Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Keeping the hot stove burning, Tuesday evening the Braves pulled off another transaction, signing right-handed pitcher Collin McHugh to a two-year, $10 million contract. The 34-year-old will earn a $4 million salary this coming season, to go with $5 million in 2023. There’s also a $6 million club option for a third season, that comes with a $1 million buyout.
McHugh has had to battle through numerous injuries throughout his big league career, but when he’s been healthy, the former 18th-round pick (2008 MLB Draft) has been a solid performer. His first season as an above-replacement-level player came back in 2014 with the Astros, when he posted a 2.73 ERA in 25 starts. The Georgia native built off that impressive campaign by putting together the best numbers of his career in 2015, tallying a career-high 3.5 fWAR, thanks to a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts. The 203 2/3 innings he totaled that year is the first and only time McHugh reached the 200-inning mark as a starting pitcher, and after just two more seasons, his days as a regular starter would come to an end.
McHugh didn’t pitch at all during the shortened 2020 season, but since 2018 (three seasons), the righty has amassed a solid 2.82 ERA overall in 211 innings as a bullpen arm. And it hasn’t just been his run-prevention that has improved with the move to the ‘pen, either, for McHugh has also averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine during that span – a rather substantial jump compared to his starting days, when he topped out at 9.1 K/9 in ’14.
McHugh enjoyed his best performance in years in 2021, totaling 64 innings with the Rays. Depending on a slider that opposing batters managed only a .177 AVG against last season, McHugh went on to turn in a 1.55 ERA, to go along with 10.4 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9, while making 30 relief appearances and seven starts. His 31.4% whiff-rate last year was the best mark of his career.
Versatility was a frequently used word by GM Alex Anthopoulos yesterday as he mentioned that McHugh can be either a late-inning guy or someone that can come in and work several innings.
“We just view him as a really good reliever that can pitch if you needed him to. He can go three innings. We have been looking for late-inning relief help from the right side, but he can do other things. I just want to give Snit as many options as he needs. Guys are going to need days off and so on. Having that balance right, left for him to be able to get through lineups and days I think is critically important.” — GM Alex Anthopoulos
Adding McHugh certainly makes sense for the Braves. Over the last few days, the team has watched two of it’s bullpen arms from 2021 sign with other teams in both Jesse Chavez and Chris Martin. As we’ve seen many times over the last several seasons, bullpens can make or break a team.
At least now it appears the back-half of Atlanta’s pen is good to go. It will be interesting to see the different competitions during spring training (which begins Friday for the Braves). Also, don’t forget, Kirby Yates (who AA signed to a two-year deal back in November), is currently in the process of working his way back from Tommy John surgery. According to a write-up from Battery Power on Tuesday, Yates is expected to return sometime in August, so he could be a crucial player down the stretch later this season.