Collin McWho?

Collin McHugh is an example of precisely why fantasy owners shy away from spending a whole lot on pitching at their auctions/drafts. There is simply so much more value that comes along during the season from pitchers plucked from free agency that it makes sense to spend the majority of your budget on offense. McHugh has only started three games, but if he did qualify for the leaderboard, he’d rank fourth among all starters in strikeout percentage. Naturally, 99% of fantasy owners are likely asking themselves the same question — Collin McWho?

McHugh was a one time New York Met, which means that given the perception of the organization in past years, he’ll become a star after being let go by the team. Throughout his minor league career, he had always posted solid strikeout rates above 20%, to go along with respectable walk rates. But nothing in his record suggested he ever had the potential to be an elite strikeout artist at the big league level. And while three starts and 19.1 innings is a tiny sample size, you can’t really fluke your way into punching out 23 batters.

McHugh hasn’t done it with smoke and mirrors. He’s legitimately giving hitters fits, having posted a 13.9% SwStk%. That mark would rank sixth among all starting pitchers. He has also displayed pinpoint control, throwing strikes at a rate significantly above the Major League average. The only real concern when looking at his underlying skill metrics is his extreme fly ball tendency. Since Minute Maid Park inflates home run totals, it’s a bad idea to be such a fly baller there.

So how exactly is McHugh doing this? Unfortunately with only 66.2 total Major League innings, we don’t have a lot of performance history and PITCHf/x data to work with. He doesn’t throw hard, as his fastball has averaged just 91.3 mph this year. But, that’s nearly a full mile per hour higher than where he sat last season while with the Mets and Rockies. It’s still a below average velocity, but all else being equal, more velocity leads to better results.

And that fastball is getting lots of whiffs. While in his previous two stints his four-seam fastball generated a SwStk% in the mid-7% range, it is now getting swings and misses at a splendid 10.1% rate. That’s well above the 6.9% league average. But still, it’s hard to believe a fastball traveling just 91 mph could sustainably generate swinging strikes at that high a rate.

The amazing thing about McHugh is that he has displayed a four-pitch arsenal and every pitch has induced tons of swinging strikes. Check out this table comparing his current SwStk% marks versus the league average:

Pitch League SwStr% McHugh SwStk%
Four-Seam Fastball 6.9% 10.1%
Slider 15.2% 17.1%
Curve 11.1% 20.8%
Change 14.9% 18.8%

One might think they are looking at the pitch mix of someone like Stephen Strasburg. But no, it’s the 26-year-old Astros starter Collin McHugh. The biggest question of course is whether or not he can continue to strike out a high rate of batters. And if he had this in him, how come he’s never performed like this in the minors?

One might want to point out that in two of his three starts, he has faced the Mariners. The team ranks eighth highest in strikeout rate, but the Athletics who he faced in his second game rank just 24th, and he struck out about 22% of A’s batters.

While I cannot predict the future and have no real answer for where this is coming from, I can say that the fact that all his pitches have been fantastic and he’s doing this by inducing swinging strikes are all very positive signs. I haven’t a clue if he’ll turn into a pumpkin and get demoted to the minors in a month or actually earn positive mixed league value the rest of the way, but it sure will be interesting to watch this story unfold.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

12 Responses to “Collin McWho?”

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  1. FeslenR says:

    As a Met fan, it wouldn’t shock me Collin has a decent year or career, but I wouldn’t bet on it. too bad I picked him up for his first lousy start of the year in fantasy, oh well.

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  2. joser says:

    The biggest question of course is whether or not he can continue to strike out a high rate of batters. And if he had this in him, how come he’s never performed like this in the minors?

    This is the red flag for me. Almost every year there’s at least one pitcher who has a great run at the start of the season; most of the time these guys who came out of nowhere return there soon enough. The ones who don’t typically have something different about them — a new pitch, a different delivery, a recovery from injury — to suggest their early results are sustainable and not just a fluke small sample size run that happens to have the start of the season as an arbitrary starting point.

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  3. atoms says:

    I have a hard time putting a lot of stock into this early performance.

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    • purpleJesus says:

      Me as well.. While I’ve only seen him pitch once or twice , his Major League track record is quite frankly terrible. I see him as a flash in the pan.

      BUT … No matter how much I research I almost always end up wrong lol so he’s probably gonna end up a stud .. Baseball !

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  4. Peter 2 says:

    The last time McHugh surfaced in the majors was 2012, and he posted a below average 17.2% K%. Do we have enough evidence to claim that his actual K rate has now improved beyond that? Let’s see.

    He has struck out 30.7% of batters this year. But in two of his three starts he struck out 22% and 19% of batters, respectively. Those figures are perfectly consistent with a guy who still has something like a 17.2% K%, especially in the context of another 14 AAA innings this year where he only struck out 13.8%.

    So we are really only talking about one splendid start here, where he struck out 12 out of 22 batters (a whopping 55%). How much do you really want to read into one start? Maybe he had really good, once-in-a-lifetime stuff that day. Maybe the Mariners all had bad diarrhea up through gametime.

    The non-independence of samples in baseball is a tricky thing that I’m still getting my head around, but I think this is a good case study to talk about it. You say you can’t fluke your way to 23 Ks, but even if every data point (i.e. batter faced) was statistically independent from one another it wouldn’t be unheard of to strike out this many given a mediocre (17.2%) K%—would happen about 1% of the time. But the data points aren’t independent—i.e. the noise is correlated—which means the probability of an extreme, fluky outcome goes up. By how much, I don’t know, but possibly by a lot.

    Bottom line is I’d be comfortable wagering just about any amount of money that McHugh is no better than mediocre for the rest of the season.

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    • Peter 2 says:

      My apologies, I read his career stats wrong, he made a few starts last year too, apparently.

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    • evo34 says:

      McHugh’s K% after your comment (May 10- Jul 25)? 26.5%. Shocking. Here some news for you: young pitchers change over time. Internet douche bag commenters…not so much.

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  5. Austin says:

    Good stuff, Peter 2. Thanks for the insight there!

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  6. Rickerbocker says:

    I think analyzing the short sample size of MLB stats in attempt to predict the future for McHugh is an ignorant way to go about it. In fact, I would disregard the MLB stats altogether. His minor league ratios and BFA suggest that he is an above average pitcher in the Majors. I would bet Peter 2 that McHugh is NOT just about average the rest of the way. McHugh has proven that he’s above average. Now, there is a percentage chance that McHugh won’t perform above average. But, if I can get even money on something when I’m a 1.5 to 1 favorite, I’ll take it every time.

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  7. moosh says:

    That Curve…

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  8. Chris88 says:

    Well, its now three weeks later and his k-rate has sustained. He just had his best start of the season.

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  9. Gary D Newton says:

    Well, I’ve seen him pitch twice in person this year and his curveball is absolutely sick. Even when he’s not getting swings and misses with it he’s inducing a lot of weak contact. I could be wrong, but I remember hearing that he worked on a new grip for his curveball and that the Astros wanted him last year but came up short in their bid for a trade.

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