Last week in this space, I expressed confidence in Philip Humber’s prospects for the coming season.
Since then, he’s racked up 16 strikeouts in 14.1 innings, and put together a perfect game over the weekend.
Now, I didn’t predict him to pitch a perfect game, because predicting perfect games is a high-risk practice and I’m an anxious person. I also didn’t do myself any favors with this selection:
"“He’s not the above-average strikeout pitcher he was in the 2nd half, but he’s also not operating on hopes and prayers like the 1st half. [Humber]’s a control pitcher, with two different breaking balls he can turn to and a legitimate major league out pitch”"
Even if one writes off his curve being unhittable on Saturday as a product of a once in a lifetime day in Humber’s life, the reserved praise for his slider is already being made to look foolish.
The new addition to his repertoire is not just another weapon in his arsenal; Humber has centered his entire game around it. FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball both have Humber throwing his slider nearly as much as his fastball in the new season. He turned to it throughout the 9th inning Saturday in tight spots, including on a full count with a perfect game on the line.
There’s been nothing indicating that this approach will hamper his effectiveness, as the slider has been generating swings and misses in nearly one of every four uses. That’s the markings of a major league out pitch right there, folks, and make room for the national writers hopping on the bandwagon. Believers in the slider are popping up all over the place.
Hop aboard, Dave Cameron from FanGraphs:
"“When he got to Chicago, Humber was a guy who threw a 90-92 MPH fastball and an 86-88 MPH cutter. In his first two starts of 2012, he’s been a guy throwing a 90-94 MPH fastball and an 83-86 MPH slider. The differences in velocity and movement have given him distinct swing-and-miss weapons, and when combined with his change-up and curveball give him four pitches he can throw for strikes.”"
SB Nation’s Marc Normandin is less ebullient, but there’s room for him too:
"“Credit the White Sox and pitching coach Don Cooper for giving Humber the weapon he’s always needed in order to stick in the majors. It’s odd that none of his other organizations did the same — or even gave it a shot, in the case of Oakland. Humber might not be the kind of pitcher you expect a perfect game from, but since being given a real chance to succeed, that’s just what he’s done.”"
Jason Collette’s from Baseball Prospectus’ words of wisdom have a place as well
"“The life on his breaking pitches are responsible for most of that spike he is seeing with swings and misses; he’s induced whiffs on 36 percent of the breaking pitches he has thrown so far and even on 13 percent of his changeups.It’s important to note that Humber has essentially scrapped his two-seamer this year, which is likely a big reason for his groundball percentage drop from 47 percent last year to 28 percent this year. If this change leads to a sustained increase in strikeouts, though, it could still be for the best.”"
That may be the primary adjustment in assessing Philip Humber going forward. If he’s decided to go the Jesse Crain route, and ride his best swing-and-miss pitch as far as it will take him, he may be closer to the above-average strikeout pitcher from last year than realized.
If his inefficient first start against Baltimore is any indication, Humber would be well-advised to not to scrap all of his pitch-to-weak-contact ways. If anything about his flashes to 94 mph in the later innings is for real, he can work in the zone more comfortably than he has in the past.
While the perfect game is certainly to provoke “he’s our real ace” lunacy and possible anger the next time he allows actual runs, it’s time to start giving some more credence to Philip’s stuff. If for no other reason than that it’s time to catch up with everyone else.