Wednesday, the Mets placed RHP Collin McHugh on the team’s taxi squad. He’ll be ready just in case Johan Santana, coming off an MRI on Tuesday, cannot make his scheduled start on Thursday.
Here is the argument: Collin McHugh will be better than Dillon Gee.
Compare their work in AAA. For Gee, this was largely his age 24 season, with two starts as a 25-year old, while for McHugh this is his age 25 season.
Note, but do not focus too narrowly on the fact that McHugh’s ERA was over a run and a third better in AAA in the basic table. Skip to the advanced table where the pitchers had very similar strikeout rates. However, McHugh walked an extra batter per nine, while giving up fewer hits and a similar, if lower homerun rate.
In some way, that comparison is a little unfair to Collin McHugh. He was hit hard over three outings in AAA in June (7.07 ERA, 14 IP, 13 H, 12 R, 3 HR, 8 BB, 15 K), but has been much better since. In his last nine starts, he’s run a 2.45 ERA with four homeruns allowed in 55 IP (0.7 HR/9) and just 7.2 H/9. He’s walked fewer batters (3.1 BB/9) and struck out guys at essentially the same rate 8.5 K/9.
McHugh also has a similar number of weapons to Gee, but deploys them in a different manner, relying more on breaking balls rather than the changeup. McHugh uses both a two-seam and four-seam fastball (88-91, touching 92), a curveball, a cutter/slider thing at 86 mph and a changeup. In the Arizona Fall League, by pitchfx, McHugh was throwing his breaking balls – the curve and slider – a combined 35% of the time. In the big leagues, Dillon Gee has thrown his breaking stuff, slider and curve 18% of the time. Gee reliees on his changeup, which he throws 23% of the time, compared to McHugh’s 6%. Add it all up, and McHugh, in Arizona, threw non-fastballs 41% of the time, the same as Gee.
The key for me is that McHugh was giving up fewer hits and fewer homeruns in AAA as compared to Gee indicating that hitters were having more trouble squaring up his stuff. This ability to mix and keep hitters off-balance will make him better than Gee in the big leagues. Do not get crazy, McHugh is a back-end type starter, in the same class as Gee, just with a smidge ahead. And the Mets, or any team, cannot have too many cheap, backend rotation options. Ever.