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Phil Hughes' deceiving season

Phil Hughes pitches during a game against the

Phil Hughes pitches during a game against the Blue Jays. (July 16, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

Phil Hughes is much better than you think. Really.

Hughes enters Thursday's start 15-12 with a 3.96 ERA and, sure, there are some ugly numbers that jump out at you: 33 home runs allowed (second in the majors); 12 losses; he's only lasted at least six innings in 17 of his 29 starts.

But it might be surprising to learn this: He's one of the Yankees' top starters.

- Hughes has given up four earned runs or more in just eight of his starts, or 27.5 percent of the time, that's a better percentage than Hiroki Kuroda (30 percent), CC Sabathia (32 percent) or Ivan Nova (42.3 percent).

- Hughes has been the Yankees' best starter lately. In his last six outings, he's 4-2 with a 3.43 ERA. Kuroda is 3-2 with a 4.00 ERA, Sabathia is 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA and Nova is 2-3 with a 7.64 ERA.

- For those who find losses important, also check the win column: Hughes leads the Yankees with 15.

- Hughes and Kuroda are the only two members of the Yankees staff to make all of their starts.

- Aside from an awful April and subpar May, Hughes has been a very good pitcher each of the last four months:

Month Record ERA
April/March 1-3 7.88
May 3-2 4.66
June 4-1 2.67
July 2-2 3.09
Aug. 3-3 3.82
Sept. 2-1 3.44

But despite his solid second half, a postseason start needs to be carefully thought about, and should come with three firm “Hughes Rules”:

Start at home and only home. Don't even get on a plane to an opposing city. Hughes is 10-4 with a 3.56 ERA at Yankee Stadium and 5-8 with a 4.43 ERA on the road. An odd stat considering his home run troubles.

Don't give him too long of a leash. Opposing hitters' power stats take a huge leap from their first time facing Hughes to their second and third at-bats this season.

The first plate appearance, hitters have a .401 slugging percentage against Hughes. That jumps to .519 during the second trip and .503 for the third. That's like facing Denard Span for the first three innings and then getting Prince Fielder for the rest of the game. Of the 33 homers Hughes has allowed, 27 have come during a batter's second or third plate appearance. Compare that to Sabathia's 2012 slugging against - .421 the first time through the order, .449 the second, .393 the third – or Kuroda's - .413/.323/.462.

Lefty specialist. If the Yankees face a lefty-leaning lineup, Hughes is the man for the job. Lefties have hit just .204 with a .257 on-base percentage and .335 slugging percentage off Hughes this season. Righties, meanwhile, have largely had their way with him: .314/.347/.602. Again, in ballplayer terms: Lefties are like facing a lineup of Jemile Weeks'. Righties are like taking your chances against nine Buster Poseys.


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