In yesterday’s post about the Game 3 starter, Moshe argued that Phil Hughes’ drastic home-away splits should be considered when deciding whether to use him in the ALDS. Moshe put it well:
If the Yankees win the division, Game 3 would be on the road, while it would be their first home game if they end the season as the wild card team. Burnett has actually been a bit better at home, with a lower ERA and more strikeouts per nine than he has on the road. Conversely, Hughes has been stellar on the road while struggling at home. However, it is important to note that despite Phil’s struggles at home, his numbers at Yankee Stadium are still as good, if not better, than Burnett’s. I’d say that Hughes should be the favorite for a road Game 3, while this factor is not determinative if the game is at home.
It’s true that Hughes has been a better pitcher on the road than at home in 2010. At home this season he’s made 16 starts and thrown 94 innings, an average of 5.87 innings per start. In those starts, he has a 4.88 ERA and a 7.0 K/9. His strikeout to walk ratio is 2.43, and he’s surrendered an astounding 19 home runs in the New Yankee Stadium. On the road it’s a different story. Hughes has made 12 road starts and thrown 69 innings, averaging 5.75 innings per start. On the road his ERA is 3.52, his strikeout rate is 8.0 and his strikeout to walk ratio is an impressive 3.21 K/BB. Notably, Hughes has only given up 5 home runs on the road.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, we can look at the flight path of almost every single home run Hughes has given up at home. I say almost because Hit Tracker Online only has the data on 18 of 19 of Hughes’ home home runs. By looking at each one of them, we might learn a bit about why Hughes has given up so many at home this year. Were they a bunch of fluky, just-cleared-the-fence homers? Or something else? Let’s dive in after the jump.
Of the 18 available home runs Hughes has yielded at home, 3 of them were categorized by Hit Tracker Online as a No Doubt home run. These were home runs by Rick Ankiel, DeWayne Wise and JD Drew (the links take you to actual video of the home run, and I’d recommend watching them). Ankiel and Drew’s home runs were impressive, especially Ankiel’s. Wise’s however actually hit the foul pole, just inches away from being a foul ball.
There are 15 remaining home runs, and 6 of them were categorized by Hit Tracker Online as “Plenty”, meaning that they’re better than Lucky but not as strong as No Doubt. The first one (reverse chronological order) was by were hit by David Ortiz, and this was as much of a no-doubter as Drew’s above. The same holds with Russell Branyan, who apparently needs to DH for the Yankees next year, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind and Mike Napoli. All of these were hit to right field. The only Plenty that wasn’t hit to right field was from Lyle Overbay, who blasted it straight to center.
So far we’ve looked at 9 of the 18 home runs Hughes yielded at home. 8 of them cleared the fence by a substantial margin and didn’t appear to be the function of the ballpark or the weather per se. The other one by Wise was a few inches away from being foul but was well-struck nonetheless. This leaves 9 more to examine.
Vernon Wells‘ home run is classified as JE/UL, presumably “Just Enough/Unlucky”, but watching the video shows that this ball could have easily been classified as a Plenty, and Hit Tracker indicates that it would be a home run in 21 parks. The next one was a home run from Scott Podsednik and was classified as a JE/L by Hit Tracker. Unlike Ankiel’s home run in the same game, this was not an impressive home run. The video shows that it went to the shallowest part of right field and banged off the foul pole. A couple of more inches in any direction, really, and this would not have been a home run. Here is the flight path of this home run:
Weak. There are 7 remaining home runs, and Hit Tracker categorized them all as “Just Enough”. Their definition of Just Enough is “Means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.”
The first Just Enough was a home run by Kevin Cash of the Astros during interleague play in June. The video shows that the ball was very well-struck but didn’t clear the fence by much. The video also shows that it was raining at the moment of the home run, which means it was humid in addition to being hot, the two prime factors for maximum distance on fly balls. The flight path of the ball confirms that this home run just barely made it over the fence:
Kevin Cash “Just Enough” HR
The next home run was hit by Jose Reyes on 6/19, the same game in which he blasted a “Plenty”. This home run barely cleared the fence. As the video and the flight path confirm, this was a Yankee Stadium Special:
Jose Reyes “Just Enough” HR
Next was a home run by Franklin Gutierrez on 6/29. Like the other two, this one just cleared the fence by a matter of feet. The flight path confirms it:
Franklin Gutierrez “Just Enough”
The next home run is probably the most annoying of all the home runs yielded by Hughes. As the video and flight path confirm, this ball just barely made it out of the park. And by “just barely”, I mean “bounced on the wall and kicked into the stands”.
Maicer Izturis’ “You have to be kidding me” HR
The next one was hit by Miguel Cabrera, an unlikely candidate for a “Just Enough” home run. In fact, the video shows that this one appeared to be the most “legitimate” of all the “Just Enough” home runs, so much so that I wouldn’t even consider it a fluky home run. Cabrera essentially muscled a good curveball into the RF bullpen. The flight path shows that the ball landed well within the bullpen, and the total distance on the home run was 405 feet..
Miguel Cabrera “Just Enough but not really” HR
This leaves two more home runs, both hit on 9/5 against Toronto. One was hit by Aaron Hill and the other by John Buck. These home runs were the second and third of the game given up by Hughes, the first one being the “JE/U” home run that Wells hit in the first inning. Hill’s home run cleared the left field wall by several feet, and Buck’s home run was surprisingly well-hit for a “Just Enough” and cleared the center field wall with relative ease. As “Just Enough” home runs go, these were solid.
Aaron Hill “Just Enough” HR
John Buck “Just Enough” Hr
This concludes the examination of all but one of Hughes’ home runs yielded at home. Of the 18 home runs, I would venture to say that 6 of them (Wise, Podsednik, Cash, Reyes, Gutierrez and Izturis) were fluky home runs that could have just as easily been foul balls, bounced of the wall, or caught by an outfielder. This still leaves 12 solid home runs in 94 innings, which certainly seems high. Yet, it’s hard to say whether this is something that Hughes will replicate going forward, and accordingly whether his seemingly high home home-run rate is something to fear in the playoffs. More work is needed to evaluate what a reasonable home run rate is for a right-handed fly-ball pitcher accumulating almost 100 innings per year in the New Yankee Stadium. If that rate is similar to Hughes’ adjusted rate, then it’s possible that his struggles at home should not be feared as much as they were at first glance.