Phil Hughes has become the center of a lot of skepticism and the target of many a sportswriter's axe. However bleak it may seem for the once promising young fireballer, there are signs of hope in an otherwise messy situation. First and foremost, Yankees' manager Joe Girardi continues to support Hughes, even with his 5.64 ERA. Perhaps Joe is privy to the positive signs as well.
Hughes is currently sporting an excellent 3.8 K/BB rate and his velocity has bounced back from a dip last season, but he has been killed by the long ball so far this season, allowing 12 in just 52.2 innings and not having gone a single game without surrendering a dinger. The main culprit has been his location. Despite a very good walk rate of only 2.2 per nine innings, Hughes has been unable to locate effectively withing the strike-zone. As you can see from his pitch f/x chart via TexasLeaguers.com, the majority of his fastballs have been located up in the zone...
Righties have feasted off of Hughes thus far in 2012, hitting .381 with an insane .438 BABIP. Both that BABIP and a 22-percent HR/FB rate are well above Hughes's career rates in those categories (.288 BABIP and 8.7 HR/FB rate) and are bound to regress sooner or later. What's even more interesting is the dominant 10 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 that Hughes has posted against righties thus far.
The good news is that Hughes is striking out batters at an above average rate and is keeping walks to a minimum. An adjustment in location within the strike-zone could end up making a world of a difference, turning Hughes from a pitcher the sportswriters want to push back to the pen to an important part of the rotation and a gem of a buy low for fantasy bargain hunters.