Veteran right-hander Collin McHugh announced his retirement from the game Monday (Instagram link). The 36-year-old pitched in parts of 11 MLB seasons from 2012-23 and accrued more than nine years of big league service along the way.
“I was never the best player on any team I played for,” McHugh wrote in his announcement. “Including my 7th grade church league team, on which I played catcher. I never did travel baseball. I went to a small private high school and a small NAIA college. I got drafted in the 18th round by the Mets, most likely as a favor to my college coach. I threw 90 mph. I was NEVER supposed to make it out of A ball. 16 years later, it’s finally time for me to hang ‘em up. And as cringey as it might sound, I’m proud of myself. Proud that I didn’t give up. Proud of the clubhouses I’ve been lucky enough to have a locker in. Proud to be a member of the MLBPA alongside this generation of amazing ballplayers. To the Mets, Rockies, Astros, Red Sox, Rays, and my hometown Braves: Thanks for taking a chance on a kid like me. I’ll never forget it. And don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I’ll be around the game forever. So if we see each other at a park near you, come say hey!”
McHugh, indeed, was never regarded as a top prospect. He debuted with the 2012 Mets and was tagged for a 7.59 ERA in 21 1/3 frames as a rookie. His struggles in Queens continued into the following season, and McHugh was traded to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Eric Young Jr., who’d been designated for assignment in Colorado. Things didn’t pan out at Coors Field either; McHugh was torched for 21 runs in 19 innings as a Rockie.
Despite the lack of success, the Astros both tried to trade for McHugh prior to his Rockies acquisition and then later claimed him off waivers when Colorado removed him from its 40-man roster. That interest and subsequent acquisition came back in 2013, prior to the public advent of a great deal of pitching data that is now commonplace. At the time, the high spin rate on McHugh’s curveball gave the Astros confidence that with some tweaks to his repertoire and general approach to hitters on the mound, that could be a plus breaking pitch that fueled a breakout for the little-known righty.
Houston’s interest proved prescient. In 2014, McHugh stepped into the Astros’ rotation and made 25 starts while working to an excellent 2.74 ERA over 154 2/3 frames. He fanned just over a quarter of his opponents against a tidy 6.6% walk rate while keeping the ball on the ground at a roughly average clip. A year later, McHugh followed up with a career-high 203 2/3 innings, pitching to a 3.89 ERA in a full slate of 32 trips to the hill.
McHugh finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting during that 2014 breakout and was eighth in Cy Young voting during his followup effort. He made another 33 starts for Houston during the 2016 season before sustaining a shoulder injury that limited him to 12 starts of 3.55 ERA ball in 2017. McHugh returned as a reliever in 2018 and went from a key member of the Houston rotation to a similarly important reliever; he fired 72 1/3 innings of 1.99 ERA ball in 2018 before struggling to more pedestrian results in a 2019 campaign split between the rotation and bullpen.
Overall, McHugh went from a nondescript late-round pick to a clear-cut big leaguer during his time in Houston. He pitched 753 1/3 innings of 3.63 ERA ball there before hitting free agency and taking a one-year deal with the Red Sox that was wiped out by injury and the pandemic-shortened schedule. McHugh landed with the Rays in 2021 and bounced back in a major way: a 1.55 ERA in 64 innings. That prompted a two-year deal with the Braves — a homecoming for a pitcher who went to high school in Lilburn and college in Mount Berry — where McHugh went on to throw another 128 innings of 3.38 ERA ball.
All told, McHugh’s career will draw to a close with a 71-47 record, 46 holds, one save and a 3.72 ERA in 992 2/3 innings at the MLB level. He struck out 967 hitters against 280 walks and added another 27 innings of 4.00 ERA performance in the postseason. McHugh won a World Series ring with the controversial 2017 Astros club that is now infamous for its sign-stealing setup. FanGraphs valued McHugh’s career at nearly 16 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference pegged him at 12.4 WAR in a career that netted him just under $27MM in earnings. Few 18th-round signees can boast anything close to that type of success; McHugh and Mike Cameron stand as two of the best ever selected in that round. McHugh’s comment about being “around the game forever” seems to leave the door open for some kind of role with a team in the future. Best wishes to the righty on whatever the next step may be.