Collin McHugh – a flower amidst the ruins

The Houston Astros have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. Another big losing season (with some improvement) meant the chopping block for their highly regarded manager, Bo Porter. Some young studs have been brought up from the minors (with some controversy) and have not delivered. But amidst such a ruinous season has emerged Collin McHugh as a bright spot.

Collin McHugh was never regarded as a top prospect. He was drafted in the 18th Round of the 2008 draft by the New York Mets. They traded him to the Rockies for Eric Young. Yes, you may laugh now. The Rockies exposed him to waivers and the Astros snatched him up. Give the stat folks in the Astros’ front office some credit for that coup.

McHugh won regularly in the minors. His strikeout rate suffered some in the infamous, hitter-crazy PCL while in the Rockies system. But the control was still there and the Astros liked what they saw. And they should have.

And don’t be fooled by Collin McHugh’s 7-9 record. Seven of those losses occurred when the Astros failed to score more than two runs. He is 7-2 in games his team scores three runs or more. And his peripherals are great.

How great? How about 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings? How about his 3.3 strikeout to walk ratio? He also has allowed only 7.3 hits per nine innings and has done a great job of keeping the ball in the park. His 25% strikeout rate is identical to Cueto and Lester. And his WHIP is a very good 1.12.

I like to look at the ERA compared to FIP and McHugh is doing very well there too. His ERA is 2.99 while his FIP is 3.26 (xFIP of 3.23). So Collin McHugh has done very well. But how has he done it?

McHugh does not have much of a fastball and tops out in the low 90s. But he throws curves 22.5% of the time and sliders 29.2% of the time. Both pitches have been exceptional for him. The slider is especially effective rating out at 12.6 runs above average. That ranks fourth among starters.

While he doesn’t fool people out of the strike zone, he has a good rate of first pitch strikes, which is important for a guy throwing a lot of breaking balls and he has a very good 11% swing and miss rate.

Perhaps he has been a bit fortunate with a BABIP of .273 and a strand rate of 76%, but the rest of the numbers seem to point to a pitcher that has found himself in the Majors.

One area McHugh can improve upon is his efficiency. In his 21 starts, he is averaging only 6.02 innings per start. And yet, he consistently throws more than 100 pitches a game. If he can be more efficient, he can last longer into the game and not have to trust a spotty bullpen to work for him. I would guess that he is trying to be perfect with his breaking stuff when he gets ahead in the count.

Collin McHugh will face the Angels tonight. They are a tough team and McHugh’s outing will be tested. But if he is on, it doesn’t matter who he faces. He has a 2.25 in three starts against the Angels thus far this year and a 3.32 ERA against teams with a record better than .500.

There has been a lot of gray in Houston this season, but Collin McHugh has been a hue of bright colors. He has been a flower amidst the ruins.

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