Why the A’s Should Acquire Phil Hughes
There have been reports that the New York Yankees are shopping Phil Hughes. Often discussed is the fact that Hughes has struggled, is in his walk year and that the Yankees essentially will need to therefore trade him to a team in contention. Insert the Athletics of Oakland. While there have been rumors that the Yankees want top flight talent for the likes of Hughes, it seems unlikely they can get that and if they are shopping him a decent prospect with a shot at possibly being a regular seems most appropriate to me. The Yankees of course aren’t obligated to move Hughes, but should they, I think Oakland would be a good destination for all parties.
Hughes is 27 years old and has been a decent pitcher in his tenure in New York with a career ERA of 4.41 an FIP of 4.27 and 10.6 WAR since 2007. While as a 24-year old he was an American League All-Star he really hasn’t had a signature season that would turn heads. He is the quintessential player whose reputation has persevered as being better than he is simply because he played in the Bronx. If Hughes slung his stuff like this for Minnesota there’d be a collective “who?” But the thing is, he has pitched in New York and that is not an easy environment from a technical standpoint or psychological one. Hughes’ achilles heel has always been that he gives up a lot of long balls (1.3 HR/9 in his career), a problem that has become worse as he has entered his prime from prior to 2010 it was 0.9 HR/9 and including 2010 and since it has been 1.4. This year Hughes has 1.1 WAR in his 95 innings of 7.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9 baseball which have yielded him a 4.55 ERA and 4.36 FIP.
In Oakland, Hughes home run problem is mitigated. Ostensibly this should mean that Hughes will be a better pitcher in the larger dimensions of the Coliseum. The home run rate should fall as he leaves the bandbox Yankee Stadium launchpad where Hughes has a 4.60 ERA and has surrendered a staggering 1.7 HR/9 in his career (for what it is worth he has only allowed 0.9 HR/9 in every stadium he has ever pitched in that isn’t the current Yankee Stadium). But let’s be crazy here and assume it doesn’t? There is a lot of value in a 4.55 ERA/4.36 FIP pitcher. Hughes thus far has been worth 1.1 WAR for the Yankees in 2013 and only three A’s starters top that: Bartolo Colon (2.5), Dan Straily (1.4) and A.J. Griffin (1.3). Furthermore, lest we forget there is a chance that Colon faces a Biogenesis scandal related suspension and there is the ever-present risk of injury to one of the other A’s arms. Hughes represents a swingman/insurance policy type guy here. He has made 49 appearances in relief in his career and he was very good in that role: 56 1/3 innings of 11.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 0.3 HR/9 (where’d that home run problem go?) baseball for a 1.44 ERA, 1.97 FIP and 2.3 WAR. So despite these 56 1/3 innings representing just 7.7% of his total innings pitched, they represent 21.7% of his WAR. One could make the argument the Yankees did themselves a disservice making him a starter even. Hughes is pricey at $7.15M but he likely is still worth the money as FanGraphs values his performance thus far this year already at $5.3M.
That’s why the A’s should get Hughes. Even if he implausibly doesn’t benefit from being in Oakland he improves the team. Even if he is one of the higher paid players on the club, he is worth the money. If the A’s could deal a Shane Peterson or even a Jemile Weeks and a bit prospect to get Hughes for several months, I say it is worth it. Does Brian Cashman think so? That is another question. Regardless, I’d hope Oakland would think outside the box here. Pitching is a fragile thing and the A’s should know this more than most. You can’t ever have enough good pitching and in Oakland, Hughes might rise to the level of something great.