Today, the Houston Astros claimed Philip Humber off waivers from the Chicago White Sox. Houston then avoided arbitration with Humber, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal, with a club option for 2014.
So, the next natural question becomes: Who is Philip Humber?
There are things we know about Philip Humber. We know that he was drafted in the 1st round (3rd overall) by the Mets in the 2004 Rule 4 Draft out of Rice University. We know that he was part of the package that the Mets sent to Minnesota for Johan Santana in 2008. We know that from 2009-2012, he was claimed off of waivers by the Royals, Athletics, White Sox, and finally by the Astros.
Further, if we’ve paid attention we know that Philip Humber had a very good year in 2011, going 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA and 3.6 fWAR. We may also know that he threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history, blanking the Seattle Mariners 4-0 in what was actually the only complete game of his career, on April 21, 2012.
And now, we know that Philip Humber is a Houston Astro, for at least one season.
As Astros fans, and as an Astros blog, I feel that first it’s incumbent upon us to say welcome to the Astros, Philip. Glad to have you aboard.
First, a bit of trivia. In 1995, a young Venezuelan pitcher named Johan Santana was signed by the Houston Astros as an amateur free agent. The Astros never promoted Santana above A-ball, and in 1999, the Florida Marlins drafted him in the Rule 5 Draft. They then traded him to the Minnesota Twins for Jared Camp, and Santana went on to win two Cy Young Awards for the Twins.
Then, in 2008, Minnesota traded Santana to the New York Mets for a package of prospects that included – wait for it – Philip Humber. Now, Humber comes to Houston. So in a roundabout sort of way, we can at least close our eyes and pretend that the Mets sent Humber to the Astros for Santana. It’s not true, but at least we can now pretend to have closure.
So what happened between Humber’s 3.5+ fWAR season in 2011, his perfect game at the beginning of the 2012 season, and his getting waived by Chicago at the end of the 2012 season?
It’s an important question, and it’s one that GM Jeff Luhnow must feel confident in knowing the answer to.
2011 (163.0) and 2012 (102.0) are the only two seasons in which Humber has thrown more than a hundred innings in the big leagues. The disparity between the two seasons is pretty remarkable. In short, there’s almost nothing similar about them, from a numbers point of view:
Looking at these two seasons, it’s as if you’re looking at two completely different players. 2011 Humber (who we’ll call PH11) didn’t strike many people out, but didn’t issue an unreasonable number of walks, either. He was aided by BABIP, to be sure, but he put a lot of balls on the ground and, of the balls he put in the air, fewer than 10% of them went for home runs.
2012 Humber (PH12), on the other hand, struck out more guys, but also walked significantly more, induced far fewer groundballs, and saw more than twice as many of the flyballs he induced leave the park.
Oh, and did I mention that PH12 spent some time on the disabled list with a mild right elbow flexor strain? Because he did.
A few other things are clear when looking at the data between 2011 and 2012: His arsenal doesn’t seem to have changed significantly. By that, I mean his fastball didn’t drop in velocity from one season to the next (in fact, it was a little faster in 2012, on average, by a few tenths of a MPH). His two-seamer, slider, and curveball all look like approximately the same pitch, velocity-wise. His changeup was 1.5 MPH faster in 2012, on average, but surely that couldn’t have accounted for such a drastic shift in performance, and it’s likely more a result of his throwing it far less (8.1% of PH12’s pitches were changeups, down from PH11’s 16.9%).
But his results were down across the board. Every single pitch lost runs from 2011 to 2012 (though, interestingly, his two-seamer gained runs above average/100).
He went on the disabled list in June 2012, but had clearly been experiencing problems before that. When he returned from the Disabled List, he only pitched 4 starts (going 2-1, allowing 15 runs in 20.2 innings) before being relegated to the bullpen, usually in mop-up duty. In his penultimate appearance with the White Sox, on September 4th against Minnesota, he recorded only one out while throwing 41 pitches, giving up 8 runs on 7 hits, 2 walks, and no strikeouts.
I’m not a clever enough statistician or scout to know what happened between PH11 and PH12. Whether the injury lingered longer than is generally known, or if something changed in his mechanics. I’m not the guy to figure all of that out. All I can do is hope that PH13 is closer to the former than the latter.