Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wade Davis and Phil Hughes - Brothers from Different Mothers

This writer can't help himself. For as long as both pitchers have been in the majors, the similarities between Wade Davis and Phil Hughes have seemed striking. And it isn't just their six foot, five inch frames they share either. A year apart in age, both fairly high draft picks, they both have short names and similar deliveries. Both have been expected by their respective clubs (Bay Rays and Yankees) to become aces in the rotation. Both have come up short of those expectations. Is this any more than a doddering thought from the imagination? Let's investigate.

Phil Hughes, mostly from his time in the bullpen, has twice as many games in the majors than Davis. The difference is somewhat made up by Davis who has always been a starter. Davis has thrown 308 innings in his career compared to Hughes' 384.1. Both give up too many homers. Davis has a career 1.14 homers per nine innings pitched. Hughes is at 1.12. Both walk batters at nearly the same rate. Davis has a career walks per nine of 3.30 while Hughes is at 3.18. Hughes has a much higher career strikeout rate per nine innings but again, that's because of his relief work where he could pitch an inning and go all out.

Both have similar fastball speeds. Last year, Davis averaged 92.4 mph on his fastball and Hughes was at 92.5. How similar is that? Both have lost velocity this year--Hughes more so, but last night was back to his previous rates of last year. Davis also features a two-seam fastball while Hughes has a cutter. Both have a curve. Davis has 6.1 inches of horizontal movement on his curve while Hughes has 6.4 inches of that movement. Both have change ups. Hughes has a bigger margin of difference between the speed of his change up to his fastball than Davis has. Again, Hughes has a cutter while Davis has a slider. Both are similar in speed and break.

Phil Hughes has a .568 winning percentage as a starter and Davis has a .538 winning percentage. Davis has averaged 5.92 innings per start. Hughes, 5.45. Davis has a .283 BABIP as a starter, Hughes .291.  Here's a nice one. As a starter, opposing batters have a .754 OPS against Phil Hughes. It's .755 against Wade Davis.

One major difference is in how they handle pitch counts. Hughes as a similar OPS against on every pitch count. But Davis gets hit harder as his pitch count grows. So there's a major difference. One way this difference manifests itself is in the first inning. Hughes has a much higher ERA in the first inning than Davis does. But both pitchers have similar fly ball to ground ball ratios. Hughes is at 1.23 for his career and Davis is 1.14 (in both cases, the fly balls outnumber the ground balls). Hughes has a 19.3 lifetime line drive percentage. Davis has a 19.1 lifetime line drive percentage.

Here are some other stats for comparison. They are all career numbers:
  • O-Swing - Hughes: 26.4 percent, Davis: 26.9 percent
  • First pitch strikes - Hughes 61.2 percent, Davis: 58.6 percent
  • HBP - Hughes: 10, Davis: 10
  • Homer to fly ball percentage - Hughes: 9.3, Davis: 9.0

The pitchers seem much more similar than they are distinct. Did this writer cherry pick some stats? Sure. But there are enough cherries to prove a point. Both have lost velocity this year. Both have lost movement on their fastball this year. Both are experiencing lower swing and miss rates this year. Both seem to be regressing instead of improving. Again, both are young. Hughes is 25 and Davis is 26. Neither are as aggressive as it seems they should be. Neither are commanding on the mound or contain much presence on the hill. Hughes has much more as a reliever than a starter. Davis has no relief appearances. Both could still end up being very good starters in the future. But both right now seem to be a bit of a drag on their respective rotations. They have similar deliveries and builds. Davis and Hughes seem like two peas in the same pod, or if you will, two brothers from different mothers.

And right now, that's not necessarily a good thing.

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