They used to call him snap dragon.
There’s no more fire in his heater. There’s no more snap in his breaker.
I know, I have supported Collin McHugh in the past. Even said he’d be like Mighty Mouse and save the day last winter. But something is wrong.
Before last night’s disaster, McHugh was sporting a 4.97 ERA, 4.59 FIP and 4.11 xFIP for the season. Not irredeemable for a fifth starter.
But in the three games prior to last night’s game these are the numbers: 9.60 ERA, 8.14 FIP, 5.68 xFIP. In 70 total batters faced he has allowed 6 home runs and gotten only 12 strikeouts.
Last night's game is not a part of these stats. Last night McHugh pitched three innings, gave up seven hits and eight runs to nineteen batters, allowed two home runs, and finished with a 21 ERA for the night, 12.81 FIP, 6.01 xFIP. It’s almost batting practice these last four games. Something is very wrong.
In Spring Training he looked like this and I thought he might be trying to pitch around an injury. This seems possible. But without proof let’s look at some of the differences in his pitches in 2019 compared to 2018, when his ERA was under 2.00.
Here are two charts, the first trajectory and movement in 2018, and the second trajectory and movement 2019 since the April 21 start but not including last night.
- Fastball usage and velocity. The fastball is used only 25% of the time and it is 2 MPH slower. This is partially due to converting back from reliever to starter but not entirely. McHugh’s loss of fastball velocity has been an ongoing evolution since 2014. Velocity by year: 2014-92.40. 2015-91.28. 2016-91.00 2017-90.72 Most recent 90.31.
- Slider usage, trajectory and release. The slider is now used almost half the time. It is a flatter pitch, with about two inches less vertical drop. I don’t know if this is significant, but McHugh is releasing all his pitches further from his body and the slider in particular lower than he used to. Between the fastball and the slider there was about a one inch difference in horizontal release point. Now it’s about two inches. There was a two inch difference in vertical release point. Now it is about four inches. Is it possible the release point is affecting the quality of pitches? Is it possible the greater difference in release point between slider and fastball is tipping the pitches?
Now let’s look at the results and averages for the various pitches comparing 2018 to the period in question for 2019.
Last year McHugh’s main pitch was the fastball, which batters hit with an only .182 BA, .372 SLG pct. His put away pitch, the slider, used about a quarter of the time, was damn near unhittable, with an identical .105 BA and SLG. pct.
In this recent time period the fastball is a tee ball, producing a .462 BA, an 1.000 SLG, and a .539 ISO. The go to pitch, the slider, although still somewhat hard to hit with a .219 BA, is getting creamed when it is hit, with a .625 SLG and .406 ISO. Last year, McHugh did not allow a single homer on a slider. In the last three games before tonight, he has allowed 3 in in about a third as many pitches as last year. The curve, a useful pitch last year, is almost abandoned this year, and with good reason: BA 1.000, SLG 1.500.
One other issue: fastball command. In his recent travails McHugh has thrown 41.79% of his fastballs for balls. In 2018 this number was only 33.28%
So is the problem velocity, trajectory, release point, maybe just a string of bad home run luck, or all of the above? I say, McHugh only trusts one pitch, the slider, which comes in flat. And his fastball, at 90 MPH, is just flat hittable.
Is pitching around an undisclosed arm soreness the background to all these problems? Whether or not it is, a stint on the IL might be the solution, and maybe a little therapy from Dr Strom will work its magic. Then let him return to the pen, where he can ramp up at least a little more velocity on the heater.
In the meantime, maybe its time to let yet another Cinderella story play out in Houston: Brady Rodgers. He’s doing very well down on the farm. It couldn’t be any worse.