All the players who are drafted by a MLB team and work their way up the ladder in the minors before making an impact on the big league club have stories to tell. I'm sure there are very few ballplayers who don't face some sort of personal or professional anxiety before their big moment arrives. As a fan, these background stories give you a little something extra to root for during the long season. Especially when those long seasons were of the 100-loss variety. Collin McHugh's story started during that time frame, and has been one of the best.
McHugh was drafted by the Mets out of a small college. He worked in the minors a few seasons before getting his chance with New York in 2012, where after a good debut, he ended up 0-4 with an ERA over seven. In the 2013 season, after a few more games with the Mets he was traded to the Rockies. He ended that season 0-4 with an ERA over ten.
In the winter after the 2013 season, McHugh was put on waivers by the Rockies. The Astros signed him, and I remember being very excit...oh who am I kidding. Signings of players off of waivers from other teams had become commonplace during the rebuild, and not many of them had been anything to get worked up over. Probably just another guy to fill out the roster on the way to another rebuilding season. This one would be different though. Houston fans didn't know it, but the team had just signed a top of the rotation starter.
The Astros coaching staff had a plan. Collin had a curveball that was really quite good (and spun, like, a LOT). Combine that with their decision to drop his two seam fastball, throw in some pitch tunneling wizardry and BAM! You've got yourself a successful baseball pitcher. And what a turnaround it was. In 2014 McHugh ended up with a 11-9 record, and led the teams starters in ERA (2.73), Ks (157), FIP (3.11), ERA+ (141), and WHIP (1.022).
The 2015 season was not quite as successful (statistically speaking) as 2014 in most categories, but was still a great year. His ERA jumped more than a full point (although his FIP only about a half point), and his strikeout numbers were down from the previous season. He had a few forgettable games along the way, but still ended up with a 19-7 record in helping the Astros reach the postseason for the first time since 2005. In the playoffs he got the call to pitch two tough games against the Royals in an insanely loud Kauffman Stadium. In Game One he gave up two runs over six innings on the way to a 5-2 Astros win. He also started the deciding Game Five, and looked great through four innings. He ended up giving up three earned runs in four plus innings as KC advanced to the ALCS.
I think Astros fans should expect more of the same from McHugh going into the new season. He has three good pitches, and he doesn't just throw them...he pitches. He didn't have the success with his favorite pitch (the cutter) in 2015 like he did in the previous season. If the cutter can come back to 2014 levels, the Astros should have two "ace" type pitchers headlining their rotation in 2016.