Humber pitched in 26 games for the White Sox this past season and threw a perfect game against the Mariners in April. However, he finished the season with a 6.44 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 102 innings. The 29-year-old had a projected salary of $1.1MM.
Five months ago it appeared that Phil Humber could be on the cusp of a breakout season. He had just pitched a perfect game in Seattle, striking out nine Mariners on day that his fastball sat in the 90-95 mph range. Since then Humber has allowed 72 earned runs, including 23 home runs, in 87 2/3 innings. There’s no guarantee the White Sox will tender him a contract this offseason when he’s arbitration eligible for the first time.
The White Sox selected Humber off waivers in January of 2011 and he responded with a solid season, pitching 163 innings with a 3.75 ERA and three times as many strikeouts as walks. The right-hander’s numbers have dropped off considerably in 2012. He has a 6.44 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a 34.9% ground ball rate in 102 innings this year. Humber’s average fastball velocity is 90.5 mph and he has a swinging strike rate of 7.8%. He has been exceptionally homer-prone, allowing 23 home runs, or 2.0 per nine innings.
Humber started the year in Chicago’s rotation, spent a month on the disabled list with a strained elbow midseason, and lost his rotation spot in early August. He has been pitching out of the bullpen since, but Robin Ventura has used Humber sparingly in September, another indication that the White Sox don’t count him among the organization’s most dependable arms.
Humber, who turns 30 in December, could obtain a salary in the $2MM range if the White Sox tender him a contract this coming offseason. The perfect game wouldn't make a major difference in an arbitration hearing, but his 2011 season was a strong one, and he has more than 300 MLB innings. Perhaps last year’s success would be enough to create some trade interest in Humber, the third overall selection in 2004.
Still, the White Sox don’t appear to view Humber as a $2MM player. If they considered him an essential part of their pitching staff, they’d have asked him to pitch more than twice this month. It means a season that began with a perfect game could end with a non-tender.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
Clayton Kershaw's salary jumped from $500K to $7.5MM this year, and it wasn't just because of his Cy Young performance. Kershaw qualified for arbitration for the first time in his career over the winter, so he obtained the right to establish his salary by comparing his production to that of his peers.
Though $7MM raises are reserved for elite performers like Kershaw, many first-time eligible starting pitchers will see their salaries rise from $500K or so to $2-4.5MM this coming offseason. A player’s case depends in large part on his career numbers, but his most recent season, or platform year, matters a great deal.
Advanced statistics like xFIP, wins above replacement and swinging strike rate don't generally figure in to arbitration cases. Instead, traditional stats such as innings, starts, wins and ERA determine players' salaries.
With one third of the season now complete, let’s check in on the prominent starting pitchers on track to be first-time arbitration eligible this coming offseason:
Adam Dunn (.916 OPS) and Alex Rios (.934 OPS) are off to strong starts for the 10-6 White Sox. If Dunn and Rios keep this up, their team may be much more interesting than most pundits expected. Here are the latest links from the AL Central…
- Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star takes a long look at the Royals and points out that their abundance of minor league talent hasn't yet translated into a compelling on-field product. The Royals "deserve every bit of venom you can muster for a franchise that’s been a ubiquitous letdown for most of the last two decades," Mellinger writes. The team is in the midst of an 11-game losing streak and has started to pull back some of its "Our Time" marketing. “We’ve got to win games," GM Dayton Moore said. "Because we can’t lose our fans for the summer.”
- Dave Cameron of FanGraphs suggests the Royals resemble a .500 team much more than it seems at first glance.
- The Tigers announced that they have transferred right-hander Al Alburquerque to the 60-day DL. The move opens up a 40-man roster spot for Detroit.
- Tom Verducci of SI.com points out that Philip Humber, author of the 21st perfect game in MLB history, is in many ways every general manager's dream. The White Sox didn't have to pay for the right-hander's signing bonus or wait for him to recover from Tommy John surgery, but they’ve developed him into a valuable MLB starter. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told Verducci that he and Humber kept things relatively simple. "What we tried to do was tap into his best asset: his stuff," Cooper said.
- Cameron explained Humber’s evolution as a pitcher at FanGraphs yesterday. The 29-year-old has been using his slider effectively and his fastball velocity is up.
It seems like MLB teams, even good ones, are always on the hunt for starting pitching. The Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Cardinals and Diamondbacks acquired starting pitching at the trade deadline and other contenders inquired on starters before moving on to other targets.
Quality starting pitching is scarce and expensive so teams sometimes convert relievers to the rotation in case they can add value as starters. Here's a look at the four converted relievers have who started extensively in 2011. None of the pitchers below had more than two MLB starts to his name before the 2011 season and all of them were big league relievers last year:
- Alexi Ogando, Rangers - What a find for the Rangers. Ogando has a 2.88 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 125 innings as a starter. The converted outfielder has averaged 94.8 mph with his fastball, but it's hard not to wonder if he'll tire toward the end of the season. Ogando's previous professional high in innings is 70 2/3.
- Phil Coke, Tigers – Coke lost his rotation spot midway through the season after posting a 4.91 ERA with 4.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 77 innings. The left-hander was solid in April and May, but put together a string of ugly outings in June and is now pitching out of the 'pen again.
- Kyle McClellan, Cardinals – McClellan, who replaced the injured Adam Wainwright, lost his rotation spot when St. Louis acquired Edwin Jackson. McClellan returns to the bullpen after posting a respectable 4.21 ERA in 104 2/3 innings from the rotation.
- Phil Humber, White Sox – The 28-year-old former third overall pick has a 3.44 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 117 2/3 innings. Though his last three starts haven't been pretty, Humber's emergence allowed the White Sox to part with Jackson last week.
From the moment they're drafted to the day they retire, starting pitchers are generally more highly coveted than relievers. They're selected earlier on draft day, they earn more in arbitration and they sign more lucrative free agent contracts. There are exceptions of course: Drew Storen was a first rounder, Jonathan Papelbon earned nearly $30MM through arbitration and most starters would love to match Mariano Rivera's free agent earning power. But for the most part, teams invest more in starters.
So when a rotation opening emerges or a pitcher is particularly impressive out of the 'pen, baseball officials are often tempted to convert relievers into starters. This year has been no exception, so let's take another look at converted relievers. None of the pitchers below had more than two MLB starts to his name before the 2011 season and all of them were big league relievers last year:
- Alexi Ogando, Rangers – Ogando has been tremendous for the Rangers. The converted outfielder has a 2.86 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 97 2/3 innings. His ground ball rate has dropped to 36.3%, yet his average fastball velocity is impressively high at 94.7 mph. After successfully converting C.J. Wilson in 2010 and Ogando this year, will Texas move Neftali Feliz to the rotation in 2012?
- Phil Coke, Tigers – Coke lost his rotation spot last week after posting a 4.91 ERA with 4.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 77 innings. The left-hander was solid in April and May, but put together a string of ugly outings in June.
- Kyle McClellan, Cardinals – McClellan, who is replacing the injured Adam Wainwright, has a 4.27 ERA with 4.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 through 90 2/3 innings. McClellan's ERA has jumped two runs this year and he has already set a career-high in innings pitched. He has not surpassed 100 innings since he was a starter in the Midwest League seven years ago.
- Phil Humber, White Sox – It took a while, but Humber is finally putting it together in the Major Leagues. The former third overall pick has a 2.69 ERA with 5.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 46.1% ground ball rate in 103 2/3 innings. Even if Humber's ERA rises – his peripheral stats suggest it will – the White Sox have found themselves a valuable arm.
The Central divisions are home to not just the four worst records in baseball (the Twins, Astros, Cubs and Royals) but also to the Cardinals and their MLB-best 37-25 record. Here's some news from the middle of the baseball map…
- Phil Humber's improbable journey from being a third overall pick to injury-riddled obscurity to a star in the White Sox rotation is chronicled by ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg.
- The Cubs have no plans to rush Brett Jackson to the Major Leagues, reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Jackson just recently returned to action after a finger injury. Muskat's piece also contains updates on several other Cubs prospects.
- The Cardinals would be "crazy" to think about dealing Colby Rasmus, writes Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- The Tigers took position players with 10 of their first 11 draft picks, and 24 of their first 29 picks were college players. Baseball America's John Wagner looks at how both trends were a departure from Detroit's recent draft strategies.
- Bill Hall has cleared waivers and is now a free agent, tweets Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle. Hall was put on release waivers by the Astros on Monday.
- The Astros can also claim the first signing of the 2011 Amateur Draft, as 44th-round pick Blake Ford told Stephen Goff of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) that he will sign tonight. Ford, a right-hander from Lamar University, happened to have tickets to tonight's Astros-Cardinals game so he figured he would take care of his contract while at the ballpark. Also from Goff, the Astros have already signed two other draft picks.
A number of non-tenders are adding value in the Major Leagues this year, as I showed earlier today. Waiver claims – at least so far – haven’t had close to the same success. Former top prospects such as Brandon Wood and Max Ramirez haven’t produced and neither have most of the 30-plus players who have been claimed since last season. Here’s a look at the few waiver claims who have made an impact in the Majors this year:
- Phil Humber (White Sox, from Royals, via Athletics) – The 28-year-old former top draft pick has a 3.18 ERA with 5.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 through 45 1/3 innings. Now a member of Chicago's six-man rotation, Humber is finally providing value in his sixth MLB season.
- Pat Neshek (Padres, from Twins) – Neshek is back on the Padres' active roster after a quick stint in the minors. He posted a 1.86 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings earlier this year. Padres reliever Samuel Deduno (from Rockies) gets an honorable mention, though he's not on San Diego’s active roster.
- Joe Mather (Braves, from Cardinals) – A longtime favorite of the Braves, Mather has a .747 OPS after 24 plate appearances and has appeared at three positions. With respect to Mather, his presence on this list shows how little other waiver claims have impacted MLB rosters so far in 2011.
Converting relievers to starters is potentially rewarding, but difficult to do, as the Rangers have shown in the past 13 months. Last year, they converted C.J. Wilson to the rotation and saw him blossom into a dependable starter who posted a 3.35 ERA, logged over 200 innings and started a World Series game. This year, they attempted to convert 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz to the rotation, but returned him to the bullpen before the season began.
Here’s the latest on four pitchers who jumped from the ‘pen to the rotation this year, including one player who sat in the bullpen with Feliz last year and now pitches in the rotation along with Wilson. None of the pitchers below had more than two MLB starts to his name before the 2011 season and all of them were big league relievers last year:
- Alexi Ogando – A former minor league outfielder, Ogando is accustomed to making major adjustments as a pro player. He has allowed 19 hits and 8 walks in 31 1/3 innings, striking out 21. His 2.30 ERA, 6.0 K/9 and average fastball velocity of 94.3 mph are impressive and he has even lowered his walk rate to 2.3 BB/9. But opponents are hitting just .165 against him on balls in play, an indication that he's not quite this good.
- Phil Coke - Coke has allowed 27 hits and 12 walks in 30 innings this year and his strikeout rate has dropped from 7.4 K/9, where it stayed for 2009-10, to 5.1 K/9. Coke's 4.50 ERA is acceptable for a fifth starter if he can keep it there and his peripheral stats suggest he can.
- Kyle McClellan - McClellan has a 3.23 ERA and a spotless 4-0 record despite peripheral stats (5.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 10.0 H/9, 4.32 FIP, 4.34 xFIP) that suggest the early returns are not sustainable. Even so, McClellan's 48% ground ball rate should allow him to remain the Cardinals' fifth starter, which is all they wanted in the first place.
- Phil Humber - The third overall pick in the 2004 draft, Humber had not come close to putting it together in the majors until last year. Now a starter for the first time in his MLB career, Humber is pitching for his fifth organization in as many years. So far, the results have been tremendous. He has a 3.06 ERA through five starts with a 21K/8BB ratio. Opponents have been unlucky against Humber on balls in play, and only 5% of their fly balls have left the yard, so that 3.06 ERA may climb closer to 4.00. Still, Humber looks like one of the shrewdest waiver claims of the winter.
The White Sox announced that they claimed right-hander Philip Humber off of waivers from the A's (Twitter link). The A's claimed Humber from the Royals last month, only to designate him for assignment to create roster space for Guillermo Moscoso.
Humber posted a 4.15 ERA in 21 2/3 big league innings this year. As short as that stint was, it was the most the 28-year-old has ever pitched in the big leagues. The former first rounder was once considered a top prospect and the Mets sent him to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal. In 664 1/3 minor league innings, he has a 4.48 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.