With Chris Sale’s strained flexor tendon and David Price in Los Angeles, the Red Sox pitching staff is in shambles. The staff is led by Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi who often find themselves on the injured list and the rest of the options is just abysmal . With no great internal alternatives, the Red Sox inked an incentive laden deal with Collin McHugh. But who is Collin McHugh, other than host of the excellent Twelve Six Podcast, and what should you expect to see from him this year?
McHugh was drafted by the Mets in 2008 and made his major-league debut in 2012. Over the one and a half seasons he was in the majors with the Mets, he was mostly unsuccessful and was plagued with walk and home run issues. He was traded to the Astros halfway through the 2013 season. At that time, given where Houston was as a franchise, if the Astros signed or traded for a pitcher, they probably knew something the other team did not.
Well, after moving to Houston, he changed up his pitch mix and he became a legitimate starter. He stopped throwing his sinker and focused on a four-seam/cutter/curveball aresnal and was pretty successful with it. He put up three years of being worth between 2.7 and 3.5 fWAR on an annual basis while throwing between 154 and 203 innings from 2014-2016. He was pitching well at the beginning of 2017 before experiencing elbow soreness which put him on the injured list for a couple of weeks.
After returning, the Astros moved McHugh into the bullpen where he began throwing a pretty wicked slider. Batters were only hitting .167 with a 45.2 K%. Interesting enough, he started to throw a different kind of slider during the 2018 season while he was exclusively in the Astros bullpen. His cutter started to get more horizontal movement. He mainly used this slider against right handed batters and it induced plenty of soft contact. It is really hard to overstate just how great McHugh was coming out of the bullpen that year. In 72.1 innings, he had a 1.99 ERA and 0.243 wOBA, which was in the top 5% of the league.
He began the 2019 season in the Astros rotation and was pitching well until giving up 10 runs to the Rangers in late April The main cause was that he lost the feel for his curveball and just wasn’t able to get the same amount of depth with the pitch. It went from a 29 percent zone rate and 22.4 percent swinging strike rate in 2018 to marks of 42.1 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively. And then his elbow soreness returned and his season was over by August.
He had a Tenex procedure during the winter, which is a non-surgical procedure that remove scar tissue in tendons, and his timetable is unclear. McHugh has never had overpowering stuff but he can get away with it due to efficient pitch sequencing. He also has been able to limit giving up home runs, being below average in 2017 and 2018 before the Happy Fun Ball of 2019. While he will not be ready at the beginning of the season, it hopefully won’t take him too significant a time to ramp back up. The biggest question is whether the Red Sox will use him out of the bullpen or will he move back into a starters role. I’m getting the feeling that we will see McHugh in the follower role after an opener, but with the lack of starting depth, the Red Sox should see if he has what it takes to start again.