By Jason Shetler
Jared Hughes entered last offseason as an arbitration eligible player for the first time. The 31-year-old righty was able to avoid arbitration with the Pirates by agreeing to terms on a one-year deal worth $2.175 million. Considering the contributions that Hughes has given to the Bucs bullpen, going back to the 2012 season, the deal seemed like a real bargain.
During Spring Training, Hughes dealt with a lat muscle strain and was placed on the disabled list to begin the season. He was activated from the DL on April 30th. Hughes just hasn’t been as consistent this year. Although he currently has a 3.64 ERA, his low K/9 (4.9) and higher BB/9 (3.4) have his Fielding Independent Pitching much worse at 5.03. Prior to this season, he had generated groundballs at a 63% clip. That figure is down 10% this year. The hard hit contact for Hughes this season is at 32%, which is significantly higher than the 24% hard hit rate he posted a year ago. I normally don’t put a ton of stock into reliever WAR, but for what it’s worth, he’s been replacement level at -0.2.
One of the most puzzling moves the Pirates made was optioning A.J. Schugel to AAA Indianapolis, despite the fact that Hughes has an option remaining, and that Schugel has performed better than him in 2016. Even with the down numbers for Hughes, the Pirates could give him benefit of the doubt since he’s not far removed from being one of the better groundball relievers in baseball, and because his projected arbitration figure this offseason will still be reasonable. The decision to non-tender Hughes could come down to a couple of things. The first being Neftali Feliz and if the Pirates are able to re-sign him, and secondly, whether they want A.J. Schugel to replace Hughes in the bullpen next season at a cheaper cost.