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Encouraging Lance McCullers facts in case you forgot what he can do

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Even though the young righty hasn’t pitched since 2018, he’s the center of high expectations in the foreseeable future.

MLB: Houston Astros-Workouts Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, Lance McCullers Jr. is back from Tommy John surgery and is ready to claim a rotation spot behind Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. He missed the entire 2019 season, but the Astros will have his talent back during this upcoming, shortened campaign.

In case you forgot what he’s made of, we brought you some encouraging facts/stats to raise your expectations on the 26-year-old righty, who carries a 3.67 lifetime ERA. Enjoy...

1. His changeup became NASTY

I know Lance’s changeup didn’t lead to good outcomes before, as it was crushed during his first three years in the bigs. But in 2018, it reached the next level. Even though he threw it in just 16.1 % of the times, it was incredibly nasty. And when I say nasty, I mean ace level.

Opponents hit for a .138 average and a .185 slugging percentage off his changeup in 2018, struck out 21 times, and recorded only nine hits (no home runs) in 65 at-bats. That delivery was good for a 42.5 whiff percentage (!!!) according to Baseball Prospectus. Among pitchers with 200 pitches minimum, that ranked seventh and was above aces Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, to name a few.

Only five pitchers in the Majors registered a better Opp. AVG than McCullers in 2018 with the changeup (at least 200 pitches thrown), while his .185 slugging percentage was the best among all hurlers.

The Florida native has only a three-pitch repertoire (changeup, sinker, curve), but it can be enough if he mixes them well. I’m not a pitching coach, of course, but it’d be interesting if he begins using his changeup even more.

2. He’s gotten better year after year

What every Astros fan wants to keep seeing is McCullers’ steady evolution. So far, since 2016, he’s gotten better year after year. You’re not gonna realize this by just looking at his ERA. Instead, you’ll need to take a deeper look at his other rates.

Just check out the following table:

Baseball-Reference

He’s become better preventing baserunners, too, as his 1.54 WHIP in 2016 went down to 1.30 in 2017 and 1.17 in 2018. He also went from allowing 8.9 hits per nine in 2016 to 7.0 in 2018. But the best part is that he’s nicely dealt with his control issues: his BB/9 went from an ugly 5.0 in 2016 (5.0) to a more acceptable 3.5 in 2018.

These kind of stats makes me think McCullers Jr. is still a work in progress. He hasn’t touched his sky yet.

3. More consistency

If you want to become a frontline starter, you’d better be consistent every fifth day. And McCullers Jr. was better than ever in 2018 regarding consistency.

In fact, 59% of his starts two years ago qualified as quality starts, a career-best for him. That same stat was at 41% in 2017. Thirteen of his 15 outings from April 17 to July 6 were of 6.0+ innings and three or fewer earned runs.

For most of his career, he’s shown ace behavior. For example, Lance is 14-11, 3.45 ERA across 198 innings (34 starts) against teams with a winning record, including a 7-2 record (3.28 ERA) in 12 starts in 2018.

Other things to know...

  • Lefties can’t touch him: in 2018, left-handed hitters posted a poor .177/.271/.301 slash line in 255 plate appearances against McCullers Jr.
  • Want to have a chance? Don’t let him get you to a two-strike count: .156/.233/.241 in his career. How about that?!
  • Cold-blooded pitcher: he’s put a .177/.285/.269 lifetime slash line with 2 outs, RISP. It gets better with bases loaded: .132/.196/.211 (46 PAs).

Welcome back Lance.