Jul 2, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes (65) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Why the San Francisco Giants Should Pursue Phil Hughes, Not Bronson Arroyo

Aug 15, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes (65) pitches during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants entered the offseason with a list of goals. Atop that list? Finding a starter or two to fill a rotation that had only two pitchers under contract for 2014.

So far, so good.  Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain have been penciled in for a long while now. Following them is Tim Lincecum, who the Giants re-signed before the curtains closed on the postseason. He’ll be back on a two-year, $35 million pact. And following Lincecum is TIm Hudson, who the Giants signed for two years, $23 million. He’ll take the reins of the No. 4 spot in the rotation.

That leaves one spot and one interesting scenario conjured up by yours truly: If the Giants had to choose between Bronson Arroyo and Phil Hughes, who would they pick?

Hint: It is Hughes. But first, let’s get the details out of the way.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden recently tweeted that the Giants still have interest in Arroyo. To clarify, the “still” is needed there because that was in the wake of the Hudson signing and while San Francisco does need one more starter to fill out its rotation, that vacancy could be filled with a cheaper internal option. If you’re looking for names, Yusmeiro Petit is a perfect example.

As for Hughes, well, that idea kinda-sorta comes out of left field. The New York Yankees castoff hasn’t directly been linked to the Giants. All we have to speculate with is a tweet from Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who was told that Hughes will likely end up in National League West.

That means that the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and the Giants could all be in play. Of course, not all of four NL West teams need Hughes. Los Angeles just recently signed Dan Haren to a one-year pact. San Diego did the same by signing Josh Johnson. Arizona hasn’t added a starter (yet), but Chase Field isn’t an ideal fit for Hughes’ fly-ball tendencies. The same can be said about Coors Field and its not-so friendly environment for pitchers.

That leaves the Giants. Hence my speculation.

Sep 28, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo (61) takes the field during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

So…the point is: If it comes down to Arroyo or Hughes (and it very well could, with the starting pitchers rapidly flying off the board), the Giants should splurge on Hughes, not Arroyo.

Don’t get me wrong, Arroyo is a solid option. He eats up innings (average of 211 per year since 2005) and he’s pretty consistent (104 ERA+ in the same span–4 percent better than league average, in other words). As far as No. 5 starters go, that would be hard to beat.

Better yet, Arroyo isn’t going to break the bank, nor is he fishing for what, say, Ervin Santana is fishing for (five-year deal upwards of $100 million). In comparison, Arroyo is looking for is a two or three-year deal, probably with an average annual salary in the neighborhood of $15 million.

Which is reasonable. Very reasonable, especially when teams have an extra $25 million to spend due to the new national TV deals. Put simply: There’s a ton of money lying around. And money lying around means money to spend.

So, if Arroyo nets a three-year deal in $40 million range, well, that wouldn’t be the biggest overpay in history. All hell wouldn’t break loose.

But on the same token, dishing out said deal to Arroyo wouldn’t be much of a bargain. If we use FanGraphs’ WAR-based value system, we’ll find that just once has Arroyo been worth at least $15 million in a single year–2006. In 2013, he was worth a mere $3.8 million, and just once since 2009 has he been worth more than $10 million.

Hughes, on the other hand, could be one of those bargain pickups. Everybody loves a bargain pickup, especially–emphasis on the especially–general managers.

On the surface, Hughes looks broken. His numbers are far from appealing, as his 4.65 ERA over the last four years portrays. His peripherals (4.50 FIP, 4.39 xFIP) don’t give him much justice either.

So why could he be a bargain pickup? Well, there are a couple of things.

No. 1: At 27 years old, he’s still young. Meaning, he could settle (he might have to settle, actually) on a one or two-year deal in attempt to rebuild his value and thus, land a lengthier, more lucrative contract before he hits 30. Such a deal could fall in the one-year, $8 million range that MLB Trade Rumors pegged him at, give or take a couple million. Point is: It won’t sniff what Arroyo gets.

No. 2 is specifically directed towards him landing in San Francisco, and I bet you could guess exactly what I’m poking at. Hint: It has to do with the friendly pitching confines of AT&T Park.

Ah, yes, Hughes’ fly-ball tendencies. Per FanGraphs, Hughes’ 46.8 percent fly-ball percentage since 2010 is third in baseball. He does indeed pack a knack for inducing the fly ball.

That can be good and bad. In Yankee Stadium (formerly Hughes’ home park), for example, it’s bad. Very bad. If we visit ESPN Park Factors, it’ll confirm that Yankee Stadium is a flat-out hitters’ park. In terms of home runs, it was the ninth-most hitter-friendly park in baseball in 2013. In 2012, it was the eighth-most friendly. And so on.

Given that Hughes is very familiar with Yankee Stadium (and not so much in a good way, for the most part), it’s then no wonder that his 1.44 HR/9 rate since 2010 checks in as the sixth-highest mark in baseball.

Attributing Hughes’ lofty home run rates entirely to Yankee Stadium’s small dimensions would indeed be obscuring the fact that Hughes did have some other issues–opposing hitters smacked around his fastball to the tune of a .917 OPS in 2013, for example.

But … two words: AT&T Park. It’s pretty much a pitcher’s heaven. Call it the opposite of Yankee Stadium. Since 2010, it’s been in the bottom 20 (usually very near or at the bottom) in yielding home runs, which, if you connect the dots, would figure to fit Hughes’ batted-ball tendencies very well.

So there are a couple of things working in Hughes’ favor, even more so if he winds up in San Francisco.

Another thing working in his favor: Hughes, even during this four-year rough patch (2010-2013), has been more valuable than Arroyo, by WAR’s reckoning, at least. That is not a typo.

Observe (2010-13 statistics):

Associated Press
USA Today Top 25
1. Michigan State (6-0)1. Michigan State (6-0)
2. Kansas (4-0)2. Kansas (4-0)
3. Kentucky (4-1)3. Arizona (5-0)
4. Arizona (5-0)4. Kentucky (4-1)
5. Oklahoma State (4-0)5. Duke (5-1)
6. Duke (5-1)6. Ohio State (4-0)
7. Ohio State (4-0)7. Syracuse (4-0)
8. Syracuse (4-0)8. Oklahoma State (4-0)
9. Louisville (5-1)9. Louisville (5-1)
10. Wisconsin (6-0)10. Gonzaga (4-0)
11. Gonzaga (4-0)11. Wisconsin (6-0)
12. Wichita State (5-0)12. Wichita State (5-0)
13. Connecticut (6-0)13. Florida (4-1)
14. Oregon (4-0)14. Connecticut (6-0)
15. Florida (4-1)15. Oregon (4-0)
16. North Carolina (4-1)16. North Carolina (4-1)
17. Iowa State (4-0)17. Baylor (4-0)
18. Baylor (4-0)18. Creighton (4-0)
19. UCLA (5-0)19. Memphis (2-1)
20. Creighton (4-0)20. Michigan (4-2)
21. Memphis (2-1)21. UCLA (5-0)
22. Michigan (4-2)22. Iowa State (4-0)
23. Iowa (5-0)23. Iowa (5-0)
24. Massachusetts (6-0)24. VCU (4-2)
25. Marquette (3-1)25. Indiana (5-1)
Also Receiving Votes: New Mexico, VCU, Florida State, Virginia, Indiana, Boise State, Charlotte, Belmont, Arizona State, Harvard, Colorado, Villanova, Xavier, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas A&M, George Washington, Georgetown.Also receiving votes: Massachusetts, New Mexico, Marquette, Florida State, Virginia, Boise State, Pittsburgh, Arizona State, Colorado, California, Saint Mary's, Tennessee, Saint Louis, New Mexico State, Charlotte, Missouri, Villanova, Utah State, Belmont, Notre Dame, Providence, Harvard, Georgetown.

Give the edge to Arroyo in ERA, xFIP and BB% departments. Narrow leads (except for ERA), at that. And for Hughes, he holds leads in the FIP, K% and WAR departments.

Now, what exactly do these numbers mean?

For Arroyo, the gist of it is this: Change could be bad. Since he doesn’t pile up the strikeouts, that leaves more room for the defense behind him to kick the ball around. The catch, though, is that his former team, the Cincinnati Reds, didn’t kick the ball around much, netting baseball’s fourth-best defensive value rating in 2013.

If you prefer a larger sample size, let’s go back to 2010. Same story–the Reds, per FanGraphs’ all-in-one defensive value metric, have been baseball’s best defensive team during that span–take into account that players come and go, so it’s far from the exact same defensive alignment in those four years. It’s certainly an interesting trend, however, and it’s safe to call Arroyo a fortunate fellow.

July 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo (61) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT

At least to some degree.

Because Arroyo does have a knack for inducing a decent amount of fly balls (35.3 FB% in 2013, 28th-highest in baseball). That habit does help him out a bit, because fly balls don’t yield as much bad luck as ground balls–think slow rollers in no man’s land, choppers, speedy runners. You get the point.

Fly balls aren’t all good, though. Home runs are, after all, a part of being a fly-ball pitcher, and Arroyo has given up his fair share of long balls. His 12.8 HR/FB rate since 2010 is right up there (11th-highest).

As for Hughes, well, he holds a significant lead in the WAR department. Thus…He’s instantly a WAR hero. He’s more valuable than Arroyo, and nothing else matters, right?

Sort of. WAR measures a player’s overall value. Hughes had a higher WAR than Arroyo did in 2013. So that’s how we reach the “more valuable” conclusion, but that’s a bit inconclusive. I hate to kill the mood, but there’s more to it than just WAR.

To avoid cutting ourselves short, below we have their opponents’ wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) numbers–wOBA basically measures a hitter’s overall offensive impact.

Player
Teams, Years
Year On Ballot
Moises AlouPirates 1990, Expos 1990, 92-96, Marlins 1997, Astros 1998, 2000-01, Cubs 2002-04, Giants 2005-06, Mets 2007-081st
Jeff BagwellAstros 1991-20054th
Armando BenitezOrioles 1994-98, Mets 1999-2003, Yankees 2003, Mariners 2003, Marlins 2004, Giants 2005-07, Marlins 2007, Blue Jays 20081st
Craig BiggioAstros 1988-20072nd
Barry BondsPirates 1986-92, Giants 1993-20072nd
Sean CaseyIndians 1997, Reds 1998-2005, Pirates 2006, Tigers 2006-07, Red Sox 20081st
Roger ClemensRed Sox 1984-96, Blue Jays 1997-98, Yankees 1999-2003, Astros 2004-06, Yankees 20072nd
Ray DurhamWhite Sox 1995-2002, A's 2002, Giants 2003-08, Brewers 20081st
Eric GagneDodgers 1999-06, Rangers 2007, Red Sox 2007, Brewers 20081st
Tom GlavineBraves 1987-2002, Mets 2003-07, Braves 20081st
Luis GonzalezAstros 1990-95, Cubs 1995-96, Astros 1997, Tigers 1998, Diamondbacks 1999-2006, Dodgers 2007, Marlins 20081st
Jacque JonesTwins 1999-2005, Cubs 2006-07, Tigers 2008, Marlins 20081st
Todd JonesAstros 1993-96, Tigers 1997-01, Twins 2001, Rockies 2002-03, Red Sox 2003, Reds 2004, Phillies 2004, Marlins 2005, Tigers 2006-081st
Jeff KentBlue Jays 1992, Mets 1992-96, Indians 1996, Giants 1997-2002, Astros 2003-04, Dodgers 2005-081st
Paul Lo DucaDodgers 1998-2004, Marlins 2004-05, Mets 2006-07, Nationals 2008, Marlins 20081st
Greg MadduxCubs 1986-92, Braves 1993-2003, Cubs 2004-06, Dodgers 2006, Padres 2007-08, Dodgers 20081st
Edgar MartinezMariners 1987-20045th
Don MattinglyYankees 1982-9514th
Fred McGriffBlue Jays 1986-90, Padres 1991-93, Braves 1993-97, Devil Rays 1998-2001, Cubs 2001-02, Dodgers 2003, Devil Rays 20045th
Mark McGwireA's 1986-97, Cardinals 1997-20018th
Jack MorrisTigers 1977-90, Twins 1991, Blue Jays 1992-93, Indians 199415th
Mike MussinaOrioles 1991-2000, Yankees 2001-081st
Hideo NomoDodgers 1995-98, Mets 1998, Brewers 1999, Tigers 2000, Red Sox 2001, Dodgers 2002-04, Devil Rays 2005, Royals 20081st
Rafael PalmeiroCubs 1986-88, Rangers 1989-93, Orioles 1994-98, Rangers 1999-2003, Orioles 2004-054th
Mike PiazzaDodgers 1992-98, Marlins 1998, Mets 1998-2005, Padres 2006, A's 20072nd
Tim RainesExpos 1979-90, White Sox 1991-95, Yankees 1996-98, A;s 1999, Expos 2001, Orioles 2001, Marlins 20027th
Kenny RogersRangers 1989-95, Yankees 1996-97, A's 1998-99, Mets 1999, Rangers 2000-02, Twins 2003, Rangers 2004-05, Tigers 2006-081st
Curt SchillingOrioles 1988-90, Astros 1991, Phillies 1992-2000, Diamondbacks 2000-03, Red Sox 2004-072nd
Richie SexsonIndians 1997-2000, Brewers 2000-03, Diamondbacks 2004, Mariners 2005-08, Yankees 20081st
Lee SmithCubs 1980-87, Red Sox 1988-90, Cardinals 1990-93, Yankees 1993, Orioles 1994, Angels 1995-96, Reds 1996, Expos 199712th
J.T. SnowYankees 1992, Angels 1993-96, Giants 1997-2005, Red Sox 2006, Giants 20081st
Sammy SosaRangers 1989, White Sox 1989-91, Cubs 1992-2004, Orioles 2005, Rangers 20072nd
Frank ThomasWhite Sox 1990-2005, A's 2006, Blue Jays 2007-08, A's 20081st
Mike TimlinBlue Jays 1991-97, Mariners 1997-98, Orioles 1999-2000, Cardinals 2000-02, Phillies 2002, Red Sox 2003-081st
Alan TrammellTigers 1977-9613th
Larry WalkerExpos 1989-94, Rockies 1995-2004, Cardinals 2004-054th

By my count, Arroyo has the edge in three of the four years–remember, lower is, obviously, better.

So if we throw all the data together, Arroyo has a marginal edge. But that’s the key word: marginal. Yet the difference in Hughes’ and Arroyo’s contracts likely won’t be marginal.

Bingo.

That leads us to a pretty definitive conclusion. Given Hughes’ age (he’s about nine years younger than Arroyo), upside and cheaper demands, the Giants should pursue him over Arroyo. Simple the fact that they’re almost equal on paper while the money is projected to tilt vastly in Arroyo’s favor seals the deal.

Tags: Bronson Arroyo Cincinnati Reds MLB Free Agency New York Yankees Phil Hughes San Francisco Giants

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