Twins pitcher Phil Hughes has emerged as a useful Fantasy option again. After a down year with the Yankees, Hughes entered the offseason looking to rebuild his value. While signing with the Twins wasn't going to help him win more games, pitching in Target Field made Hughes an enticing late-round sleeper. A rough April made it look like Hughes was bound to disappoint again, but he's turned things around in a big way during May. Should Fantasy owners buy his recent resurgence?
In a word, yes. Hughes has made some changes to his approach that signal a possible breakout. The biggest thing has been a focus on extreme control. Through 61 1/3 innings, Hughes has walked just six batters. All six of those walks came in April. Among qualified pitchers, only Tim Hudson has posted a lower walk rate.
On top of that, Hughes has taken steps to alter his repertoire. His slider is gone, and he's barely using his changeup this year. Both pitches carried a negative pitch value last season, so Hughes' logic here is sound. Getting rid of the slider was actually a significant development, as Hughes relied on the pitch 23.72 percent of the time in 2013. "My slider was kind of a pitch that got me out of some spots last year, I guess you could say," Hughes told TwinCities.com, "but it definitely wasn't a quality pitch." That article is a must-read for Fantasy owners looking to get Hughes' thoughts on his new approach.
His home park has also played a big role, as Marty Gitlin hinted at with his most recent blog post. Hughes has always been an extreme fly ball pitcher, and he's much better suited for a spacious ballpark like Target Field. There's an argument to be made that new Yankees Stadium was actually the worst possible place for Hughes to pitch, so he was bound to get better once he left. Considering that, it's no surprise to see he's lowered his home run rate significantly. It's unclear whether he'll continue to limit the long ball at this rate, but there's basically no way he'll go back to being a home run machine as long as he continues to pitch in Minnesota.
Though his changes have been significant, Hughes' value probably won't get much higher. He's a good, but not great, strikeout pitcher, and there's still some concern about his fly ball approach. At the same time, his miniscule walk rate is significant, and his home park will mask batted ball issues. As long as Hughes doesn't see big time regression in either area, he'll be a useful Fantasy starter, particularly when he's at home. While there should still be some reservations about starting him in extreme hitter's parks, Hughes was already become a reliable Fantasy asset. His breakout seems legitimate, but don't expect more than this.