Stop bemoaning Astros’ pitching: Collin is your answer


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?

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59 comments on “Stop bemoaning Astros’ pitching: Collin is your answer

  1. I love this! Once I found out Corbin wanted Fort Knox to pitch, I thought The Doctor was the obvious choice. I also think James is ready for the #4 spot and Framber, Rogelio, Cionel and Peacock should fight it out for the #5.
    There comes a time when you have to give your pitchers a chance to prove their worth.
    My goodness, Brian, it’s nice to have you back.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. New Astros things I look forward to in 2019:
    -Fayetteville Woodpeckers. The Astros have a brand new permanent home for their High A affiliate and they have their own brand spanking new stadium.
    -Round Rock Express. The Astros have a new deal with a great AAA affiliate right in their own back yard. This is going to be great for us as fans and great for the Astros and their prospects. I am hoping that Tim will come back on a full-time basis to our fan comments section and tell us what he sees in Round Rock.
    -Michael Brantley. I hope Michael can come in and stabilize LF and put that position back on top as one of the most productive of Astros positions.
    -Miles Straw. I would love for Straw to make life miserable for the Astros in Spring Training. Play so well that they have to find a place for him on their roster.
    -Framber Valdez. Wouldn’t it be so nice for Framber to have gotten the walks figured out and he comes to camp and blows everybody away with his stuff.
    -Josh James. He finds a new CPAP cleaner and it adds 400 rpms to his curve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know OP, things will likely change via a trade at some point with the outfield situation, but assuming our DH remains the same and Diaz is really our utility guy, and we have two catchers, Straw might well have a shot at the 4th spot, especially if the mentality that Tucker must play everyday (in Round Rock) holds true. Sure, Jake is still the obvious back up, but I believe Miles would figure out a way to get on base at a significantly better rate than Jake and be a quality defensive replacement late, something Tony Kemp is not.

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    • It was widely expected that the Express were going to return back to the Astros this year, but until it was official I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Now, I will get to see some of the Astros best prospects essentially in my backyard. I am assuming Whitley will start the season in Round Rock and I plan to see some of his games. There is a decent chance Tucker starts the season here as well as Stubbs, Martin, Armenteros, etc. I can’t even explain how excited I am to have the Express returning to the Astros.

      Liked by 3 people

      • It makes so much more sense to the organization. There will be a whole lot more fan road trips between Houston and RR and vice versa. Revenues will increase further. 3 million at MM gets done in 2019. TV rights will continue to expand throughout the state, and perhaps beyond. Now is the time to grow our market into a semi large one. The Rangers will become the forgotten franchise. And when we need an arm in Houston, he’ll be 2 and a half hours away, door to door. Tim, if you decide not to go awol again, we’ll look forward to your own scouting reports.

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  3. Oh sure – praise the Prodigal son, Brian, when he comes back….
    (Turn off sarcasm font).
    I’m really looking forward to having help on the blog and it will make it better for you readers to have a fresh voice here. Brian – glad life has morphed to where you can share again.

    OP – big time pluses for the coming year in your comments. I really want to see some of these young buck pitchers (including Whitley at some point) show their stuff with this team. The good part is they should be able to win their division even if one of the rotation spots is in a learning/transition mode.

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  4. Brian, a couple comments about McHugh –
    1) I can’t say enough about how impressed I was that he went to the bullpen and excelled. No attitude. No moping. Just great pitching.
    2) When I see him rated as 26 in this area or 28 in that area – I have to remind myself that there are 30 MLB teams. He would be a likely #2 on almost every staff. Pretty darned good.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. May auld acquaintance ne’er be forgot – or, as Dan Fogelberg might have put it:

    Met Brian T. down at the grocery store;
    the sun was shining New Year’s Day.
    He said he’d posted like he used to do – in his own inimic way!
    We couldn’t quite believe our luck at first,
    but then our laughter rang out clear.
    All at once we longed to slake our thirst
    with a glass of cold Pearl beer.
    We toasted Collin with a frothy brew.
    We’ll hardly miss DK or Lance!
    And CFM? I guess we always knew
    he might opt out for cash advance!
    We talked statistics like we knew our stuff.
    Five years of numbers crunched and parsed.
    We all concluded Collin’s got the goods
    -you know, the spin rate and the smarts.

    We drank a toast to confidence,
    we drank to old Brent Strom.
    We tried to speak in terms of common sense-
    hiding our fear McHugh might bomb.

    Just for a moment we were back at the Dome;
    a pitcher’s dream, a hitter’s curse.
    And as we turned away to head back home,
    we ran smack out of verse.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I want Miles “Prower” Straw in there. Kid excites the hell out of me, as his speed makes him a valuable asset. I don’t think he’ll be another guy like Billy Hamilton or Delino DeShields JR where their basestealing ability is nullified by their inability to get on base.

    I want him to be paraphrasing Billy Joel all year

    “Me, I’m trying just to get to second base
    And I’d steal it if AJ only gave the sign
    Pettis’s gonna give the go head
    The inning isn’t over yet for me, for me”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Glad to be back.

    Told Chip and Dan I needed to step aside in January 2017, but I’ve got a little time to blog, so I’m back. Hopefully my stat-heavy posts will be welcome.

    Liked by 4 people

    • So, you left in January of 2017 and the Astros go on to win the World Series that year. You return in January of 2019 and I think this signals the Astros winning the World Series again in 2019.

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  8. The only thing I have to say today is:
    Brian you are a sight for this old ladies eyes! Welcome back we really missed you! Becky⚾

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  9. Brian: Great to have you back and thanks for the data driven post. I happen to agree with you regarding McHugh being a big asset this season. After only pitching 63 innings in 2017 and missing the first half of the season he came back this year to pitch 72 innings in relief. I bet that was the ideal rehab program and I expect he will be solid in 2019. If I’m not mistaken this is his last year under team control so we may be looking at replacing our one through three starters in 2020. Yikes!

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    • rj – It is weird I feel like this is bad karma when I did not on the SI cover (I guess because the team was so bad when the SI cover showed up).

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    • yeah dan, i always prefer being under the radar, but when you win it all 2 years ago and come close last year, its hard not to have lots of publicity. and to your point, it hardly ever turns out the way the ‘experts’ say this early.

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  10. Welcome back Brain. I liked the post. Unfortunately, I do not share your optimism on McHugh as a starter. In McHugh’s last season as a starter he struggled to keep the ball in the park and pitched to a 4.34 ERA and 1.4 WHIP. He greatly benefitted from going to the pen where he picked up about 2.5MPH on his fastball, which played up his secondary stuff. He hasn’t pitched over 75 innings since 2016. I think he is a solid #5 that should give around 130 – 150 IP with a 4’is ERA. As a starter the FB will probably be back to the 89-90 MPH range. I really love McHugh as a bullpen arm but I’m not sure we should hang our hats on him giving mid- rotation numbers.

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    • I’m hopeful that his arm is fairly fresh and he learned some things from his stint in the bullpen.
      I’d be surprised if Collin is only a #5 level starter – though he could be the 5th best starter in this rotation.
      When I think of #5s I think of somebody with I high 4 or low 5 ERA and I think he will do more than that.

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  11. I’m perfectly comfortable with McHugh slotting into the starting rotation. The problem is we’re replacing three starters out of five. That leaves two more spots. Assuming Peacock doesn’t flame out in spring training that leaves one more gap to fill. I’m a bit optimistic on our team, though, and figure anyone who gets into the 6th inning regularly with about a 4.50 ERA or lower would translate into a ton of wins because of our offense. Where I’m concerned is that we’re counting on both McHugh and Peacock to stay healthy and effectient.
    If both go down we might be looking at some young arms being rushed. Luhnow will likely be looking to pick up someone midway through if the team is on track. It would be best not to overpay right now when you can let people audition for the role…and be making the trade from a position of strength rather than desperation.

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  12. Rogelio Armenteros will turn 25 in June. He was great in 2017 – especially in the Texas humidity at Corpus – and he was good but not great [a high 1.31 WHIP to go with a very respectable high desert ERA of 3.74] out in the high desert air of California in 2018. I am hoping he comes out firing bullets in ST, making the back-of-the rotation possibilities look a little brighter even if Collin and Peacock get long in innings.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Brady Rodgers, the likeable pitch-to-contact guy who tried with very little success to bounce back from TJ late last season [13 games at 3 levels, 5.07 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, only 40 Ks in 55 IP], is now 28. The chance of him helping out the back of our rotation in 2019 -or ever- would appear to be getting very, very slim.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Cionel Perez, the 22 year old Cuban lefty, could be a real help to the back of the rotation later in the year. His brief time with the big club [8 relief appearances] yielded a 1.15 WHIP, .158 BAA, and a 3.97 ERA. But he clearly needs more time at AAA to work on limiting his walks [7 in 11.1 major league innings] and to find a way to stop giving up so many HRs [3 in 11.1 major league innings].

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Some things I think about the Astros and baseball:
    -Giving Valdez, James or Rogelio a shot at the rotation would not be rushing them. I think they have it right now, or they won’t have it in the long run.
    -Ask McHugh or Peacock what their preference is in 2019, their walk year, and they are going to tell you with a decided laugh, that they want to be starting pitchers.
    -When I look at Encarnacion vs Jose Martinez for the Astros lineup, Martinez fits. He fits and he fits better than Encarnacion because his salary is nowhere near as high as Encarnacion and he has four years of control. He will not cost us the farm like Realmuto will either. The problem is that Martinez would be a DH and that cuts White out. So I guess we wait and see how this plays out Would the Cardinals even consider trading with the Astros? Would the Astros consider trading with the Cards?
    -My heart got weak reading that guy predicting Correa for AL MVP. I mean, with Bregman and a healed up Altuve in the same infield, I get all goofy inside.

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    • Jose Martinez put up a 1.5 WAR over a full season. Nephew gave us a 1.6 over 210 at bats. I guess it comes down to whether or not one thinks White is a fluke. You don’t need my opinion.

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      • I think Martinez’s WAR was brought down by his defense. He has a career 130 wRC+ compared to 112 for White and Martinez has a harder contact rate than White. I have no problem with Tyler White, but I think Jose Martinez is the better hitter.

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      • Also, I agree with OP that between Martinez and Encarnacion I would take Martinez in a heartbeat. He’s a better hitter, still under his rookie contract ($20M less essentially) and 4 years of control.

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      • Yes, no doubt the Martinez WAR is heavily impacted by his defensive liabilities. At least White is somewhat serviceable at first and in a pinch, he can go to third or second for a few innings without doing too much damage. Martinez belongs in the AL as a full time DH, and kept off the field. I just hope it’s not in Houston.

        Tim, there are no real supporting stats or professional projections to back up my belief that White will produce a .900 OPS if given the DH bat and left alone. It’s that lifetime .404 OBP in minor league ball that convinces me. If he’s patient, he’ll be successful.

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      • dave, my big complaint about your nephew is that he doesn’t try to do the things at the MLB level that make him so successful at the MiLB level. That OBP is no fluke and it’s not coming from teams pitching around him (like a Bagwell, Pujols, or Bonds). What I don’t know if this is a result of the coaching pushing him to try to elicit more power or a result of White pushing himself to replicate that success he had the first week of his rookie year.

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      • I would have no problem if the Astros gave Tyler White semi-regular ABs between DH and 1B. He’s still at league minimum and projected for a 113 wRC+. I think Martinez would be an upgrade, but I am definitely fine rolling with Tyler White if this is what the Astros decide to do.

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  16. Missed you Brian. Welcome back.
    Most everyone knows McHugh has always been one of my favorites. He just quietly takes his turn no complaints.
    White too. Please, give the kid a legitimate chance.

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    • Sandy, I started to post yesterday that you had been the leader of the McHugh bandwagon for as long as I could remember. Excuse my lapse.

      Like

  17. Cool news! The Cubs have hired Mark Loretta as their bench coach!!
    He was one of my favorite guys who was kinda like Marwin….he played where he was asked, but mainly 2nd base. If the Astros played on Sunday, he had his Priest come and give him communion in the clubhouse and to anyone who wanted it.
    Pure class!

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  18. I have no doubt Collin McHugh will do great in our rotation, he won 19 games in 2015! And….I think they will give Josh James a real chance to join Verlander and company. Framber might be better suited as a long guy in the bullpen. Can Peacock catch lightening in a bottle again?? Something tells me no he can’t. Luhnow has GOT to go all in for Robbie Ray…..he will thrive here, plus he gets the chance to be on a team that will make the playoffs in 2019! What’s not to like! Plus he also comes with a 3yr team control! If Luhnow can do this, we will be sitting better than pretty good!! GIT ‘R DONE!!

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  19. I like McHugh as a starter with him having added the slider. I don’t expect him to have a 2.00 ERA, but I expect that if he is healthy he could give us 25-30 starts and average between 5.2 to 6.2 innings.
    If I remember correctly, Morton’s worst inning was the fifth, amIright?
    I don’t have a problem with Peacock starting. After what he did for us last time he started for most of a year, he deserves a medal and another shot at it.
    Again, I believe the reason the Astros are looking at other starting pitchers is that they want six guys on the team who they are completely confident can be starting pitchers, while giving Whitley, Corbin, Hartman, Bielak, Ivey, Bukauskas, Solomon, and Abreu time to be ready to go.
    I am not forgetting Martes, LMJ or Nick Fernandez either, because they all could heal up and work their way onto this team in the coming years.

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  20. I have questions.
    I no longer have any access to Fangraphs.
    Is anyone else having this problem?
    Have they made some kind of move to go as a paysite?
    This happened on Jan 1.

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  21. Saw this last week, Tommy Pham was traded to the Rays last year from the Cardinals, and he didn’t hold back on how he feels about it. He said the Rays have *no* fan base.
    Coming from a team that everynight pulled in 40,000 people in St. Louis, to a city that has less than 10,000 was so depressing. I’m sure his public remarks haven’t endeared him to the owner or GM. Charlie will be pitching to an empty ballpark for the most disfunctionional team in MLB.

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    • I’m sure Charlies’s baseball world will be much different in 2019. Gone will be the playoff atmosphere and rabid fans. In its place will be fan indifference and a gutted clubhouse. Oh well, he’s getting paid and could come back at a deadline trade if he is healthy and productive.

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  22. Just thought I’d chime in on McHugh. I like the guy, he’s a class act and has shown it. I don’t know how he’ll perform in a starter’s role this year but I hope he succeeds. If he ends up back in the bull pen then I wish him well there too. He’s definitely a team player. Many guys would have bitched and moaned about the role but he took it in stride and did his job. Good luck Collin!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comments. That McHugh is a team player that just goes out and does his job, regardless of what role he is placed in, is without question. I hope he has a tremendous year.

      Like

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