Sunday Notes: Collin McHugh Ponders Pitching Philosophy and Politics

Collin McHugh is cerebral both on and away from the diamond, and that attribute was on full display in a recent Zoom call with reporters. The Tampa Bay Rays right-hander fielded questions on multiple topics, most notably his craft and the possibility of MLB’s moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to another locale. I asked McHugh how his new team compares to one of his old ones in terms of pitching analytics.

“The behind-the-scenes things are a little different,” responded McHugh, referring to his tenure with the Houston Astros from 2014-2019. “I think they probably have a more well-versed staff over here, in total, of being able to communicate the advanced information to guys. I worked a lot with [Brent Strom] in Houston, and Strommy and I got to know each other really well. He was kind of my guru, or whatever you want to call it. If I had questions, I went to him.

“Here, it feels, at least to this point, like there is a more holistic approach,” continued McHugh. “From [pitching coach] Kyle Snyder — starting with him — and the pitchers, to Stan [Borowski] in the bullpen, all the way through the data-analytics system, then all the way up the ladder. I’ve had conversations with [General Manager] Eric Neander about these things, and have since we were in negotiations. So it feels like a very top-to-bottom system over here.”

McHugh signed a free-agent contract with the Rays in late February. Asked if he was approached about the possibility of tweaking any facet of his game, he said that wasn’t the case at all.

“A misconception I think a lot of people have is that when you go to an organization like this, Houston, or a lot of the league right now, is that they have some sort of magic turn-of-phrase where they say, ‘Do this, don’t do this, and you’ll be this type of pitcher,’” McHugh told me. “What they do better than the average organization is select guys who already have a certain skill set. Then they say, ‘Let’s continue to focus on what you do well.’ Strommy used to always say, ‘Continue to work on your weaknesses, but never to the detriment of being as good as you possibly can at the thing you’re already better than most people at.’ That’s kind of always been my philosophy, and it’s been the same thing here. Kyle has helped a little bit with that. You want to stay the course and not get too broad. I have five pitches, but when it comes down to getting three outs, or six outs, or nine outs, do what works for you. Do what’s going to give you the best-case scenario.”

The Atlanta situation — the Georgia voting law imbroglio — is anything but best-case for MLB. Criticism was coming whether the game got moved or not, and Rob Manfred and Co. have had no shortage of slings and arrows as it was. Deciding to strip the event from Braves territory — the right move in my opinion — didn’t come easily. Nor did McHugh’s response when was asked about the possibility of its happning.

“My thoughts on the law that just passed are…,” began McHugh, who proceeded to collect his thoughts for eight seconds before continuing. “I’m from Atlanta. I’m from Georgia. Being able to see what what happens when an entire state — an entire population of an extremely diverse state like Georgia — takes part and participates in our most basic of civil liberties, which is the right to vote, is something that’s really special to me. And it’s really special to a lot of people, regardless of party, regardless of political affiliation, to see fellow Americans be able to have the opportunity, and then follow through on that opportunity.

“On the backside of that, to see a bill like this put into law so fast, one that is really going to be restrictive… and people argue and [say] ’It’s not really that restrictive,’ in response to some sort of ethereal potential fraud in elections, which governor Kemp and his whole staff already said didn’t happen. So I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed by the Georgia electoral body, and I think a lot of people in Georgia feel the same way.

“As far as baseball goes. I would hate to take baseball away from the city of Atlanta for something that it didn’t do. The people of Atlanta love baseball. They love the Braves. They’ve loved MLB for years and years. There’s a rich history there. I wouldn’t want to deprive my friends of being able to see Randy [Arozarena]. I wouldn’t want to deprive them of seeing Mike Trout because of something they didn’t do. So yeah, it’s hard.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Arky Vaughan went 20 for 39 against Snipe Hansen.

Oris Hockett went 20 for 40 against Denny Galehouse.

Dixie Walker went 20 for 40 against Hal Schumacher.

Sean Casey went 20 for 41 against Jon Lieber.

Gabby Hartnett went 20 for 42 against Larry French.

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I referred to Luis Arraez as a future batting champion in the first of our Opening Day chats, and the statement was by no means frivolous. The 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting Minnesota Twins infielder/outfielder has slashed .332/.391/.429 over the his two big-league seasons. Moreover, his resume — compiled over 493 plate appearances — includes a 9.1 BB% and an 8.3 K%.

Small-sample caveat aside, a comp is too tempting to ignore. Over the course of his long career, Rod Carew slashed .328/.393/.429 with a 9.6 BB% and a 9.7 K%.

It would be crazy to suggest that Arraez will follow in Carew’s footsteps and win seven batting titles, let alone have a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. Neither is going to happen, and truth be told, he’s yet to truly establish himself as a star-quality player. Not only that, he’s without a permanent position. Primarily a second baseman prior to the current campaign, Arraez is being counted on to be a jack-of-all-trades. He started Opening Day in left field, then moved to third base when Josh Donaldson tweaked a hammy.

Before the game, Rocco Baldelli was asked about Arraez’s left-field assignment.

“We have a number of guys that can move around and do different things,” explained the Minnesota manager. “Looking at what we have going right now — and who we’re facing, and how everything lines up — we thought Luis was the best option. He has tremendous at bats. We’ve seen that for a long time, and know what he’s capable of. He’s a great hitter. And he’s shown that he can go out there in left field and make good plays.”

Another Opening-Day surprise was Arraez, and not Max Kepler, batting at the top of the Twins order. Baldelli was asked about that, as well.

“You’ll probably see different guys hitting in the leadoff spot, and I think Luis will see his fair share of games there,” said Baldelli. “And I think Louis is excited to be in the leadoff spot. It’s probably something he’s been hoping for. With the kind of at bats he has, it’s kind of hard not to want Luis in the lineup every day.”

Arraez went 2 for 5 with a walk and an RBI in the opener.

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A quiz:

Cap Anson hit 529 doubles, the most in Chicago Cubs franchise history. Who ranks second?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

A total of 256 players representing 20 different countries and territories outside of
the United States were on Opening Day rosters and inactive lists. The Dominican Republic had the most, with 96.

Adrián González has signed with the Mexican League’s Guadalajara Mariachis, and reportedly plans to play in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics . The 38-year-old five-time All-Star saw his last MLB action in 2018.

Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Communications Dave Haller will be stepping down from his position on April 10 to take a job in another profession. One of the best in the business, Haller has worked in baseball the past 15 years.

SBNation’s Cleveland site has changed its name from “Let’s Go Tribe” to “Covering the Corner.” The new moniker pays homage to longtime play-by-play voice Tom Hamilton’s home-game-broadcast opening that greets listeners from “the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.”

Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney will be at Cleveland’s home opener on Monday. The Akron native won’t be there as a fan, but rather as a stand-in for longtime in-stadium drummer John Adams, who has been battling health issues.

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The answer to the quiz is Mark Grace. The sweet-swinging first baseman hit 456 of his 511 career doubles while wearing a Cubs uniform.

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Last Sunday’s column made note of Mike Devereaux and J.J. Hardy having been voted into the Orioles Hall of Fame. This week I had the opportunity to ask Manny Machado about Hardy, whom he played alongside in Baltimore from 2012-2017.

“There is not a person that deserves it more,” said Machado, who broke in with the O’s a month after his 20th birthday. “ J.J. Hardy is a true leader, a true competitor, a guy that everybody looked up to in that clubhouse. What he did for that city, what he did for that team… it went unnoticed. But the people who [were around him] day-in-day-out know that he was the leader of that team.”

Moreover, Hardy was a mentor.

“He taught me everything I know about getting your work done, attention to detail,” said the Padres infielder.” I brought that over here, and it’s because I learned from him. The details are what wins championships. The details are what make you who you are. That was J.J. Hardy. He wasn’t the most flashy guy on the team, but he got every out. He hit the first baseman in the chest every single day. So for him to be [inducted] into the Orioles’ Hall of Fame…. congratulations to him and his family. It’s an honor to be his friend, and an honor to have played by his side.”

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Sticking with Machado, it’s safe to say that the 28-year-old third baseman isn’t a fan of shifts. Nor of the data that dictates when players are positioned on the field.

“It sucks for the left-handed hitters,” said the right-handed-hitting Machado.” I’m not going to lie. It really does. Hitting into the shift is tough. Do I like the shifts? No. I think [they] take away from the game, take away from the excitement. I mean, you hit a 110-, 120-mph freaking line drive… where there should be nobody. That sucks. It really does. They’re taking away all the excitement from baseball with some numbers. I’m against the numbers. I’ll leave it like that.”

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SIX OPENING-WEEK NOTABLES

Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera hit the first home run of the 2021 MLB season on Thursday, and the 488th of his career. It was his 350th as a Tiger, making Cabrera the second player in franchise history with at least 2,000 hits and 350 home runs. Al Kaline was the first.

Cleveland’s Shane Bieber has allowed three or fewer runs in each of his last 13 starts, the most recent coming on Opening Day. The right-hander fanned 12 Tigers, giving him 10 or more strikeouts in seven of his last nine starts.

The Rangers and Royals both scored five runs in the first inning on Thursday. As noted on the Royals’ TV broadcast immediately thereafter, it was the first time in big-league history that both teams plated four-or-more runs in the initial frame on Opening Day.

Houston’s Yordan Alvarez went 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs yesterday. Going into the afternoon, he had 85 RBIs in 91 career games, the fifth-highest total in MLB history for players over that number of games. Walt Dropo had 95, Rudy York 94, Joe DiMaggio 89, and Ted Williams 87.

White Sox rookie Yermín Mercedes began the season a record 8 for 8 before finally being retired on a fly ball. The 28-year-old utility player was hitless in one big-league at bat coming into the season.

Country Joe West umpired his 5,347th regular-season game yesterday. Bill Klem worked an MLB-record 5,375 games.

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Bobby Dalbec was my pick for American League Rookie of the Year when I dutifully contributed to our 2021 Staff Predictions (an exercise ace editor Meg Rowley described as “a series of informed and possibly incorrect predictions).

Why Dalbec? In my opinion, the 25-year-old Red Sox corner infielder is poised to hit north of 30 home runs in his first full big league season. Dalbec went yard eight times in 23 games last year, with half of those bombs going to the opposite field. That’s his strength. He can hit a ball a mile, and he likes to let it travel.

I recently asked Boston’s No. 9-rated prospect about his oppo M.O.

“I try to enter deep in the zone, and be on plane with the pitch as early as I can,” Dalbec told me. “I know I can hit the ball hard the other way. I don’t feel like I have to sell out pull-side, or get that extra giddy-up, to do damage. Once I start getting in that groove where I start turning on pitches more — turning on heaters — that will kind of open up the field a little bit more. But my default is right center.”

Following up, I asked the 2016 fourth-round pick if allowing the ball to get deep means you’re not catching it out front. Or is that a misconception?

“It feels out front to me, but it might not look like that [with] the way my swing works,” responded Dalbec, whom the Red Sox drafted out of the University of Arizona. “I don’t feel like I’m pushing my hands out to be able to hit the ball pull-side. If I can do damage to heaters to the big part of the field, and on off-speed — let the off-speed take care of itself — I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Former MLB right-hander Tim Melville threw 142 pitches while tossing a no-hitter for the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Uni-Lions on Friday. Melville’s Taiwan-based club routed the Wei Chuan Dragons 13-0.

Adam Jones homered for NPB’s Orix Buffaloes on Wednesday but has otherwise gotten off to a slow start. The former Orioles outfielder has five hits in 25 at bats.

Eigoro Mogi is 11 for 23 with two doubles and a pair of home runs. The 27-year-old Rakuten Golden Eagles infielder slashed .301/.396/.457 last season.

Yakult Swallows deactivated five players earlier this week— including Norichika Aoki and star second baseman Tetsuto Yamada — after backup catcher Akihisa Nishida tested positive for COVID.

Tokaidai Sagami of Kanagawa Prefecture beat Meiho of Oita Prefecture to win Japan’s spring Koshien title. The prestigious high school tournament was played on a smaller scale than usual due to the ongoing pandemic.

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In which inning should MLB begin placing a runner on second base to start the inning? Jim Passon ran a Twitter poll asking that question, with the options being the 10th, 11th, 12th, and “no thank you.” Not surprisingly, the rule currently in place — one I consider to be the worst in any sport — finished tied for last.

Of the 1,840 votes cast, 10th inning and 11th inning each garnered 7.1% of support, 12th inning garnered 26.7%, and “no thank you” got a robust 59.1%. In other words, a large percentage of fans feel that it is complete folly to tarnish the game in the current manner. As well they should.

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I ran a rules-related poll of my own, and the response was every bit as telling. I asked if replay review to determine if a runner came off the bag for an instant is good and thus should be kept, or is bad and should be killed.

There were 1,940 votes cast, with 20.9% respondents opining it was a good rule, and 79.1% opining it was a bad rule. I agree with the majority. If it takes slo-mo video to ascertain that a runner indeed lost contact with a base, said lost-contact was so slight that it should be deemed inconsequential.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At MLB.com, Sarah Langs filled us in on a few milestones that might fall this year.

What does a good season from Bo Bichette look like? Randy Holt explored that question at Beyond the Box Score.

Alex Hall pondered Chad Pinder’s breakout chances for Athletics Nation.

The Athletic’s C. Trent Roscrans wrote about how Jonathan India is bringing a South Florida edge to Cincinnati.

Ty Buttrey has decided to walk away from the game at age 28. Jeff Fletcher has the story at The Orange County Register.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Albert Pujols has 1,348 extra-base hits and needs just eight more to tie Babe Ruth (1,356) for fourth most all-time. Hank Aaron tops the list with 1,477. Barry Bonds is second with 1,440, Stan Musial third with 1,377.

Miguel Cabrera has 1,086 extra-base hits, which is 24th all-time. The six players directly in front of him on the list — each of whom he’ll leapfrog with 33 more XBH — are Hall of Famers.

Since the start of the 2018 season, Xander Bogaerts leads all qualified shortstops in batting average (.300), OBP (.372), RBIs (248), and wRC+ (136). At .380, he’s the co-leader in wOBA, along with Trevor Story.

The modern era includes 91 players with a career batting average of 1.000. All but 10 of them had one hit in one at bat. Nine went 2-for-2, while John Paciorek went 3-for-3.

Miguel Diloné batted .341 — and had 61 stolen bases — for the Cleveland Indians in 1980. His 180 hits that year were more than double what he had in any of his other 11 big-league seasons.

Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Rip Sewell won a career-high 21 games in 1943. He also posted career bests with 30 hits, 17 RBIs, and seven stolen bases. Sewell was a perfect 7-for-7 in steal attempts that year, and 12-for-13 for his career. His older brother, outfielder Joe Sewell, had 74 steals and was caught 72 times.

Dale Alexander played five big-league seasons (1929-1933) and logged a .331 batting average over 2,737 plate appearances. A first baseman, Alexander hit .331 with a 129 OPS+ in 467 games for the Detroit Tigers, and .331 with a 127 OPS+ in 195 games for the Boston Red Sox. One of his legs became infected with gangrene during his final season, effectively ending his career at age 30.

The Cincinnati Reds signed Chris Welsh to a free agent contract on today’s date in 1986. A left-hander who’d previously played for the Padres, Expos, and Rangers, Welsh — a graduate of Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School — went 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in his lone season with his hometown team. A rules expert who runs baseballrulesacademy.com, he’s been a TV analyst on Reds games since 1993.

Players born on today’s date include Hall of Fame outfielder Tris Speaker, who amassed 130.6 WAR from 1907-1928. Baseball’s all-time leader in doubles with 792, Speaker had 222 triples, 117 home runs, 436 stolen bases, and a 157 wRC+. His slash line was .345/.428/.500.

Also born on today’s date was Don Hasenmayer, who had cups of coffee with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945 and 1946. A native of Roslyn, PA who debuted four weeks after his 18th birthday, Hasenmayer went 3 for 30 in his short big-league career.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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tomerafan
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tomerafan

Bobby Malbec is surely more potent than a Punch and Judy hitter. Especially the current vintage.

delatopia
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Member
delatopia

He’s no Lou Merlot-ni.