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New Ace Smackdown: Collin McHugh vs Matt Shoemaker

This week’s Smackdown pits two 27 year old veteran minor leaguers who emerged as star hurlers in 2014. Neither of them were ever considered top prospects by any stretch of the imagination. McHugh was an 18th round draft pick by the Mets in 2008 and reached the majors with them in 2012. He was traded to the Rockies last summer but they made a big mistake by releasing him last December. The Astros claimed him off waivers and he has been an ace ever since. Shoemaker wasn’t drafted at all, signing as an undrafted free agent that same year of 2008. Neither of them distinguished themselves in the minors or gave a hint of future stardom. How did these two completely unheralded pitchers develop into aces? Are they for real or are they merely mirages that will quickly disappear when we examine them closely? Which one of them is the better bet for your fantasy team? Let the Smackdown begin…

Traditonal Stats McHugh Shoemaker
Record 10 – 9 16 – 4
Strikeouts 151 124
ERA 2.66 3.04
WHIP 1.03 1.07
Innings Pitched 148.2 136.0

Shoemaker’s record gives him a huge advantage over McHugh to kick off the battle. Schoemaker has the good fortune of playing for the highest-scoring team in baseball, the Angels, and that is going to lead to a lot more Wins even though his ERA is not as good. Even though Shoemaker has pitched very well this season it is still a bit freakish for him to win 4x more games than he lost. Even the best pitchers can’t maintain that ratio for long, so don’t expect it to happen again next  year. McHugh beats Shoemaker in whiffs by a comfortable margin and also beats him in ERA. The WHIP category is very close. Neither pitcher was in their teams’ rotation to start the season, so neither one will reach 200 innings. Based on these traditional fantasy stats there is no clear-cut winner in the Smackdown yet.

Rank Among SPs McHugh Shoemaker
Yahoo 5×5 16 18
CBS 5×5 26 23
CBS Points 52 38

In roto leagues both McHugh and Shoemaker have established themselves as top 25 pitchers in baseball despite trailing the league leaders in innings by about 50. They would rank even higher if they had accrued the extra Wins and Ks over the additional innings. This effect is even stronger in points leagues because ratios like ERA and WHIP are less important, in those formats it is all about racking up counting stats, so innings pitched are of paramount importance. That is why these pitchers rank better in 5×5 leagues than in points leagues, but moving forward into next season we should expect that gap to close because both pitchers will surely be starting games from the beginning of the season. The rank scores don’t get us any closer to picking a winner of the Smackdown. Once again the race is too close to call so far.

Luck Stats McHugh Shoemaker
BABIP 0.260 0.286
Strand Rate 76.7% 77.5%

We call BABIP and Strand Rate “luck stats” because both of these metrics are largely out of the control of the pitcher. These stats can be used to help determine if a pitcher’s ERA is real or illusory. Both McHugh and Shoemaker have been somewhat fortunate in terms of Strand Rate, which means their ERAs are likely a little better than they should be based on their true performance. McHugh has been a bit lucky with his BABIP as well, whereas Shoemaker has had neutral luck. For this reason I will call Shoemaker a slight winner of the luck stats section of the Smackdown.

Composite Stats McHugh Shoemaker
ERA 2.66 3.04
FIP 3.07 3.26
xFIP 3.12 3.28
SIERA 3.16 3.19

McHugh has a slight edge in all of the composite stats. This occurred even though his luck stats indicated his ERA looked better than it should have. This is borne out by all three of the Composite Stats being a half run higher than his ERA as the luck stats predicted. But even though McHugh’s “real” ERA rose that much it is still slightly better than Shoemaker’s, so McHugh gets a small win in this section of the Smackdown. The Angels rank 5th in the majors for team Defensive Efficiency Ratio while the Astros rank 21st. This means the Angels are a better defensive team and we should expect Shoemaker to slightly outperform his FIP and SIERA, while the Astros are a poor defensive team and we should expect McHugh to have an ERA slightly worse than his Composite Stats. McHugh overcame this disadvantage and still posted a better ERA than Shoemaker, so McHugh gets another notch in his belt for that. These FIP and SIERA metrics show that while both McHugh and Shoemaker were slightly fortunate, they are both legitimately excellent pitchers. Their performances are not a mirage in the slightest and both can be expected to continue their success again next year and beyond.

Component Stats McHugh Shoemaker
K/9 9.14 8.21
BB/9 2.42 1.59
K/BB 3.78 5.17
K%-BB% 18.6% 18.4%

Here we can see that McHugh strikes out slightly more batters per inning than Shoemaker, but Shoe walks significantly fewer than McHugh (although his BB rate is still good). I have said many times that K%-BB% is the most important metric for pitchers. The pitchers are essentially tied for this key metric and therefore this section of the Smackdown is a tie. Out of 113 pitchers with 130+ innings, McHugh ranks 16th and Shoemaker 17th in K%-BB%. That is pretty darn good and is a strong indicator that these pitchers are legitimately good pitchers and likely to remain that way. Is it a coincidence that their K%-BB% ranks are almost exactly the same as their ranks in 5×5 roto leagues? Nope, it is not a coincidence at all. It is common to see mediocre pitchers maintain a fluky-good ERA for a few months or a year, but putting up a good K%-BB% for a year is no fluke. You must have top-shelf stuff to do well in this stat, and McHugh and Shoemaker have done it.

Velocity McHugh Shoemaker
Fastball 91.5 mph 90.5 mph

Both pitchers have average to slightly above average fastball velocity. These guys don’t get you out by smoking it past you. These are command-and-control pitchers with good movement on their 4-pitch repertoires. This is part of the reason why they didn’t hit it big until they were 27 years old. It takes time to develop perfect mechanics and the ability to get the proper release point, pronation and movement on a variety of pitches. Young pitchers can’t do what these guys do. These two have mastered the art and craft of the trade. McHugh’s heater has slightly more giddyup on it, giving him a little bit larger margin for error and making it easier to differentiate his fastball from his off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance. It is a small sign that McHugh could have a little more staying power among the upper echelon of pitchers.

Usage Rates McHugh Shoemaker
Fastball 40.4% 51.2%
Curveball 23.2% 9.6%
Slider 31.3% 18.1%
Changeup 5.1% .
Split-Finger . 21.1%

Here we can see that despite having a quicker fastball than Shoemaker, McHugh relies much more on his breaking pitches. In fact, McHugh throws twice as many breaking balls as Shoemaker. Many coaches will tell you that the split-finger is just a type of change-up, one of many different changeup grips. Shoemaker relies on shifting speeds to keep hitters off balance. Both pitchers have excellent command of 4 pitches, making it very hard for hitters to guess correctly. Many major league pitchers have only 3 different pitches, relievers often use only 2. This gives McHugh and Shoemaker an edge over much of the league, but I can’t give either pitcher an edge over the other in this section of the Smackdown.

And the Winner is…

This is another very close contest. I should start picking matchups that aren’t so difficult to referee. Most of their statistics are virtual ties, as are their fantasy ranks. Shoemaker has a big edge in Wins. McHugh has smaller edges in ERA, FIP and SIERA. I like McHugh’s combination of velocity and repertoire a bit more than Shoemaker’s and if I were a real life General Manager I would have a slight preference for McHugh over Shoemaker, although I would love to have both. But since we are talking about fantasy baseball I think the winner of this Smackdown should be Matt Shoemaker. He has the advantage of playing in front of a good defense and the Angels also have the best offense in the major leagues. Those two factors have direct effects on Shoemaker’s fantasy value. The defense and the pitcher-friendly ballpark in Anaheim will help Shoemaker outperform his peripherals and put up a better ERA and WHIP than he would if he played for most other teams, including the Astros. The Angels’ offense will score a lot of runs that will help Shoemaker get a lot more Wins than if he played for the Astros. Because we as fantasy managers have to consider not only the talent of the pitcher but also the effects of his environment it makes Matt Shoemaker a clear winner of this week’s epic Smackdown!

Both pitchers are good bets to be valuable fantasy players next season. They may not have the name recognition or trade value of a James Shields or Jered Weaver, but Shoemaker and McHugh are every bit as good or better.

What is your opinion? Do you agree that Shoemaker wins vs McHugh? Why or why not? Who should be matched up in the next smackdown? Let me know in the comments below.

If you missed last week’s Young Ace Smackdown: Alex Cobb vs Alex Wood or before that Young Ace Smackdown: Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta be sure to read those too.

Nick Doran writes all kinds of cool stuff about the game’s ultimate flamethrowers at Blazing Fastball. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @BlazingFastba11.

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Nick Doran

Nick Doran

2 Comments

  1. September 27, 2014 at 6:31 am — Reply

    […] New Ace Smackdown: Collin McHugh vs Matt Shoemaker […]

  2. December 15, 2014 at 6:31 am — Reply

    […] New Ace Smackdown: Collin McHugh vs Matt Shoemaker […]

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