Any debate about whether the Yankees should keep righthander Phil Hughes when he becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the season usually boils down to a stat that both new-age and traditional baseball analysts agree is pretty important: home runs.
Hughes has a propensity for giving up the long ball, leading to suggestions that he -- and the Yankees -- would be better served if he pitched in a bigger ballpark or played for a National League team. Or simply got the heck out of the launching pad that can be Yankee Stadium.
Hughes, who has given up 12 home runs this year, has allowed 100 career homers, 66 at Yankee Stadium (old and new combined). He's been pretty much of an equal-opportunity offender, giving up 50 to lefthanded hitters and 50 to righties. When he gets ahead of a batter 0-and-1 in the count, he’s given up 55 home runs. When he starts 1-and-0, he’s given up 27.
Part of Hughes' issue is simply his style. He's a strikeout pitcher who elevates the ball and, as such, gets an overwhelming amount of fly balls. He has a 46.4 percent career fly-ball rate and is at 50.5 percent this season -- the highest among qualified pitchers.
It's simple probability that some of those balls are going to leave the park, but Hughes does seem to have worse luck than most. He has allowed an average of 1.29 home runs per nine innings during his career and is at 1.60 HR/9 this year. The 2013 MLB average is 1.02.
Part of that is due to the bad combination of an extreme fly-ball righthander pitching at Yankee Stadium. Hughes' career HR/9 at the Stadium is 1.67. The HR/9 for all pitchers from 2007, when Hughes debuted, to 2013 is 1.30.
The short rightfield porch hasn't helped much this season, and six of Hughes' seven homers at home have gone to right. But in the past, they’ve been spread out. He’s given up 35 to lefthanded hitters and 31 to righties at Yankee Stadium.
Placing him in a bigger ballpark, however, might not totally solve the power problem. An example: AT&T Park, home of the Giants, would have contained only two of the home runs Hughes has given up since 2008. Give him this: He’s not getting burned on cheapies.
Overall, however, he does perform significantly better in pitchers' parks. Parkfactors.com uses weather information as well as game data to determine if a stadium is a "hitters' park" or a "pitchers' park." There are 15 of each.
Hurlers have a 4.18 ERA and 1.14 HR/9 in hitters' parks this season and a 3.77 ERA and 0.9 HR/9 in pitchers' parks.
Hughes' splits, however, are far more drastic. He has a 4.70 career ERA in hitters' parks and a 1.41 HR/9. In pitchers' parks, those numbers shrink to a 3.68 ERA and 0.49 HR/9.
There are exceptions. Hughes has a 1.76 ERA with two home runs in 35 2/3 innings at U.S. Cellular Field and Rangers Park in Arlington, two of the more hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball. He has a 4.58 ERA and nine home runs in 55 innings at Tropicana Field and Kauffman Stadium, which should favor a pitcher (small sample size warning applies here).
If Hughes can find the right forgiving ballpark, he finally might live up to the promise that initially greeted the much-hyped prospect. It just probably won’t be the ballpark in the Bronx.