Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Phil Humber Continuing to Quietly Dominate

"Despite being nothing special himself (there is a reason he's been placed on waivers by so many teams in such a short time frame) [Philip] Humber is an experienced Minor League veteran with at least some Major League experience who should be able to provide replacement level production. I have no doubt that he could, in a pinch, come in and provide the White Sox with a handful of 'acceptable' starts, giving the team perhaps 20-25 innings of 5.00 ERA ball."

While it's generally ill-advised to highlight your own foolish comments, I feel compelled to do so for the sake of fairness. Those were my words when I wrote about the White Sox claiming of Philip Humber this past off season. It certainly wasn't my most prescient moment.

When I wrote that, Humber was on his way to his fifth team in four years, and his third in less than three months. Since coming to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade in 2008, Humber had thrown a total of 42.1 innings in the Majors over three seasons, allowing 71 base runners (50H/21BB), against just 31 strikeouts. Those rate stats translate to a 1.69 WHIP, and 6.63K/4.49BB rates, numbers that seemed to match up nicely with his thoroughly unimpressive AAA stats.

At 29 years old, it was hardly a shock that no one seemed to think much of him. His stats didn't make you raise an eyebrow nor did his 90-91mph fastball light up the board. No, Philip Humber was who we thought he was.

Or so we though.

Instead of playing down to his previous level of performance, Humber has registered a season befitting of his former first round draft pick status, posting a 2.85 ERA through the first third of the season. What's more, he's only gotten better as the season has progressed -each of his last six starts have been of the "quality start" variety, and he's logged at least seven complete innings in five of those games.

So what are we to make of Humber, where did this come from, and more importantly, can it last?

The short answer to that last question is, no. No, he cannot maintain a 2.85 ERA, few pitchers can, and those who sport .210 BABIP marks definitely cannot. But there are other things about his performance in 2011 that he can carry forward. Primarily, an improved BB rate that, at 1.95/9IP is more than a full walk less than his career average of 2.99. If he can pump his K rate back into the mid-five range, with his typically solid (if unspectacular) ground ball rates, that could translate into the sort of sustainable performance you'd expect of a #4 or #5 starter.

In the meantime however, the White Sox - who've struggled to begin the season - and their fan base which is likely lamenting some of the teams off season decisions ought to be thankful for one move that is looking extremely good thus far.

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