I’m sure Collin McHugh isn’t the guy I was most wrong about — God help me, I was guardedly excited about Hector Olivera, and I hated Anthopoulos’s work during the 2018-2019 offseason, before we won the division again — but he’s the kind of pleasant surprise about whom I’m excited to eat crow.

In the offseason, I was stoked:

McHugh seems like a terrific pickup and the exact kind of low-risk medium-ceiling commitment that AA loves making. He has a career K/BB of 3.5, and from 2017-2021 he’s started 27 games and thrown another 115 in relief with a 142 ERA+ and a 3.30 FIP and golly, it’s hard to get a guy like that for just 2 years and $10 million.

Two months later, I was ready to put him in a Nermal-shaped box with postage paid to Abu Dhabi:

Collin McHugh has just been awful. I may be jumping the gun here, but sometimes a signing doesn’t work out, and I’m not really comfortable with this guy getting any more meaningful innings. He’s close to Tomlin territory for me.

That particular rant came after he gave up two runs in a 4-1 loss to the Marlins on May 28. It was his 17th game, and he had yielded nine runs in 18 innings. But his 4.50 ERA was roughly two runs higher than his 2.56 FIP. Sample sizes: they’ll get ya every time!

So, what happened the rest of the year was simply water finding its level. He had a 1.93 ERA from then on, completing his campaign with a 2.60 ERA and a 2.71 FIP, twirling 69 1/3 innings across 58 appearances, recording 17 holds. He was a rubber-armed bridge who went more than an inning in over 40% of his games, while also being one of the pen’s most reliable setup men.

He was, in short, even better than he was supposed to be, and all at Costco prices: $4 million in 2022, $5 million in 2023, and if he’s still good next year, the Braves can decide between paying him $6 million in 2024 or buying him out for a cool million. As Rob noted, he was the biggest pen pickup before Jansen, and a critical glue guy as the Braves had to retool the staff on the fly amid Jackson’s injury and Matzek’s postsurgery ineffectiveness.

McHugh turns 36 next June, and he’s a righty with a low-90s fastball, so the margin of error for him is pretty thin. After all, that’s why the Braves were able to sign him for roughly one-quarter the annual value of Jansen’s contract.* Given the inherent volatility of relievers, it’s hard to say for sure that he’ll post another sub-3.00 FIP. (I was also wrong about Jake Odorizzi this year — in the exact other direction!)

But like I said when AA picked Collin up, the risk-reward ratio is still pretty great.

I was wrong about you, Collin. Glad you’re coming back next year.

* I’m glad the Braves signed Jansen, as I have an irrational proprietary feeling about ballplayers who grew up in Curacao, just like I do about ballplayers who grew up in Georgia: I sort of feel like any good player from Curacao or Georgia ought to play on the Braves. This offseason, the Braves could kill two birds with one stone by signing Jurickson Profar as a superutility player and Bogaerts at shortstop; Xander grew up in Aruba, also in the Netherlands Antilles, just like Chadwick Tromp. By my count, they are nearly the only good Antillean players never to play for the Braves, with the exception of Jonathan Schoop (and maybe Sidney Ponson). Other than that, the Braves have rostered everyone else of note: Andruw, Andrelton, Ozzie, and Kenley, of course, as well as Jair Jurrjens, Randall Simon, and now Tromp. So, you know, it’d be kind of neat.