December 18, 2013 the Houston Astros claimed a pitcher off waivers from the Colorado Rockies, and his name was Collin McHugh. Most Astros fans probably said, Collin McWho? At the time Luhnow said he would fight for a rotation spot in spring training. McHugh ended up starting the year in tripe-A, but an injury to Scott Feldman allowed McHugh to make his Astros debut April 22 versus the Mariners.
Was he the best option to call up at that time? No, there were other pitchers who could have got the call instead. He got the spot start because it happened to fall on his turn in the minor league rotation, and was expected to be sent back down. McHugh had a career-changing first game with the Astros, striking out 12 in 6.2 innings while giving up no runs.
Was Collin McHugh a one hit wonder, who might go back to his 9.00-10.00 ERA he had with the Rockies and Mets to start his career, or is he a late developing top of the rotation pitcher? In 2014 at the age of 27, he had an 11-9 record, 2.73 ERA in 154.2 innings pitched, with 157 strikeouts and a 1.022 WHIP. He will still not reach free agency until the 2020 season, and finished 4th in 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Balloting.
Collin McHugh finishes 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting http://t.co/yC3esQxmIY
Was his 2014 season a sign of what’s to come, or an illusion with smoke and mirrors? To look at this, lets look at McHugh from the fantasy baseball perspective. In a 12 team league with 10 keepers, would he be among the ones kept for the 2015 season? Something my father-in-law Bill is having to decide before the season.
In an article entitled Let’s Look at Jake Arrieta and Collin McHugh and Then Lets Look at Their Elbows by Eno Sarris, he states that Arrieta and McHugh “soared to new heights due to throwing their breaking balls much more than they ever had before. Then you worry about their elbows.”
This reminds me of how you are not supposed to have youth baseball players throw a curveball until a certain age. Could McHugh’s increase in breaking balls lead to future injury? Sarris states that in his previous stints in the majors, he threw his slider 25% of the time, and then he jumped to 30.3% in 2014.
Also from Sarris, “His swinging strike rate also jumped from around league average to a career high at 10.8%. It looks like he had good command anyway.” Did his increase in the use of the slider lead to more of these double digit strikeout percentage? Further in the article he states that pitchers who have a high slider usage, tend to miss about 31 games a year on the DL. He said that McHugh might be more successful than Arrieta.
In addition to the strikeout percentages increasing, Collin McHugh’s ground ball percentages improved to 42.1% from 33% in 2012 and 39.8% in 2013. His home run per fly ball ratio also decreased to 9.5% in 2014 from 18.5% in 2012 and 18.2% in 2013. His left on base percentage also increased to 70.9% in 2014 from 53.3% in 2012 and 50.5% in 2013. Could these numbers have been influenced by the heavy use of a slider?Whatever the case is this showed an improved all around pitcher in 2014.
What’s in store for 2015? Lets look at some 2015 projections from Collin McHugh and where he ranks among his peers.
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Baseball Professor: #28 starting pitcher
Roto Champ: #74 starting pitcher
Fake Teams: #34 starting pitcher
Fantasy Assembly: #74 starting pitcher
ESPN: #51 starting pitcher
CBS Sportsline: #33 starting pitcher
Looking at all the early rankings and projections, people still believe that McHugh is a mixed bag. Looking at the extreme rankings from Roto Champ, you look at the actual projections. They only have McHugh pitching 120 innings which probably means that he missed some time due to injury.
Would I keep him on my fantasy team? Probably, unless I had better options. He has made himself fantasy relevant though. The Astros don’t have too many better options right now. In a couple of years he might be expendable, but until then he gives the Astros their best chance to turn things around. Astros fans have to believe that McHugh may not be the ace, but that he will be a great #3 pitcher for many years for the Astros.
On a side note, McHugh is actually a good writer on his blog A Day Older, Day Wiser.
What do you project from Collin McHugh in 2015 and the future?