Game 29, Mariners at Astros
Brandon Maurer vs. Collin McHugh, 11:10am
At least this series has been interesting. The back-to-back bullpen collapses yesterday turned a pitchers duel into a laugher into a nail-biting save situation, but all’s well that ends in archery practice.
Collin McHugh made his Astros debut 10 days ago, during the M’s long losing streak. A journeyman who’d knocked around the minors, racking up the miles on his old Toyota Corolla, he’d signed with the Astros and pitched terribly in Spring Training. So he headed to Oklahoma City and pitched unremarkably there. There’s a reason no one anticipated McHugh: he looked like the very definition of a replacement level player. Beyond the generic repertoire, he’d been knocked around a bit by a few of the M’s in that game’s line-up. Last April, McHugh started for Las Vegas, the Mets AAA affiliate, against Tacoma. He faced Michael Saunders and Mike Zunino that day in 2013 – Saunders led off with a booming triple, and Zunino singled and walked (!). So of course McHugh went out and dominated, striking out 12 in 6 2/3 IP. He then backed it up by shutting down the A’s – nearly managing a shutout, but giving up a run in the 9th on a HBP, catcher’s indifference, and a single. He’s pitched back to back games with game scores of 80, a mark Felix hasn’t touched this year.
It’s a great story, and the fact that McHugh managed a second great start separates him a bit from the legions of Doug Waechters who can only do it once, and only against the M’s. It’s a small sample and while it’s changed his projections *some* it hasn’t completely overwritten them. It’s not like he was struggling in the minors years ago…it was last month. No one saw this coming, probably not even McHugh (I’m looking forward to the blog post he’ll write about it). It’s the sort of thing that defies probabilities, and thus much of sabermetrics. It defies scouting, too. If the Astros saw that he’d changed something or picked up an unhittable new pitch, it probably wouldn’t have taken an injury to bring him up. We think of genius as an attribute, like brown eyes or right-handedness. It can be honed and developed or it can be ignored and make a sudden appearance later, maybe on accident. But McHugh’s a case story in another kind of genius – genius as free-floating, itinerant wanderer, alighting on people seemingly at random. Sometimes it stays for years, sometimes its gone within hours. I don’t want to go too far with this, as it’s not like McHugh had no talent or anything. His MLB debut was excellent, after all. But this run is one of the more unlikely, unforecastable things I’ve seen in a while, maybe since Danny Farquhar turned into a hard-throwing, excellent reliever. There’s basically nothing in the pitch fx data to pick out (though Mark Simon notes he’s leading batters off with breaking balls/change-ups much more than he used to), and, as I’ve noted, nothing in his minor league record. Nothing’s different except the results, only that implies luck or something. McHugh just turned really, really good. How long he stays awesome is impossible to know.
Brandon Maurer could use some of that random, unaligned, unaffiliated genius.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Bloomquist, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Romero, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Buck, C
Tacoma’s got a double-header today after last night’s torrential rains. Mark Rogers starts game 1 and Andrew Carraway gets the call for the nightcap. Lefty Tyler Olson makes his first start in AA thanks to some injuries.
The MiLB game of the day yesterday was the slugfest in Appleton, WI, where the M’s current MWL affiliate beat their ex-affiliate (the host Timber Rattlers) 16-13. After a bullpen meltdown, the Lumberkings trailed 12-4, before scoring 11 runs in the final three innings.
I was curious to check out hittracker’s estimate of the distance on Justin Smoak’s absolute bomb off of Raul Valdes yesterday. As it turns out, it was only 403 feet, though it certainly felt much further because it was pulled down the line in a park without much depth beyond the left field wall, and because it was hit so high. So while it wasn’t the longest HR of the day, or of Smoak’s career, it was one of the highest. That’s…well, that’s much less cool, but it’s something.