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Collin McHugh is Having One of the Best Seasons of His Career

How is he doing it?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Collin McHugh joined the Rays this year after opting out of the 2020 season with the Red Sox. So far, he’s been a great add to the Stable, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. What did he change since joining the Rays? And what about the slider, his best pitch, is making him so effective?

In 2017, Collin McHugh added a slider to his repertoire and has increased its usage drastically each year since. So far this season, he is throwing his slider 52% of the time, which is 25% more than any other pitch he throws.

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The slider is McHugh’s best pitch, but what about its movement allowed it to earn that title?

What type of slider does McHugh throw?

Collin McHugh throws a sweeping slider. It is on the slower side (80mph) and gets plus horizontal movement.

If we were trying to figure out the movement based on spin efficiency and observed spin direction, it would confirm that McHugh throws a sweeping slider.

McHugh’s slider has a spin efficiency of 58%. This tells us that in addition to the gyrospin (football spin) created by the slider’s release, 58% of the raw spin rate is contributing to the slider’s movement.

In terms of observed movement, the slider is spinning from the 8:45 position. Typically sweeping sliders will have spin from approximately 9:00.

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Movement and Results of the Slider

As expected based on the sweeping motion, McHugh is getting above average horizontal movement on his slider. He is getting 5.8 inches above average when compared to those of similar pitchers. The slider also an above average run value of -2. For pitchers, the lower the run value the better.

McHugh Slider Movement

Slider Vertical Movement vs Avg (in) Horizontal Movement vs Avg (in) Run Value
Slider Vertical Movement vs Avg (in) Horizontal Movement vs Avg (in) Run Value
2021 1.1 5.8 -2

In terms of results, McHugh is limiting hard hit against his slider. Its whiff percentage and opponent slugging are below average, but because he relies on his slider so much more than other pitchers, I would consider these results to be pretty good.

McHugh Slider Results

Slider Whiff% SLG Hard Hit
Slider Whiff% SLG Hard Hit
2021 30% 0.38 20%

What else does McHugh throw?

While the slider is McHugh’s best and more frequently used pitch, he also throws a cutter 27% of the time and a fourseam fastball 17% of the time. Similar to the slider, McHugh increased the usage of his cutter from 12% in 2019 to 27% in 2021. Relying more on the cutter is a common theme among Rays’ pitchers.

In terms of movement, the cutter and the fourseam also get plus horizontal movement when compared to those of similar pitchers.

McHugh Cutter and Fourseam Movement

Pitch Type Horizontal Movement vs Avg (in)
Pitch Type Horizontal Movement vs Avg (in)
Cutter 0.9
Fourseam 1.1

McHugh is an east/west pitcher, meaning he aims to get his pitches to the east/west edges of the zone.

Baseball Savant

Because each pitch has varying degrees of plus horizontal movement, there is increased deception. Additional deception is provided by the velocity gap between each pitch.

Baseball Savant

Even though McHugh does not throw particularly hard (his fourseam velocity is bottom 6% of the league), the above average horizontal movement combined with the way he is mixing his pitches allows him to be an effective reliever.

Looking at the overall results so far this year, McHugh has a career best FIP and opponent xSLG. He also ties his 2018 season (which was previously his best) in terms of hard hit and strikeout percentages.

McHugh Overall Results

Results FIP Hard Hit% K% Opponent xSLG
Results FIP Hard Hit% K% Opponent xSLG
2021 1.98 29% 34% 0.329

The Rays tend to rotate their bullpen pitchers around, resulting in pretty even playing time across the board. McHugh has done a great job switching up his pitch mix to capitalize on his strengths, as he puts together one of the best seasons of his career.