By Jason Shetler
If you were to compile a list of the most underrated relief pitchers in baseball, one name that would certainly be on there is Jared Hughes. The 6’7 right-hander has been a fixture in the Pirates bullpen during these last three years of the Bucs being a contender. Hughes’ calling card has been his impressive ability to come into games late and strand inherited baserunners. Here are the stat comparisons for Hughes the past two seasons, as well as a 2016 projection.
2014: 1.96 ERA, 184 ERA+, 3.99 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 5.0 K/9 in 63 appearances
2015: 2.28 ERA, 169 ERA+, 3.81 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 4.8 K/9 in 76 appearances
2016 (FanGraphs): 2.85 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 5.4 K/9 in 71 appearances
Hughes has been able to put up terrific ERA’s each of the last couple seasons. Because he doesn’t strikeout many batters, and pitches more to contact, the Fielding Independent Pitching figures are much higher. The biggest reason Hughes has been able to sustain success, despite the high FIP, is the Pirates aggressive infield shifting combined with the fact that he induces a large amount of groundballs. Over the past two seasons, Hughes has posted a very stellar groundball rate of 64%. Only Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks has a better rate in that span at 68%.
My analysis: Jared Hughes has become one of the best groundball relievers in baseball, as he’s put up a 62% groundball rate since 2012. He relies more heavily on the sinker now at 78% compared to 63.6% his rookie season. Hughes is at his best when he comes in and strands inherited baserunners, and he was clutch last season with a 1.51 Win Probability Added.