Would you like the White Sox to non-tender Philip Humber? Wouldya, WOULDYA?!!?
By James Fegan
I could make an argument that the White Sox should decline to tender Philip Humber arbitration when the deadline comes Friday that’s entirely emotion-based. I could argue that the MLB Trade Rumors projected $1.1 million figure is too pricey for Humber based entirely on the notion of “Watching him pitch was unenjoyable, and hurtful. No more, please.”
This is a man who pitched a perfect game last season.
About that perfect game; Humber finished off the first batter of the 9th inning–Michael Saunders–by blowing a 90 mph fastball by him upstairs, as if that’s the sort of thing you can do to major league hitters all the time. Having sharp, well-located breaking stuff all day helps that along. One might even call it a necessity for pulling off that kind of nonsense.
To cap off that perfect game, Humber got a….friendly call for the final strike on a slider somewhere between two-to-nine feet out of the strike zone. It was pretty ridiculous that someone–even Brendan Ryan–started to swing at that pitch.
One could say that about a lot of the sliders and curveballs Humber snapped off in 2012. Sure enough, the rate at which he got opposing hitters to chase out of the zone dropped 5.3% from 2011 (1/6 of his chases), his walk rate jumped from 2.26 per nine innings to 3.88, and he threw a lot of get-me-over fastballs that were not discriminating about what they got over (23 home runs in 102 innings).
That paragraph would seem to depict Humber’s trip to a 6.44 ERA as a simple one, or the result of a single flaw. Humber also couldn’t keep the ball down, which prompted the homer troubles, a 12.2% drop in his groundball rate (more than 1/4 of his grounders disappeared), and dealt with elbow trouble that prompted a DL trip. He also was kicked out of the rotation to the bullpen, and got demonstrably worse–13 earned runs in 14 innings.
Most of those runs came in his second-to-last outing of the season; against the Twins on September 4th. Humber faced ten batters, retired one, and allowed eight to score while hanging curve after curve, or slider after slider. It’s difficult to be sure, since truly terrible breaking pitches are somewhat indistinguishable from one another. Somewhere halfway through the most nonsensical and nauseating team pitching performance of the season, I experienced a massive loss of interest in seeing Humber ever pitch again in a White Sox uniform.
But we–me, reader who has gotten this far, Nick, maybe Matt–know that following emotions lead you right into shootouts at the tollbooth. From 2011 to 2012, Humber went from being an asset by backing up his mediocre stuff and velocity and impeccable control, to being unplayable when his control slipped to below-average. Writing him off after one awful season feels hasty, but there was a lot of failure and mediocrity that proceeded this. Humber turns 30 next month, and has a long, homer-ridden minor league history that suggests 2012 was the normal year, not an aberration of poor control.
Well, Insufferably Smug Illinois Lottery Commercial Guy, I’d bet against it to be honest. I bet against sustained major league success for journeymen waiver claims a lot, even if it comes after months of trumpeting how his 2nd half struggles in 2011 belied solid peripherals.
Usually, though, I would still have no qualms about taking a flier on Philip’s recovery. It’s really easy to make $1.1 million worth it, even if you’re just soaking up spot starts, but it’s a little pricey to commit to for a guy not worth having on the 25-man roster. Furthermore, the logjam of a full 40-man roster makes cutting Humber enticing.
If the Sox hold on to Floyd, having Humber for depth looks particularly unnecessary. I would non-tender and try to bring him back on a minor league deal, confident that rolling with Santiago, Axelrod, Leesman, Castro, and Molina as the starter depth would provide similar performance.
Of course, the best thing about this decision is that if the White Sox go ahead and tender Philip Humber, there are no real consequences. If the Sox are willing to burn $1.1 million on Mr. Perfect, it just means they’re feeling a bit more generous than anticipated, it won’t derail any of their off-season plans . Also, unlike Dewayne Wise, the White Sox have not behaved in a way that raises concern that they are not keenly aware how terrible Humber has played. After all, how could they be?
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan