In this wonderful era of sabermetrics, pseudo know-it-all bloggers like myself, and actual know-it-all bloggers as well, are regularly bold enough to believe that they have the knowledge and insight necessary to catch the pros in the industry (GMs, player development reps, scouts, managers, Jayson Stark, etc) with their pants down, dead wrong about a player. We regularly believe that with stats and research, we can uncover truths that grizzled “baseball guys” missed in the close, personal observation periods they are exclusively privy to.
Yet still, even in this era of anonymous arrogance, when you see a track record like Philip Humber’s; that shows that he was dealt by the Mets, allowed to walk in free agency by the Twins, waived by the Royals, and waived by the A’s….all in the last 3 years…well…that’s troubling. Something about Phil is not registering as ‘worth retaining’ across the league.
And yet, with all that, Philip Humber is the runaway favorite to be the White Sox temporary 5th starter up until, I donno, maybe May? Or not at all if Jake Peavy handcuffs him to a radiator in the bowels of Kaufman Stadium April 6th.
With this sudden rise from the waiver wire to an established position on
a pitching staff that finished 2nd in baseball in rWAR last season, one
might expect a meteoric rise in ability to come with it.
Well…no. Humber just isn’t an overwhelming guy (his fastball sits
around 90-91) and his mild strikeout rates (6.14 K/9 in 51.1 MLB
innings, and 6.9 K/9 in 513.2 Triple-A innings) aren’t compensated for
with elite control. And that’s even if he’s gotten over his addiction
to the gopher ball.
But, the Sox crop of replacement spot starters just ain’t what it used
to be (Konichiwa, Carlos Torres), so Humber is the guy the team hopes
can grit his teeth through 4-5 outings without disaster. “Get through
April without forcing Ozzie to strangle you with his neck towel” isn’t
the most ambitious goal, and maybe that’s why I think Humber can do it.
First, with this limited scope of time, the Sox give themselves a good
chance to avoid the biggest problem of Humber’s career: durability.
Humber underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and has been hampered with
nagging injuries throughout his snake-bitten career, pretty much robbing
him of a typical development. Here’s betting he doesn’t break down in a
Second, since some remarkably lean times with the Mets, Humber’s
groundball rates have been in the sterling 45%+ range in his last 42.1
major league innings. For the most part, this plays to a massive
strength for the Sox. Alexei Ramirez is as good as it gets at short,
Brent Morel is highly-rated at 3rd, while Gordon Beckham is essentially a
league-average 2nd basemen. Just don’t hit it to Konerko…unless
you’re going to hit it right to Konerko.
Finally, the element of surprise. Maybe I’m overstating this based on
watching the White Sox struggle against starters they’ve never seen for
so many years, but Humber’s lack of exposure could guide him through for
just long enough. He’s pitched just over 40 innings in the majors the
last three seasons, and with the new cutter he’s developed with Don
Cooper, it just may be enough to allow him to be more aggressive in the
strike zone (1 BB in 11 Spring innings), before the scouting reports and
the league catch up.
‘Sneak up on ’em’ isn’t the most legitimate plan against professional
hitters, and Phil could get massacred if the long-ball tendencies of his
career prop up at U.S. Cellular. But still, stumbling through 24 IP in
the 4.00s for ERA thanks to a new pitch, not beating himself, and some
We’re not too late to get in on this ‘year of the pitcher’, are we?
(In case you were wondering, the answer is ‘no’, the Tribune does not have a usable picture of Philip Humber)
In the spirit of me chugging gallons and gallons of Phil Humber kool-aid; hoping I feel something, here’s a link to Jim Margalus, and his earnest surprise that Jeff Marquez made a major league roster.