Hughes wasn’t as bad as his 4-14 record and 5.19 ERA in 2013. There were extenuating circumstances and his ERA was blown up by a few bad starts. As for his career, all the caveats are self-evident as to why the talented former first round draft pick – considered the number four prospect in all of baseball pre-2007 according to Baseball America via Baseball-Reference – has been relegated to a rebuilding project whom the Yankees misused and abused. Here are the list of reasons as to why Hughes was a washout (given the expectations) with the Yankees:
- The constraining innings limits and pitch counts.
- Fluctuating roles.
- A newly built bandbox of a stadium.
- Lack of an “out” pitch.
- Being a Yankee and all it entails.
There are viable arguments for every item on the list. Gene Michael – the Yankees GM when they rebuilt during George Steinbrenner’s suspension and superscout – was always against the way the Yankees held Hughes back. From the time he arrived in the big leagues there was a paranoia and fear that he was going to get hurt, therefore they stuck to innings limits, pitch counts and protective measures that did little to protect him and clearly hindered his development. Had Hughes been allowed to fight his way through trouble and not know that there was a finish line in front of him based on a pitch count/innings limit, would he have developed into something more than he was? Would those watershed moments in a game have helped him garner confidence and a toughness that currently doesn’t exist? There’s no answer other than the fact that even when he was good, he wasn’t anything special and if he’d been allowed to battle he might been better than he was.
While Chamberlain was the poster-child of Yankees vacillation of starter vs. reliever, Hughes was also used as a relief pitcher in 2009. This wasn’t an Earl Weaver/Tony LaRussa-style “let the pitcher get used to being in the big leagues as a long-reliever” strategy. It was more of the same Yankees iron clad dictates on how to develop a pitcher. In fact, Hughes was excellent as a reliever in the Yankees World Series-winning year of 2009, but there was never any consideration of him staying in the role. He was always going back into the rotation. For a young pitcher who’d been kept in a cocoon to experience repeated struggles for the first time in his baseball-playing life and get consistent abuse for it as a starter, it’s natural to look back to the time when he was successful and received accolades and pine for that role. For Hughes, that was when he was a relief pitcher. This too is the fault of the Yankees.