When you look at Phil Hughes’ numbers on the surface, things look good.  He’s got 15 wins.  He’s sporting a respectable (though not as much in 2010) ERA of 4.12.  His WHIP is solid at 1.25.

However, entering last night’s start those numbers are a bit deceiving.  Just look at his ERAs over the past three months:

  • June – 5.17
  • July – 5.52
  • August – 4.33

After throwing just 105.1 innings in 2009, spending significant time in the bullpen, he has already thrown 144.1 innings this year (plus an additional five innings against the A’s last night, allowing two runs on four hits and five walks, striking out one).  It would be hard to imagine the Yankees shutting him down, especially with the playoffs on the horizon, but they certainly could slow things down.

There are two ways they can do that, either giving him more time between starts or moving him back to the bullpen, where he could be a huge asset in the playoffs.

The problem with the latter idea is the struggles of Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett.  If those two were pitching well, the decision would be significantly easier and much more predictable.  At this point, exactly how the Yankees handle the situation is really a guessing game. 

Considering how poorly the mishandled Joba Chamberlain in 2009, there’s no way to make any definitive statements.

As for his success on the mound, there are certainly concerns.  That sterling WHIP was buoyed by early season success.  Since the calendar turned to June, he’s at 1.39 due to a BABIP of .312.

Over the first two months, in comparison, he was at 1.07 thanks, in part, to a BABIP of .267.  Obviously, that was going to be difficult to maintain.

There are two other major changes that need to be noted.  First is the HR/9.  In the first two months, he was at 0.6. Over the past three, he was at 1.6 (15 HR over 86.2 innings).  It should be noted that he started just four games at home over the first two months, including allowing five ER (and two HR) to the Red Sox on May 17.

Overall, he’s made 14 starts at home, with a 4.66 ERA and 16 HR allowed (to compare, he’s got a 3.38 ERA and three HR allowed on the road).  That’s got to be a huge concern for owners as well, and makes it feel like he is almost unusable when he toes the rubber at Yankees Stadium (barring a favorable matchup like last night’s). 

There is just a huge risk that he gets beaten by long balls.

The other concern is his strikeouts.  Over the first two months of the year he had a K/9 of 9.1.  In the three subsequent months, he’s at 6.7.  It’s just another eye-popping number that has to make you a little bit nervous.

The bottom line is that there are a slew of concerns surrounding Hughes over the season’s final month.  Whether it is his status in the rotation, his ability to pitch at home or the likelihood of him piling up the strikeouts, things just lead you to be extremely cautious.

I’m not saying he’s unusable, but be careful and make sure you have a viable alternative on the bench.  If you can, when he’s starting at home, you may want to use said alternative.

What are your thoughts on Hughes?  Would you use him over the final month?  How do you think the Yankees will handle him?

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