By Frankie Piliere
When you are the youngest pitcher in Major League Baseball and being touted as the future ace of the New York Yankees, I suppose that it is normal to be under the microscope at all times. And, boy has Phil Hughes been under the microscope.
What has come in question about Hughes the most is his velocity and its relationship to his mechanics. Has his delivery changed as so many have speculated? If so, what has changed? Why does he look so confused in the picture to the right?
Stick around and find out the answers to these questions and others after the jump…
(Phil Hughes Photo Credit: Hot Stove New York)
Hughes’ delivery has changed over the course of the last year or so: FACT
It is not as drastic a change as it’s being made out to be, as I’ll get to in a minute, but there is most definitely a change as far as I can tell.
Hughes’ current arm angle is higher than it was during his minor league career: FACT
This is very, very slight. I’m not even convinced that it is part of the problem. But, Hughes’ arm angle is just a tiny bit higher than it was a couple years ago. Check out the photos below and keep the slightly different camera angles in mind. ’06 is on the left and ’08 is on the right.
If you can really see a significant different then I give you all the credit in the world. But although I think he is maybe just a shade higher than he was in ’06, I really don’t think there’s as much to it as people are making it out like it is.
Where’s The Difference?
Everyone seems to have an opinion of late about what is different about Phil Hughes mechanics. Surely, everyone is not wrong; there is something different as I established above. But, what no one has nailed down for sure is what exactly has changed. From what I’ve found after some excruciatingly long looks at video clips is something different than what’s previous been talked about. Take a look at these comparisons below. Again, ’08 is on the right and ’06 is on the left.
From balance point, to hands breaking, to the point where Hughes’ is about to begin his rear leg lift, there is nothing different worth noting. The top comparison may look slightly different but keep in mind the ’08 angle is far more straight on. Again, there is nothing significantly changed at this point through his delivery.
The Real Change
I wish I had a better visual for this but stay with me. From the video analysis, it appears Hughes’ mechanic change begins after his rear leg lift. Before that, I don’t see anything that looks like a legitimate difference in his delivery. This, however, is. Check out the picture comparison.
See anything? If you look close I think you will. In ’06, Hughes throwing right over that front leg. It was firming up beautifully and his rear leg was lifting straight up. I’ve been trying to think of the best way to describe this, but the only thing that keeps coming into my mind is that it looks like his right shoulder is pulling or leading the rest of his body here in ’08. In ’06 it was leg drive making his follow through work. Also take note that his head seems to get turned or snapped at the end of his arm action in ’08. This was not the case in ’06. His head in ’06 was still upright and turned toward the plate. In ’08, his head is being pulled down by his aggressive front shoulder pulling downward. Check out the clip of what I’m talking about.
Some analysts have said Hughes it “cutting himself off”. I think that in a way makes sense. After his release, his arm is snapping straight down to his side for the most part. There’s that and what and the rear leg lift/follow through. So, how do they correlate? Well, here is my theory:
The Phil Hughes delivery of 2006 shows him firming up his front leg, and driving over the top of it. The Phil Hughes delivery of 2008 shows him not quite getting that same drive over a stiff front leg. There is now some more bend in it as he plants and his weight is actually being somewhat resisted by the front leg. This forces his weight and his rear leg to come around his front leg and not so much over it. With his back leg having less work to do, it puts more pressure on his right shoulder to drive the ball downward. See the connection between this and “cutting himself off”? Here’s a good look at what I’m talking about in terms of his rear leg lift. In ’08, his leg is bending, then dropping down his side. In comparison, in ’06, his leg lifts up, stays fairly straight and is rotated forward by that firm front side.
My Final Theory
I’ve yet to weigh in on this and stood by while other analysts on the web have examined in. So, what’s my point in this article? A. Too much is being made of other supposed issues in his mechanics prior to his follow through. I hope I was able to ease some Yankee fans fears that there really is no other changes up this point in his delivery. The change I did touch on however, I do think could be a direct cause of his lessened velocity since over the past year. Is it because of the hamstring injury? I can’t say for sure either way, but considering much of my focus in this article has been on that front leg in question, it is certainly possible.
But, the bottom line is right now is that from what I can see, Hughes is pushing against that front leg and not driving over and through it. Hence, the reason for the less aggressive looking follow through with his leg that I pointed out above. The problem is not arm speed, nor is it arm angle or the way his hands are breaking, at least from what I can tell. Through 75% of his delivery, essentially nothing has changed. The leg lift and follow through certainly appear different, though.
Recommendation For Repair
Whether the Yankees want this repaired I don’t know. Perhaps they feel with his delivery his command will be better. What I see, however, besides effecting velocity, it is impacting command as well. With his shoulder pulling downwards towards his left side, it is essentially creating the same situation as pulling off his pitches. And, pulling off, typically causes pitches to leak arm side (In Hughes’ case, in on righty hitters). From watching most of Hughes’ starts, pitches leaking back towards the middle has gotten him in some trouble quite frequently.
So, what to do? I’d say the first step would be taking some pressure off of that right shoulder. And, to do that, Hughes would need to once again be aggressive with his legs and get that high rear leg lift. This will certainly make his bend at the waist much more smooth, rather being pulled down by his shoulder. In my opinion, he simply needs to get his weight transfer flowing smoothly right over and through his front side rather than his weight transfering into that front leg but not over it.
I’d like to be clear that this is my opinion. I do not claim to be right at all times; in fact I know I’m not. People have differing mechanical philosophies and I applied mine in this article. I’m making this little disclaimer because I know what a hot topic Hughes’ mechanics have become. This is simply what I view to be the potential mechanical change/flaw behind Phil Hughes’ supposed loss off velocity. Enjoy the article.