacts after walking

Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes reacts after walking the Rays' Matt Joyce during the third inning. (April 8, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Maybe Phil Hughes' actions speak louder than his words.

The Yankees' struggling starter told reporters today that "there's no doubt in my fastball this year."

But despite Hughes' stated belief in his heater, the evidence suggests he's certainly shying away from it on the mound.

Hughes, 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA, is using his fastball just 57.4 percent of the time, the lowest percentage of his career. During his successful 2010 as a starter, his fastball use was at 63.6 percent, and it had never dropped below 62 percent until last year.

His velocity currently sits at 91.9 mph, below the 92.6 mph he averaged as a starter in 2010, but above the 91.3 mph he averaged during an up-and-down 2011. You can chalk that up to building up velocity during the early part of the season or you can view it as a warning sign. Hughes' velocity was a huge concern during April last year when he went through similar struggles en route to a disappointing season. It's something to watch.

His waning fastball percentage is benefiting his cutter and change. He's never thrown the change more than 6.5 percent of the time, but that number sits at 12 percent in 2012. Again, it's a number that could normalize as the year progresses. But if Hughes really has faith in his fastball, why is he favoring other pitches?

A quick look at fangraphs.com's section on pitch type linear weights shows that, for the first time, all of Hughes' pitches sit in the negative. His fastball is -3.2, only the second time in his career it hasn't been a positive.

At some point, Hughes' faith needs to transform into results if he wants to avoid a repeat of 2011.

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