The time has come for a longtime member of the Pirate bullpen to see his tenure end
Jared Hughes made his Major League debut in September of 2011. Minus a trip to Triple-A in 2013, he has been a fixture in the Pirate bullpen ever since his debut. However, it is time for that to change.
Jared Hughes is coming off the worst season of his Major League career. In 2016 he posted a career worst 3.34 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 4.68 FIP, 4.77 xFIP, and -0.4 WAR. Additionally, his 57.9 percent ground ball rate was the second lowest of his career.
Anytime a sinker ball pitcher sees a decline in ground balls and an increase in home runs allowed it is not a good sign. And with Jared Hughes, these problems are not new.
Hughes has been a pitcher in decline for the past year and a half. Dating back to June 30, 2015, his performance has been progressively declining. Due to this, it is time for the Pirates to cut ties with Hughes.
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In his last 92 2/3 innings pitched Jared Hughes has allowed 99 hits, he is averaging 3.40 BB/9, and he is striking out just 4.37 batters per nine innings pitched. During this stretch he owns a 4.72 FIP, 4.73 xFIP, and a 12.3 percent HR/FB rate.
This pitcher is much different than the one Jared Hughes was in the first 216 2/3 innings pitched of his Major League career. During this stretch he posted a 3.82 FIP and a 3.81 xFIP while averaging 5.98 K/9 and just 2.78 BB/9. Furthermore, his HR/FB rate was just 10.8 percent.
For many years now Jared Hughes has been Clint Hurdle‘s go to reliever when the Pirates need to get out of a jam. Due to his turbo sinker Hughes was successful in this role for many years. However, his success in this role has begun to falter.
During the 2016 season Jared Hughes inherited 46 base runners. 17 of these 46 base runners would come around score. This meant that 37 percent of the base runners Hughes inherited in 2016 came around to score, and this was the highest number of his career.
His previous career high was 33 percent as a September call up in 2011. For a full Major League season, his previous career high was 26 percent in 2012. In every other season of his career it was lower than 20 percent.
The struggles of Jared Hughes are not the only reason why he should no longer be part of the Pirate bullpen. In addition to his struggles, the Pirates just flat out have better options. A.J. Schugel, Antonio Bastardo, Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, and Tony Watson are all better options than Hughes. Once you mix in the need for a long reliever, this leaves Hughes without a spot.
The fact Jared Hughes still has Minor League options should make this an easy decision, too. Hughes can be optioned to the Minor Leagues without being exposed to waivers. And that is a move that needs to happen when the Pirates set their 25-man roaster at the end of Spring Training.
Jared Hughes has been a mainstay in the Pirate bullpen since September of 2011. However, it is time for that to change. Not only has his performance steadily been projecting downward since the end of June 2015, the Pirates also have better bullpen options than Hughes.