Late last month the Astros used their number one waiver wire priority to claim right-hander Philip Humber. The former Rice University star made history on April 21, 2012 by pitching a perfect game against the Mariners in Seattle. But Humber’s season quickly took a turn for the worse and he didn’t win again until May 29. By the All-Star break he had lost his spot in the White Sox rotation. Humber finished the season with a 5-5 record, a dismal 6.44 ERA and a lofty 1.54 WHIP.
Humber, 30, has had an up-and-down career. He was a hero in the 2003 College World Series, throwing a complete game to clinch the championship. The following season Humber came on in relief and allowed a grand slam to Texas A & M’s Justin Ruggiano and the Owls were ousted from the CWS early.
The New York Mets selected Humber with the third overall pick in the 2004 draft. Humber didn’t sign with the Mets until the following January, agreeing to a deal that included a signing bonus of $3.7 million.
In only his fifteenth start as a professional Humber blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John Surgery. After a year-long rehab Humber returned and was called up by the Mets that September. He spent the 2007 season at AAA New Orleans and was called up again in September. Humber was traded to the Twins that winter in the deal that sent Johan Santana to the Mets.
Humber bounced up and down between AAA and the majors for a couple of years before being traded again. After spending 2010 in the Royals organization Humber was released. He was then released by Oakland before signing with the White Sox.
Philip appeared to finally reach his potential with Chicago in 2011. He posted a 9-9 record, a 3.75 ERA, and an impressive 1.175 WHIP in 163 innings with the ChiSox. Stamina appears to be an issue for Humber. His performance has declined in the second half in each of the last two seasons. Humber had a 2.69 ERA as of July 2, 2011 before a poor second half resulted in an increase of more than a run. Last season his troubles began even earlier. The perfect game came in his second start of the season and it was all downhill from there.
Humber has a five pitch repertoire that includes a four-seam and a two-seam fastball that have both been clocked in the low-nineties. He relies heavily on his curveball and changeup, especially against left-handed hitters. Humber also throws lots of sliders, mostly to right-handed hitters.
An intriguing pickup for the Astros, if he can recapture his confidence and his command Humber could become a dependable number three starter. But durability remains a concern. An elbow strain that sent him to the D.L. last season could have been a factor in his struggles. But that still doesn’t explain his second half drop off of 2011.
Humber’s $800,000 price tag for 2012 means he will probably be given every opportunity to claim a spot in the middle of the Astros rotation. His contract includes a $3 million club option for 2014 with a $50,000 buyout. It’s a classic case of a low risk, high reward gamble by Jeff Luhnow and the Astros.