Houston Astros 30 Players in 30 Days: Collin McHugh
The New York Mets selected Collin McHugh in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. The righty would make his MLB debut in August of 2012, tossing seven innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts and no runs. He would get knocked around after and finished the year allowing 18 earned runs in just 21 1/3 innings. In 2013, he appeared in three games with the Mets before the team traded him to the Colorado Rockies for Eric Young. Colorado would not be kind to McHugh as he allowed 21 runs in four starts and 19 innings. The Houston Astros saw something in the struggling McHugh, though, and in December of 2014 the team claimed him off the waivers from the Rockies.
So what did the team see in a pitcher with a career 8.94 ERA heading into 2014? A plus curveball with a ridiculous spin rate. Astros’ analysts realized that his standard pitching numbers undervalued the potential for McHugh. He would begin the 2014 season at Triple-A but only appeared in five games before the team called him up when they placed Scott Feldman on the disabled list. In his debut, McHugh would surprise every Astros fan with 12 strikeouts and three hits over 6 2/3 innings. He would follow up with 8 2/3 innings while allowing only one run. By the end of 2014, there was no debating whether or not McHugh’s 2.73 ERA was a fluke. By the start of the 2015 season, McHugh played second fiddle only to Dallas Keuchel.
McHugh made his first start of 2015 on the road against the Texas Rangers, going six innings while allowing only one run to pick up the win. He followed up with two more wins against the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners. The Astros won in his first six starts, with McHugh picking up the decision in four of them.
He would finally get roughed up and charged with a loss on May 12 against the San Francisco Giants, allowing seven runs and eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. McHugh sandwiched five more solid starts between another rough outing. On June 13, he surrendered nine hits, two home runs, and eight runs in just three innings.
At the All-Star break, McHugh had a 4.50 ERA, but was (9-5) – partly because of run support, partly because two really bad outings inflated his ERA. McHugh would be much more consistent in the second half.
McHugh began the second half of the season with four consecutive wins, but never gave up less than seven hits in any of those starts. On July 28, he allowed five runs, seven hits, and walked four in just five innings but came away with the win.
His best month of the season would be August. On the month, McHugh went at least six innings and struck out at least five batters in each August outing while not allowing more than two runs. Ironically, He would only finish that month 2-2 because of a shortage of run support.
He started the final stretch of the season with a strong 7 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins without allowing a run but followed with two consecutive five-run starts. He would finish strong, though, racking up three consecutive wins and on Oct. 3, his regular season would end with a seven inning, one-run start.
McHugh finished the season with 19 wins (5th most in MLB) on a 3.89 ERA (49th among qualified starters in MLB) and received 5.13 runs from his team per nine innings (7th highest in MLB). According to Fangraphs, his curveball was the seventh best in all of baseball in 2015. He threw his curve 23.5% of the time (fifth most among all pitchers) and the only pitcher that threw four-seam fastballs less often than McHugh (33.6%) was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (11.1%).
After Dallas Keuchel had taken down the Yankees in the Wild Card game, the Astros called upon McHugh to take down the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the ALDS; he did not disappoint. The Astros took Game 1 behind six strong innings from McHugh. The righty would only get touched up on solo home runs in the second and fifth innings – both by Kendrys Morales. He struck out only one, but allowed only four hits and threw 62 of his 92 pitches for strikes.
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The Astros would drop a late lead and lose Game 4, forcing McHugh to take the mound in Kansas City for a deciding Game 5. He would start out strong, scattering two hits over his first three innings. In the fourth inning, McHugh started the inning with a strikeout before giving up consecutive singles, the second allowing a run to score.
In the fifth inning, the Astros were nursing a 2-1 lead and sent McHugh back out to the mound, but he appeared to have lost a hold on his stuff. He hit Salvador Perez to lead off the inning on a full count, and Alex Gordon worked another full count before roping a ground-rule double to right field. A.J. Hinch pulled McHugh in favor of Mike Fiers. Alex Rios would hit a double, allowing Perez and Gordon to score and McHugh was on the hook for three earned runs in just four innings of work.
More Houston Astros Season Recaps:
- Vince Velasquez
- Tony Sipp
- Jonathan Villar
- Preston Tucker
- Mike Fiers
- Hank Conger
- Chad Qualls
- Jon Singleton
- Joe Thatcher
- Marwin Gonzalez
- Josh Fields
- Jake Marisnick
- Pat Neshek
- Jed Lowrie
- Luis Valbuena
- Scott Feldman
- Evan Gattis
- Will Harris
- Luke Gregerson
- Chris Carter
- Jason Castro
- Scott Kazmir
- Carlos Gomez
- Lance McCullers
- Colby Rasmus
What to expect in 2016
According to Fangraphs, McHugh has posted a 7.3 WAR in his two years with the Houston Astros. His performances at times can be unpredictable – likely based more on the hitting approach of other teams. He is somewhere between the 2.73 and 3.89 ERA pitcher that he’s been over the past two years.
His curveball isn’t going anywhere, and it’s nearly perfect, but he could further develop his cutter/slider. He and Fiers are similar pitchers as they use their curveball to allow them to work in around the strike zone without their low 90s fastball getting exposed.
McHugh as a number two/three option in the Astros rotation next season should be tough on opposing teams in any series. The offense for the Astros is not going to slow in 2015, and 20+ wins for McHugh in 2016 is not unreasonable if he can post number closer to his 2014 season.