Overhauling the Backend of the Mets Rotation; McHugh In, Hefner Out
Updated Post 4/23
A day after publishing my post calling for the promotion of Collin McHugh to the Mets (which you can read below), I took some flack the following day when he had a less than stellar outing for Triple-A Las Vegas against Colorado Springs.
Original Post 4/21
Laffey or McHugh? Laffey or McHugh? Laffey or McHugh? Remember when I wrote that as a caption to the picture on the left back in March?
When you scan the organizational leaders in pitching only two names predominantly appear across every major statistical category; Rafael Montero, who has been chronicled very heavily here on MMO, and then there is Collin McHugh.
Despite pitching under the same exact conditions as Zack Wheeler for Triple-A Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, Terry Collins need not make any excuses for McHugh as he did for Wheeler yesterday:
“Wheeler’s got good enough stuff. If he pounds the zone, he’ll get people out. All the walks…That’s a red flag. I don’t want to see walks from those guys. I told Zack in the spring, ‘ You’re going to pitch in a tough place.’ I was in that league for 12 years. I know how hard [it] is to pitch in, but good pitchers have done well because they threw strikes. I’d rather see 10 hits — that I can understand. But six walks, he’s better than that.’
Wheeler’s 4.93 ERA is more of an indication of his lack of readiness than the result of pitching in the PCL. His 1.71 WHIP shows a big problem and the league is batting .287 against him. He’s not just walking a lot of batters, he’s allowing far too many hits and far too many runs to cross the plate.
Meanwhile, his teammate Collin McHugh goes out every fifth day in the same park and facing the same exact conditions, but leads the league with an 0.51 ERA. McHugh is holding batters to a .217 average to lead the team, and his 1.06 WHIP also leads the 51s.
I noticed that this morning, the folks at CaptainObvious.com are now talking about McHugh, only two and a half weeks after I first said McHugh should have been the fifth starter all along and not Aaron Laffey. I’ve called for his promotion five times in the last week and a half alone. Welcome to the party guys, better late than never.
In a perfect world, McHugh should have been in the Mets rotation all along had the Mets gone with my pre-season projections. I also had Cory Mazzoni in the Vegas rotation, and Jake deGrom at Binghamton. None of that happened, but it’s all starting to come into play now. Things are slowly falling into place.
As I’ve maintained all along, everything we saw from covering Wheeler extensively while at Mets spring camp to covering two of his first four starts in Vegas all pointed to the same conclusion. It disputed everything the scouts were saying, but we saw a pitcher who is not major league ready.
What we saw was a great fastball with 98 mph velocity and late movement. We saw two great secondary offerings that we also considered plus pitches. We saw a changeup that was average, but with three plus pitches it didn’t really matter. This kid has some great stuff – a truly amazing collection of plus-plus pitches.
What we didn’t see was a confident demeanor on the mound. What we didn’t see was the ability to bear down with runners on base. What we didn’t see was an ability to throw any of his pitches with some semblance of command. There wasn’t even a hint of it. I would go as far as saying that Wheeler has no clue as to where the ball will go once it leaves his grip. None.
Our conclusion, or I should say my conclusion, as not all MMO Minor League analysts share my opinion, is that Wheeler is still a raw talent who still needs a lot of work and refinement. I feel that he would likely benefit from a full season in Triple-A. I get the feeling that Sandy Alderson feels the same exact way based on what he’s said publicly and privately.
Enter Collin McHugh.
This talented right-hander is everything that Wheeler is not. First and foremost he has that bulldog mentality we already see in Matt Harvey. Confidence is the biggest difference between Harvey and Wheeler. Harvey has always shown it at every level, while Wheeler has not.
McHugh doesn’t have any one pitch that can even compare with Wheeler, but he’s no slouch and has two plus pitches of his own. Both his four-seamer and two-seamer average about 90-93 mph in velocity range. However, it’s the two-seamer that is by far his most effective fastball due to it’s great deceptive late sink and we’re talking about almost a one foot drop. (Not kidding) Not only does he miss a lot of bats with the two-seamer, but even when they make contact, it’s usually a grounder.
His slider is effective against righthanded hitters, but his best pitch of all is his 12-6 curveball. That’s his weapon of mass destruction. It’s tough to hit and comes in looking like his heater.
What’s most important to note here, is that unlike Wheeler, McHugh can command each of his pitches with surgical precision. He’s not afraid to challenge hitters when he has to, and he usually wins those battles. He is a control artist and has a superb 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. This is what the Mets need most in their rotation right now; someone who is not afraid to pitch to contact and can pound the strike zone. McHugh should be able to fill that role quite nicely.
As for Jeremy Hefner, well, he’s been a disappointment. I had high hopes for him and often called him a sleeper this past offseason. The fact is that he simply does not measure up and even for the backend of a poor rotation as the Mets have, he offers very little value. It appears I may have misjudged what he can bring to the table.
But right now it’s time for the Mets to right a wrong and give McHugh the rotation spot he should have gotten in the first place. Aaron Laffey has already been designated for assignment to make room for Robert Carson. Shaun Marcum will be activated next week and presumably make his first start of the season.
The Mets are 1-7 when the backend of our rotation starts, and 7-1 when Harvey and Niese start. We need to change that 1-7 record and Marcum alone won’t do that.
We need McHugh to be a part of the equation and solution.
After Matt Harvey and Rafael Montero, McHugh has been the most effective starting pitcher in the entire Mets organization.
A plane ticket from Vegas to LaGuardia is only $153. Let’s do this thing.
About the Author: Joe DeCaro
I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73 and '00, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.
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