The Minnesota Twins have reportedly signed Starting Pitcher, Phil Hughes, to a 3-year, $24 Million deal. Many of the initial reactions to this signing have argued that the Twins gave Hughes too many years in the deal. While 3 years may be longer than Hughes merited, the length may work out well for the Twins.
Hughes has never been able to live up to his full potential, as he has yet to complete a full season with an ERA under 4.00 as a starter. Despite a career 4.54 ERA, Hughes still entered the offseason with plenty of upside in the mind of many executives, as he is just 28 years old, which made him the youngest domestic starter on the open market. Upside without results rarely leads to a multi-year pact, but many pundits believe Hughes will be much more successful in a bigger park.
I agree with this assessment, as Hughes has pitched for the New York Yankees his entire career, and Yankee Stadium in notorious for being a hitter’s park. Among starting pitchers with at least 120 IP, Hughes ranked 6th in HR/9. While this statistic is alarming, it also shows that if Hughes can limit his home runs, then he will be much more successful. This is not groundbreaking news, nor is it special to Hughes; however, he will have a good chance to do this. Hughes will pitch his home games in a much more pitcher-friendly park than he has his entire career. According to ESPN park effects, Minnesota’s home park, Target Field, ranks as the 27th park in allowing HRs, compared with Yankee Stadium, which ranks 9th in allowing HRs. For a Flyball pitcher like Phil Hughes, who ranked 3rd in FB% among starters with 120 IP, a move to a less homer-prone stadium will greatly benefit him.
Many of Hughes’s other peripheral statistics provide even more reason for optimism. According to Fangraphs, Hughes ranked as above-average in K/9 and BB/9, as he had a 7.48 K/9 and 2.59 BB/9 in 2013. Also, while his 5.19 ERA is rather concerning, his 4.50 FIP is much more optimistic. Beyond his high HR rate, Hughes was also hurt by .324 BABIP, which was 30 points higher than his career average. If his BABIP returns to normal and his HR rate drops, then it is easy to see Hughes’s ERA falling back around 4.00.
As I mentioned above, the length of this deal may be good for the Twins. The Twins are not ready to contend in 2014, but have made two nice additions to their rotation, as they have also signed Ricky Nolasco to a 4-year, $49 Million deal. The Twins have, arguably, the best Farm System of all 30 MLB organizations, which could be ready to contribute at the Big League level by 2015 and definitely by 2016. A 1-year deal for Hughes would not have benefited the Twins much, as it is unlikely they will contend this year. However, by the third year of the deal, the Twins will be ready to challenge for a playoff birth, and Hughes will still be with the club. The Twins were also able to lower Hughes’s average annual value by agreeing to give him a third year. While many experts feel the Twins overpaid Hughes in years, I believe the length of the deal will be a positive for the Twins.