Saturday, December 1, 2012

Astros sign Phil Humber

The Astros announced yesterday that they have signed RHP Phil Humber to a 1-year deal with a team option for 2014. Humber, who will be 30 later this month, comes to Houston from the White Sox, returning to the Great State of Texas. The Nacogdoches native (graduating from Carthage HS), and Rice graduate, was the third overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Mets.

In 44 career starts (80 appearances overall), he is 14-14 with a 4.73 ERA/1.31 WHIP. Some have mentioned Humber as a possible reliever. But his career splits show that, in that role, he has a 5.46 ERA/1.61 WHIP, with an .810 OPS-against and a 1.48 K/BB ratio (.723 OPS-against, 2.41 K/BB as a starter).

Humber was part of the Feb 2008 trade from the Mets to the Twins for Johan Santana, and was granted free agency following the 2009 season. He signed with the Royals in December 09, and has been claimed off waivers by the A's, White Sox, and now Astros in each of the last three seasons. Of course, you remember the April 21, 2012 game in which Humber threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history against Seattle. 

Prior to the signing, Bill James had Humber projected to a 4.66 ERA, going 5-8, in 2013. 

His peripherals took a nose-dive in 2012 for the White Sox from 2011. Check it:

2011 GB/FB rate: 1.30
2012 GB/FB rate: 0.81

2011 GB%: 47.1%
2012 GB%: 34.9%

2011 HR/FB%: 7.7%
2012 HR/FB%: 16.5%

Humber threw his changeup far less in 2012 (7.5%) than in 2011 (14.6%, while his fastball (which he threw 52.6% of the time in 2011, as opposed to 45.8% in 2011) velocity stayed exactly the same - 90.5mph. FanGraphs' Pitch F/X says his fastball improved a few ticks from 90.4mph to 90.7mph. 

That said, Humber deal with an elbow flexor issue in 2012. The White Sox were 8-8 in his 16 starts for the White Sox. 

What does this mean? It's a low-risk/high-reward signing. Might it not work out? Of course. That might even be likely. But it just might. Given Goldstein, Fast, and Sig Mejdal's influence on signings, this one feels a little different. It's not Ed Wade taking a flier on Mike Hampton or Russ Ortiz. 

The immediate benefit I see is that Humber has been in the AL since 2008. He has thrown 265IP in the AL in the last two years. He's someone that is presumably intelligent (Rice, after all) who can give the pitching staff pointers on pitching to AL batters. And if he can make 20-25 starts at a decent level, while providing the younger guys time to get some more seasoning, even better.

Update: GUYS. Read this reaction from Lookout Landing