What Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh brings to the table

FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 6: Collin McHugh #46 of the Boston Red Sox speaks to the media during a press conference before a Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves on March 6, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 6: Collin McHugh #46 of the Boston Red Sox speaks to the media during a press conference before a Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves on March 6, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Here’s what RHP Collin McHugh can do for the Red Sox.

The biggest question mark for the Boston Red Sox heading into 2020 is undoubtedly their lack of starting pitching.

David Price, who was perhaps the team’s best pitcher in the 2018 World Series, was traded to the Dodgers as a part of the Mookie Betts deal. Rick Porcello and his 2016 Cy Young award landed with the Mets on a one-year deal. Seven time All-Star Chris Sale will miss the 2020 season and a fraction of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery back in March.

Without three of their best pitchers over the last few years, ESPN projects that Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Collin McHugh, and Ryan Weber will make up Boston’s starting five. If the Sox are going to stay afloat in a shortened 2020 season, they’re going to need breakout years from at least a couple of starters. Health is going to be big factor here but if McHugh can stay healthy, he has the potential to surprise a lot of fans this season.

Back in early March, the Red Sox announced that they had signed McHugh to a 1-year, $600,000 contract that could reach $4.25 million in bonuses. McHugh surprisingly didn’t have much interest on the open market. I’d attribute that to an injury he suffered in August of last season that forced Houston to shut him down for the remainder of the year. He missed 34 games prior to landing on the IL in late August and during rehab in September he was still feeling the same pain. McHugh’s elbow soreness was present throughout last season which could hint at why his numbers were so underwhelming.

McHugh went 4-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 35 appearances and 8 starts. Over 74.2 IP, he had an 82/30 (K/BB) ratio and 1.23 WHIP.

However, he was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2018, posting a 1.99 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 72.1 IP. He struck out 94 batters and remarkably only allowed 6 home runs all season.

In 2017, McHugh started 12 games and posted a 3.55 ERA over 63.1 IP. Injuries were an issue again for McHugh who dealt with arm fatigue and elbow soreness. However, he’s logged over 150 innings in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

It’s encouraging to see that he’s been good since he’s gotten into the league. In 2014, McHugh finished fourth in AL rookie of the year voting, and in 2015 he even placed eighth in the AL Cy Young award.

Over the last few seasons, the Astros have converted McHugh from a starting pitcher to a reliever which benefited the righty. After a disastrous start in the rotation last year, the team went back to what worked in 2018. He finished the year with a 2.67 ERA out of the bullpen in 27 appearances. McHugh is on the record saying that he is comfortable starting or relieving for the Sox and his versatility is something that should excite fans.

It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the rotation with the Sox if that’s the avenue they choose to go down. If he struggles, I’d feel confident that he can give the Sox another strong bullpen option late in games.

The reason why the McHugh contract is so good is because it has significant value attached to it. Red Sox Nation has little to no expectation for McHugh and it’s a safe bet to assume that some fans aren’t familiar with him.

I took a look at free agent relievers, their average annual value, and their combined ERA’s in 2018 and 2019. For example, Drew Pomeranz signed a 4-year, $34 million with San Diego this past offseason. His earned run average in both of the last two seasons is higher than any other notable reliever listed. It begs the question of how did he earn $8.5 million per season with a 6.08 ERA in 2018 and a 4.85 ERA in 2019? The difference in value between Pomeranz and McHugh is certainly not worth $7.9 million.

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Daniel Hudson is a good comparison to McHugh, but even his value was inflated during the Nationals improbable World Series run a year ago. Chris Martin is another guy who had a strong 2019, but previously he’d been a pretty mediocre reliever in Texas. Again, I have a hard time buying the fact that McHugh’s AAV is worth $6.4 million less than Martin.

The concern with McHugh is his health but about a month ago, he told MassLive.com that he is a month into his throwing program. There’s a good chance he could be ready for the season opener, whenever that might be.

Diving a bit beyond earned run average, I looked at the 2019 free agent relievers’ K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 over the last two seasons. McHugh’s numbers across the board are solid. For example, despite his struggles last season he still finished with a lower HR/9 than Martin and Pomeranz. His 1.4 HR/9 in 2019 was equal to that of new Braves reliever Will Smith. Keep in mind Smith signed a massive 3-year, $39 million contract with Atlanta. He’s consistently had higher strikeout numbers than Will Harris, Sergio Romo, and Hudson.

Perhaps most impressive, among the relievers listed, he finished with the lowest ERA and WHIP in 2018. It’s important to think about how McHugh matches up not only statistically, but also contractually.

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When the 2020 season is all said and done, I think the McHugh signing will be considered one of Chaim Bloom’s best moves in his first offseason running baseball operations with the Red Sox. McHugh provides a low risk/high reward option for the Sox who still find themselves in a sticky payroll situation. If it all goes according to plan, I think the Red Sox will extend McHugh a multi-year extension. We’ll see if McHugh can prove himself again because well, the Red Sox are going to need him to.