McCullers is the son of Lance McCullers, who spent parts of seven seasons in the Major Leagues.
"My dad never forced the game on me," Lance Jr. said. "He retired 16 months before I was born. The biggest thing he gave me is the mental aspect of the game, how to handle yourself on the field and respond to adversity."
In 2012, Lance graduated out of Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida after going 13-0 with 140 strikeouts in 77 innings. That earned him Gatorade National Player of the Year. In June, he got drafted by the Astros in the first round.
In 2014, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated McCullers as the 5th-best prospect in the Astros organization. He was at #11 a year later, in the winter before 2015 spring training.
Lance is a pretty good golfer. He's also a good basketball player, but says, "I don't shoot that well."
During 2015 spring training, Lance drew raves for his mound presence and the way he carried himself in the clubhouse. The 21-year-old looked and acted like he belonged. That impressed Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
"He's got Major League bloodlines, and you can tell how he carries himself,” Hinch said. “He’s got a great presence to him, good demeanor and good stuff. His fastball/breaking ball is real.
"He walks like a like a big leaguer, talks like a big leaguer."
MLB debut (May 18, 2015): McCullers made his debut wearing Batman cleats. And he allowed only 3 hits and one run, striking out 5 and walking 3 batters. The only run he allowed came on Eric Sogard's single in the second, but he worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam later in that inning, sending down nine in a row at one point.
"I think I saw some people getting on me, but it's alright. I just like Batman. I've been wearing them the whole year." Lance said.
When interviewed on Intentional Talk (MLB Network), McCullers was asked how much he was into "Batman." He said he had "Batman" underwear, socks, tee shirts, and other memorabilia.
He considers himself short, so when scouts would come to his house in high school, he would put 3 insoles in his shoes to make himself appear taller.
McCullers is an avid Call of Duty gamer. He loves Batman and social media. But his strong religious background keeps him grounded.
July 2, 2017: McCullers received his first invite to the MLB All-Star game.
"You have some guys who feel they're destined for the MLB All-Star game," McCullers said. "For me and for my family, I don't take a day for granted. I have firsthand experience with my father."
His dad, Lance Sr., pitched seven seasons for four different teams, appearing in 306 games in all. Lance Jr. was a first-round Draft pick in 2012, but he understood that the game could be a rollercoaster.
"My dad was a great reliever for a long time, and the game kind of got taken away from him in no time," Lance Jr. said. "For me in my short career to be able to experience the playoffs and be in my first All-Star Game (2017), it's something I'm trying to soak all up. Who knows how many of these things you'll get to play in? I'm blessed to be here." (Justice - mlb.com - 7/10/17)
Something you might not know about McCullers? He really, really loves coffee. Like, really loves it. So much so that, as the Cespedes BBQ guys learned over the 2017 All-Star Week, he and some other Houston pitchers have their very own espresso machine in the clubhouse.
Dec. 9, 2017: A black lab mix named Gunner sat in a wagon on the tarmac at Hobby Airport, loving every ounce of attention he was getting. The dog had been shot twice a few months ago and lost the use of his hind legs.
"I think he knows that we're here to help him," said Lance McCullers Jr., who along with his wife, Kara, has helped facilitate the transport of about 150 dogs and cats to California in recent weeks to new homes and new lives.
The McCullers, with the help of NFL referee John Hussey, assisted with the transport of 21 dogs, including Gunner, onto a small plane to be shipped to their forever homes or rescue groups that will foster them until they can find a forever home. (Brian McTaggert-MLB.com)
Dec 21, 2018: He's only 25 years old, but Lance McCullers Jr. has a charitable heart that few players his age possess. McCullers' biggest passion when it comes to philanthropy is finding forever homes for dogs though Houston Pets Alive!, but he doesn't stop there.
A week before Christmas, McCullers held a toy drive for kids from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program at a Houston-area car dealership, where he handed out donated toys, signed autographs and even gave some baseball advice to a couple of inquisitive teens.
McCullers, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., and now lives in Houston full time, answered some questions from MLB.com about the holidays:
Q: What was your favorite Christmas memory when you were a kid?
A: Man, really just all of our Christmases when all of our cousins got together. You know, I saw them maybe once or twice a year and [played] baseball, basketball, football in the street and going to my grandma's house for Christmas Eve and stuff like that. The holidays bring back a lot memories about family. The holidays means family.
Q: Is there a memorable gift you got as a kid you remember more than some others?
A: I got a T-Mac jersey one time and T-Mac shoes for Christmas. Tracy McGrady was my favorite basketball player growing up when he played for the Orlando Magic, so I used to lower my rim way down and do the T-Mac stuff off the backboard and dunk it—an Allen Iverson jersey one time. I was a big basketball guy growing up.
Q: So, I'm guessing Christmas in Tampa, you could go outside with the bats and balls and go right at it?
A: Christmas in Tampa was about 85 degrees, so you're ready to roll any time.
Q: What's Christmas like for you nowadays?
A: Nowadays, it's a little hectic, you know? I go back home and try to see everyone, try to see the family, but it's good. You go back home for the holidays and it reminds you of, you know, being young and having family around.
Q: What about your dogs? Do they get into the Christmas spirit as well? (Lance and his wife, Kara, have two adopted dogs, Minka and Riggs.)
A: We try to do bows and hats and stuff, but our dogs hate that. They spend the whole time biting them. My wife makes sure we get them a bunch of gifts and we have them open it, but yeah man, we enjoy making everyone feel special in the holidays.
Q: What's on your Christmas list this year? Anything special?
A: No, nothing. On my Christmas list, I wanted to make sure we had a good turnout [at his charity event], and we got a lot of kids a lot of presents and we did that. I'm ready to roll. (B McTaggart - MLB.com - Dec 21, 2018)
Oct 2021: Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and starter Lance McCullers Jr. were among those honored by the Houston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Correa was named the team’s MVP for 2021, and McCullers was named the team’s Pitcher of the Year. (B McTaggart - MLB.com - Oct 5, 2021)
June 2012: The Astros chose McCullers in the compensation portion of the first round (#41 overall), out of Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida.
Lance Jr. signed via scout John Martin, for $2.5 million, nearly double the bonus slot value of $1.26 million for the 41st pick. The Astros were able to spend more on McCullers, who had committed to play at the University of Florida, after signing No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa, to a $4.8 million bonus, which was well below the $7.2 million slot value.
Jan 12, 2018: Lance and the Astros avoided arbitration, agreeing on a one-year deal.
Jan 11, 2019: Lance and the Astros avoided arbitration agreeing to a one-year deal for $4.1 million.
Dec 13, 2019: The Astros agreed to a one-year contract with Lance McCullers Jr. for 2020, avoiding arbitration. His salary will be $4.1 million, the same as his 2019 salary. McCullers missed the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- March 24, 2021: McCullers Jr. and the Astros have agreed to an $85 million, five-year contract covering 2022-2026.
|Birth City:||Tampa, FL|
|Draft:||Astros #1 (Comp) -2012 - Out of high school (FL)|
McCullers is a power pitcher. His four-seam FASTBALL is 93-98 mph and has above-average movement boring in on righthanded batters. That heater is a 65-70, because of its excellent life.
He also has a 92-96 mph two-seam SINKER. And his hard-breaking 85-88 mph power CURVEBALL (some call it a slider) is his out pitch. It has a very nasty three-quarter bite and 11-to-5 break. Some call it a slider, but it has become a 70 or 75 grade pitch. His 88-90 mph CHANGEUP lacks deception now, but should become near-average. Right now, it lacks separation, and movement. The change is a 40, with a ceiling of an average 50 down the road. (Spring 2018)
When he locates his power CURVE hitters have no chance—it has such late, violent break that it can make hitters look bad, even in counts where they know to look for it. But it is also hard to command.
Lance is fearless and comes right at hitters, aggressively. He has closer mentality. He has a good temperament on the mound.
- Lance has no major flaws in his arm action, but it has some effort in is crossfire delivery. He will occasionally rush his delivery and have a stiff landing leg. He doesn't always finish upright and doesn't get great extension.
McCullers can be "effectively wild," but also overthrows at times. He has a high-effort delivery, which leads to erratic control. In 2014, his walk rate of 5.2 per nine innings rate was the second highest among Cal League pitchers who threw at least 90 innings.
As the son of the former big leaguer of the same name, McCullers does show baseball intelligence. However, he tends to overanalyze and get away from pitching off his fastball, and he sometimes struggles to control his emotions on the mound. His stuff and demeanor may point toward a career as a closer, but he’ll need more consistent command regardless of role.
June 3, 2015: McCullers needed just four pitches to finish the Astros' win, punching out Chris Davis with a man on first with a 12-6 curveball for his career-high 11th strikeout and first complete game since a seven-inning job in high school.
In the past 50 seasons, the only pitchers as young as McCullers to go the distance, fanning more than 10 and walking none, are Bert Blyleven, Dwight Gooden and Kerry Wood.
McCullers, who went to only three three-ball counts all night, worked ahead of most of the hitters and remedied the problem with inflated pitch counts that plagued his first three starts. He entered the ninth inning with only 92 pitches, thanks in large part to a five-pitch seventh and 10-pitch eighth. (Rome - mlb.com - 6/3/15)
- 2015 season: McCullers, a 21-year-old who made the jump straight from Double A to the Majors in May, led all American League rookie pitchers in WAR with a 2.8 mark.
McCullers went 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA (45 ER/126 IP), while recording 129 strikeouts in his 22 Major League starts.
2016 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 41.7% of the time; Sinker .5% of the time; Change 7.5% of the time; Slider .8%; Curve 48.5% of the time; and Cutter 1.1% of the time.
- 2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 19.6% of the time; Sinker 20.5% of the time; Change 11.5% of the time; Curve 48% of the time.
- 2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 3.4% of the time; Sinker 33%; Change 15.7%; his Curve 47.6%; and Cutter less than 1% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 95.1 mph, Sinker 94.8, Change 88, Curve 86.4 mph, and Cutter 93.8 mph.
- 2019 Season Pitch Usage: Did not pitch.
- 2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 1.8% of the time; Sinker 37.9%; Change 19.6%; his Curve 37.8%; and Cutter 3% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 94.1 mph, Sinker 94.1, Change 86.6, Curve 83.7 mph, and Cutter 91.7 mph.
Major League Baseball features plenty of outstanding secondary pitches, but none like Lance McCullers' knuckle-curve. Secondary pitches are called that for a reason. Every pitcher at every level of baseball has worked off of his fastball since the beginning of time.
Secondary pitches round out a repertoire even if nearly every pitcher in the majors will throw his fastball more than his other offerings. Even a pitcher who has a lights-out secondary pitch—think Chris Sale’s changeup or Noah Syndergaard’s slider—typically throws that pitch no more than 30% of the time. The fastball is the centerpiece of the arsenal.
That’s what makes Lance McCullers’s knuckle-curve so special. McCullers’s knuckle-curve is a pitch so filthy that it can be his primary offering. To be clear, secondary, in this context, does not mean lesser. With respect to a pitcher’s repertoire, secondary means every pitch that isn’t a fastball. Part of that owes to the fact that few, if any, pitchers can lean on a secondary pitch as the linchpin of what they do on the mound.
McCullers is the exception, with his knuckle-curve standing out as possibly the best single pitch in baseball. (Michael Beller- April 13, 2017)
In Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS vs. the Yankees, McCullers had a four-inning save, finishing the game with 24 consecutive curveballs.
Best pitch—his curveball. How he throws it: McCullers puts the nail of his right index finger on the seam of the ball right above the Major League Baseball logo and the middle finger on the longer seam to the right. The thumb is below the ball on the seam to the left of the index finger. From there, it's all about force and throwing it as hard as he can. He produces more swings and misses and more ground balls than most other curveballs.
How he uses it: Often. McCullers throws nearly 50 percent curveballs, to go along with a fastball and an ever-developing changeup. Last year in the playoffs, he threw 24 consecutive curveballs to finish off the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. When other pitches aren't working the way he'd like, McCullers can rely on the curveball to get swings and misses and ground balls.
What it does: Against lefties, he tries to make a more conscious effort toward throwing a true 12-to-6 curveball, and against right-handers he wants to give the pitch more of a sweeping motion.
Statcast™ fact: McCullers' ground-ball rate on his curve is 63.4 percent.
Oct 17, 2020: “It sucks, man,” said Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., who gave up homers to ALCS Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino in 3 2/3 innings.
“It really does. But congrats to the Rays. They’re a damn good team. They’ve been the best team in the AL all season. They went through the Yankees and they went through us. You have to tip your cap to them, as well. It sucks because it just feels like we were right there.”
2020 Season: Lance McCullers had an inconsistent 2020 after his surgery. The 2020 Astros dealt with injuries all season, but one key starter, Lance McCullers Jr., returned from Tommy John surgery. The righty missed all of the 2019 season and was one of the main reasons former GM Jeff Luhnow went after Zack Greinke to help replace him for the postseason. McCullers is a one time All-Star but didn’t seem to be back to his dominant form in 2020.
Regular Season—The Astros lost Gerrit Cole to free agency and Justin Verlander to Tommy John early in the year, so they looked to McCullers as their ace. Yet, we didn’t see that McCullers was really back. He struggled, to say the least, much like many Astros stars. Even with a small sample size of only 60 games, McCullers wasn’t finding his groove until September. This is understandable for a guy who is coming off a tough surgery and really no time to be ramped up.
McCullers’ ERA splits for the regular season months were 5.40 (July), 4.94 (August) and 1.53 (September). There was a huge improvement in his command and control of pitches. A lot of analysis came down to him jamming himself and forcing walks, but his walk rate would drop and his hit rate would increase. He needed time to find his arm again, and it took two months of starts to do that.
Long-haired McCullers was electric in the month of September. He dropped his season ERA from 5.79 to 3.93 over four starts, and if the regular season had kept going, we would’ve seen a huge progression. He was finally finding the zone and keeping the hang off his curve. He also battled some neck nerve irritation and hit the 10-day IL in early September, which was a big injury slate for the Astros as a whole.
Postseason—McCullers was added to his fourth postseason roster (2015, 2017, 2018) in 2020. After great management from Dusty Baker, we didn’t see McCullers used at all in the Wild Card round. We then got to see a fresh version of him in the ALDS who had not pitched since Sept. 26. We did not see a great showing from him, and it seemed his 2020 struggles came back to him. He went four innings giving up five runs while fanning five batters. The bullpen would end up locking down the game, while the hot bats for the Astros were continuing their reign.
Moving onto the ALCS, we saw a stronger McCullers. After shaking off a rough start, he powered through seven innings of Game Two, but a Jose Altuve error led to a three-run homer. The bats weren’t alive that game, and the Astros fell 4-2, even though McCullers fanned 11 batters and walked none. Then the dreaded Game Seven McCullers was back. Through 3.2 innings, he surrendered three runs, which was enough for the Tampa Bay Rays to win. Yet he still showed signs of life with seven strikeouts and one walk. (Kenny Van Doren - Oct. 26, 2020)
- Entering the 2022 season, Lance had a career record of 45-30 and 3.57 ERA, allowing 566 hits and 53 home runs in 671 innings pitched. Lance had struck out 750.
June 19-July 1, 2014: McCullers was on the D.L.
March 11-May 13, 2016: McCullers, who was expected to start the season as the Astros' No. 3 starter, has been told he will begin the year on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right shoulder. McCullers, one of the Astros' most prized young pitching arms, has been shut down since he felt shoulder soreness after his second live batting practice on March 6. No structural damage was revealed in the MRI.
August 3-Oct 3, 2016: Lance was on the DL with right elbow discomfort.
June 9-24, 2017: Lance was on the DL with lower back discomfort.
July 31-Sept 6, 2017: Lance was on the DL with back discomfort.
Aug 5-Sep 24, 2018: Lance was on the DL with right elbow discomfort.
Nov. 6, 2018: McCullers Jr. underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
March 25-Nov. 4, 2019: Lance was on the IL with recovery from TJ surgery.
Sept 6-16, 2020: McCullers Jr. was placed on the 10-day injured list with a neck nerve irritation.
May 23-June 15, 2021: Lance was on the IL with right shoulder soreness.
April 7-Aug 13, 2022: McCullers went on the IL. Ever since the Astros revealed in spring training that Lance would miss the start of the season as he continues his rehab from a flexor tendon injury in October 2021, the timetable for his return has been unclear.
The Astros ruled out McCullers until early June at the soonest by transferring him from the 10-day Injured List to the 60-day Injured List. So June 6 is the first day he will be eligible to be activated.