Pirates Free Agent Target: Pitcher Collin McHugh
By Noah Wright
Despite the start of Spring Training, there are still a few quality free agents on the market. Collin McHugh is one of them.
Even though Spring Training has started, many quality names still lurk on the free agent market. After about two weeks of Grapefruit League games, the Pittsburgh Pirates are set to open the season with at least three less pitchers than they expected. Both Clay Holmes and Steven Brault are going to miss the first few weeks of April, and Tom Koehler decided it was time to hang them up and call it a career.
Earlier in the off-season it was briefly covered why Collin McHugh was a great buy low target for the Pirates. However, three small paragraphs did not do him enough justice, and now we will go into further into detail about the right-handed pitcher. More so now that the Pirates have lost three pieces who were likely set to open 2020 on the Pirates active roster.
On the surface, McHugh’s 2019 numbers are nothing impressive. He pitched to the tune of a 4.70 ERA, 4.43 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP in 74.2 innings. However, some of those numbers are skewed. McHugh’s DRA, or deserved runs average, was just 2.70. So, he was fairly unlucky to say the least. Plus, he opened the 2019 season as one of the Astros starters and struggled in the role. 29 of the 39 earned runs he gave up came in the first 41 innings of 2019.
Once he was moved to a bullpen role, McHugh flourished. Through his final 33.2 innings of the season McHugh gave up just 10 earned runs, kept opponents to a .640 OPS, and only three of the total 26 hits he gave up were home runs. His strikeout rate also skyrocketed. After striking out 42 batters as a starter, he went on to strikeout 40 batters as a reliever.
You can’t just ignore just how good he was in 2018. He was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, owning a 1.99 ERA, 2.72 FIP, and 0.91 WHIP through 72.1 innings pitched. His 4.48 K/BB ratio was higher than that of Dellin Betances, Brad Hand, and David Robertson. All of which were considered some of the best relief pitchers in 2018.
He rarely gave up home runs, finishing with a 0.7 HR/9. McHugh was ranked in the top tier’s of SIERA (2.62), ranking 14th among the MLB, and better than Craig Kimbrel. He was also above average in terms of hard hit rate (31%, 35% was league average), and soft contact rate (21%, 18% was league average). Although WAR isn’t the best stat to look at relievers, the right hander still ranked in the top 25 of fWAR.
While McHugh was very successful out of the bullpen in recent season, starting shouldn’t be completely out of the question. Before 2018 McHugh was an effective starting pitcher as well. From his rookie season in 2014-2017 McHugh had a 3.70 ERA, 3.60 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP in 606.1 innings of work. When he was healthy, he averaged nearly 6 innings per start.
Collin McHugh recently was cleared to begin throwing, and a few teams have already checked in on the right hander’s status. Not much is known about the current condition of his arm after undergoing a non-surgical tenex procedure on his right elbow, but it’s no surprise that teams are looking into the right hander much more now. Whether the team needs starting help or bullpen help, McHugh looks like he can be ready in whatever role he is thrown in, kind of like a super utility pitcher. Hopefully, one of the multiple unconfirmed teams is the Pirates, as they could use the pitch depth, and potentially solid deadline trade piece.