Chipalatta welcomes back one of its original contributors. Would you say a renewed hello and Happy New Year to Brian Todd and enjoy his thoughts on the state of Astros’ pitching?
No more Dallas Keuchel. Charlie Freakin’ Morton signed by the Rays. And Lance McCullers Jr. on the shelf with an injury. Three of last year’s starters are gone and Jeff Luhnow hasn’t signed a replacement. What are we to do?
Well, first we need to realize the offseason isn’t done. Luhnow certainly is still on the prowl for a starter. He’s said as much, and I’m sure he means it. Second, last year’s rotation was one for the ages. Coming into 2019 with a slightly lesser rotation is to be expected.
And third, things are not nearly as dire as the online worrywarts would have us believe, and a big part of that is named Collin McHugh.
Looking for a No. 3 starter to top off the top half of the Astros’ rotation? The answer is probably good ol’ Collin McHugh.
In the last five seasons, his seasons in Houston after being plucked from the scrap heap in Colorado where he languished with a career record of 0-8 and an ERA approaching double digits after a couple of cups of coffee (2012 in New York and 2013 between the Mets and Rockies), Collin McHugh has won 54 games, tied for 27th most in MLB with Sonny Gray.
That win total includes a season where he missed the first two-thirds (2017) and a season spent in the bullpen (2018).
Yes, wins are a dubious stat. Dubious until you start accumulating them over half a decade. Then they’re a stat that earns some measure of meaning.
Wins not a good enough arbiter for you? Well, how about ERA?
Again, McHugh ranks No. 27 over that time period (min. 500 total innings), tied with Luis Severino at 3.51. Nothing that’s going to earn someone a Cy Young Award, but still, one of the top 30 over that period.
McHugh is being considered for the No. 3 spot in the Astros’ rotation. Being one of the top 30 in the league, somewhere, someone would view McHugh as their ace. And while I wouldn’t necessarily call McHugh an ace, he’s acted like it in the past. In 2014 and 2015, there were times he most definitely stood out as the guy to right the ship, end the losing skid, put the team on his back, and deliver through grit and talent a win.
The reason McHugh is looked upon as the No. 3 in Houston for next season is that Justin Verlander (since the start of 2014, 67-46, 3.36 ERA) and Gerrit Cole (64-40, 3.39 ERA) are better on Houston’s current staff. (For the record, Dallas Keuchel in that time, 67-45, 3.28 ERA.
Don’t like the old-school stats? How about something a little more new-fangled like K/9, which shows the ability to miss bats. Again, requiring a minimum of 500 IP to weed out those who are primarily relievers, McHugh comes in 26th with 8.77 (right behind Charlie Morton at 8.82.
Concerned more about free passes? McHugh’s BB/9 over that span ranks 43rd at 2.51 BB/9. Maybe no longer that ace, but certainly not far from the mark. His K/BB rank is 30th at 3.50, not far behind Verlander (3.94) and Cole (3.81).
Worried about long balls? His HR/9 ranks tied for 28th at 0.93 or less than a dinger a game. That rank puts him ahead of some pretty big names like Grienke, Bumgarner, and, yes, even Verlander.
And if you’re looking for something truly SABR, how about ERA-plus, where McHugh ranks No. 31 at with an ERA+ of 89 or x-FIP, where his 92 ranks him No. 33 overall from 2014-2018.
Now, have I somewhat cherry-picked the stats for my argument by avoiding 2012 and 2013 for McHugh? Sure. But it’s also pretty impossible looking at the pre-Astros and Astros versions of Collin McHugh to argue that the two versions are the same guy. Collin McHugh was a AAAA pitcher and, at best, long reliever someday if the Astros don’t snag him and Brent Strom doesn’t do his voodoo on him.
So, yes, I’m picking his five best years. The last five years. Those are years with some trouble including an injury and a stint in the bullpen that might have helped his advanced stats but hurt his counting numbers.
Last year, the Astros boasted three potential aces in Verlander, Cole and Keuchel. This year, moving McHugh back out of the bullpen to replace the exiting Keuchel, it’s not hard to argue they still do.
So, please … PLEASE! can we stop bemoaning the state of the Astros’ rotation?