The Milwaukee Brewers and Collin McHugh are a perfect fit. There’s really no feasible explanation why this pairing hasn’t happened yet. It makes complete sense. It makes less sense that McHugh is still sitting on the free agent market. Yes, there are a few warning signs that might be keeping teams away from him, from his elbow problems to his forgettable 2019 season, and while McHugh definitely carries a bit of risk, the potential greatly outweighs it. And the Brewers are all about acquiring high-potential players.
McHugh is coming off a frustrating season, a season which ended in September when he was shut down by the Houston Astros with continued pain in his elbow. He began the season as a starter, but was quickly relegated to the bullpen. In all, he pitched 74.2 innings (eight starts) and posted a 4.70 ERA, 4.43 FIP and 4.34 xFIP. It was a tremendously disappointing campaign for McHugh, but really it was his first poor season since 2013.
The Astros moved McHugh to the bullpen beginning in 2017 due to a plethora of quality starting pitchers. He just happened to be the odd man out. McHugh proved just as reliable as a reliever as he was as a starter and was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2018. And as noted earlier, McHugh earned a rotation spot for the 2019 season but gave up 29 earned runs in just 41 innings (6.37 ERA) in eight starts. Once he was back in the bullpen, though, he flourished — when he was healthy that is. In 33.2 innings as a reliever, McHugh posted a 2.67 ERA and struck out 40 batters (28.2% K%).
Not only does McHugh have a a strong track record of success in both the bullpen and as a starter, his fastball spin, curveball spin and his ability to limit hard contact are among the elite. Take a look at his 2019 Statcast marks.
Now look at 2018.
There has been 63 pitchers who have accumulated 750 or more innings since 2014. McHugh ranks 19th in strikeout rate 23rd in FIP over that time period. I would make the argument that McHugh is close to an elite pitcher who has not received the respect he deserves.
McHugh made $5.8 million during his final arbitration year as an Astro, and FanGraphs’ Crowd Source predicted he’d sign a two-year, $10 million deal this offseason. McHugh is likely asking for a higher AAV — and he deserves it — but pitchers and catchers are about to report for spring training, and he might not have the leverage he once did. He’ll likely sign a one-year, prove it deal, also known as the Milwaukee Brewers special. The Brewers are in love with one-year contracts, which is another reason why McHugh and Milwaukee are a perfect match.
It seems like the Brewers are always in need of pitchers, and 2020 is no different. The Brewers need an arm like McHugh, whether that’s as a reliever, as a starter or as both. General manager David Stearns targets and focuses on versatile players when he makes acquisitions, so McHugh should be on high on his wish list. It’s curious to me why McHugh hasn’t signed with Milwaukee — or any other team for that matter — yet. Maybe his elbow isn’t healthy. Maybe he’s demanding too much. But the fact of the matter remains, McHugh has consistently shown he’s a dominant pitcher and teams should be lining up for his services.
And the Brewers should be first in line.