Last December the Houston Astros made several roster moves. One of which was a questionable waiver claim. But for all of the bets that Jeff Luhnow has made with this organization, Collin McHugh has contributed with a quick, great return.
McHugh made his Astros debut in late April of the 2014 season. I recall some of the guys on Twitter making over/unders regarding how many innings he would pitch or how many runs he would allow. Most of us took the pessimistic side of things, including myself.
Nobody could have predicted the dominance that happened in Seattle that night. After 89 pitches — 61 of which that were strikes — McHugh had struck out 12 batters in 6 2/3 scoreless innings of work.
For 8 2/3 innings in his next start, Collin allowed just 2 hits against the Oakland Athletics. His ERA on this season rose to 0.59 after allowing an earned run, recording 7 strikeouts, and walking 3 batters.
Here’s a peek into McHugh’s thoughts:
"“I had fans and reporters coming up to me after my first start of the season telling me that surely I would have to blog about that night. 12 strikeouts! No runs! It’s basically written itself, right? And maybe they were right. But the reality of the matter is that after celebrating well that night with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate Raisinets, I had mentally moved onto my next start. I woke up early the next morning before our day game and was the first to the field, knowing that I had to eat, run, throw, lift and go over video before the 12:05 game began. For better or worse that’s the nature of this game. It leaves little time for dwelling on things, good or bad.” – Collin McHugh from his blog “A Day Older, A Day Wiser”"
Since then McHugh has battled. He has encountered blister issues due to the way that he throws his curve ball. His fingernail cost him a trip to the 15-day disabled list. These setbacks have contributed to his shorter outings. Most of the season has seen McHugh help keep the bullpen fresh. In all but three starts in 2014 Collin has recorded 5 or more innings.
Despite those set backs which caused control problems, McHugh still had the ability to strike guys out.
Source: Brooks Baseball
The chart above demonstrates how he enjoyed success early on in the season. As some setbacks became more prominent, McHugh’s effectiveness slipped a little bit. But since his return from the DL, Collin has looked to be stronger and even improving.
His curve ball has generated a high whiff rate. One of the most critical things for him is to mix this pitch in to continue to keep batters off balance. McHugh utilizes this fantastic offering 22.8% of the time entering his start on August 7th.
Fangraphs ranks McHugh 15th in regards to his curve ball usage with a minimum of 90 innings pitched.
A more general explanation of his whiff rate was revealed on the CSN Houston broadcast recently. McHugh, when in the strike zone, has a 20.1% whiff rate. This season the MLB average is 14.0% whiff rate with a minimum of 750 pitches thrown.
In regards to the rest of Major League Baseball, again with those with 90 or more innings pitched, McHugh ranks 5th in terms of K/9 with a rate of 10.14 strikeouts per 9 innings. That, for the time being, bests both Felix Hernandez and David Price, among others, in obviously less innings pitched. Those innings lost were due to time in AAA as well as time on the disabled list.
McHugh has emerged this season as one of the games elite in terms of strikeouts. Should he be able to continue to harness his ability to pitch, the results should keep him in the Astros rotation for years to come. One thing is for certain: McHugh has certainly paid off for the Houston Astros this season. Especially since he was a mid-December waiver claim.