Phil Humber's continued regression could give the Sox seller's remorse on Edwin Jackson.
If push comes to shove and Jake Peavy gets hurt again, the Sox do have a replacement in Zach Stewart waiting in the wings. While opinions may differ on Stewart, he's a living, breathing pitcher with a good pedigree who isn't Doug Davis.
But things could get tricky if Humber continues to falter. Take Ozzie's quote after Saturday's loss:
“No, not at all,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said when asked whether he was worried about Humber. “He hasn’t pitched for a little while; I know it’s more than a week. He threw the ball pretty good until that [fifth] inning, which started with a ground ball, broken bat. There were a couple balls not hit hard. My expectations are his next outing will be better. I didn’t know what to expect from him without throwing for that many days.”
Of course, this doesn't prevent Ozzie from skipping Humber down the road, but the quote came off as the Sox manager seeing Saturday as a minor bump in the road instead of the continuation of a trend.
For a guy who had all the makings of a regression candidate, three consecutive starts with poor results is troubling, even if those were significantly spaced out.
Maybe getting back on a normal routine will help Humber, as he's gone 10 and 13 days between his last two starts.
But, looking at the things Humber can directly control -- walks, strikeouts, and home runs (the components of FIP) -- he hasn't done things much differently as of late. He struck out four and walked two without allowing a home run Saturday, not entirely different from his four strikeout, three walk, no home run outing July 2 against the Cubs.
Except on July 2, Humber allowed no runs in seven innings. On July 30, he allowed four runs in 5.2 innings.
A look at Humber's postgame quotes makes me think he should've cited BABIP directly (again, via Brett Ballantini):
"There wasn’t really a difference in the pitches I was making [in the fifth], just different results,” Humber said. “Honestly, I looked over the tape and I didn’t really feel like the pitches that were hit were bad pitches. Obviously, a few infield hits there and I just couldn’t work out of it. Overall I was pretty pleased with how I threw the ball, but obviously I was hoping for a different result.”
That sounds like a pitcher who's been smacked around by the BABIP gods. Boston has a world-class lineup, sure, but Humber was quite effective against them two months ago at Fenway Park.
Of course, that's not to say Humber is completely powerless against the forces of regression to the mean. For one, he's likely been scouted much better as teams get more and more film on the new-and-improved Humber. Secondly, perhaps he was powerless to stop the slappy Twins, solid Tigers and great Red Sox offenses. And thirdly, even if he doesn't want to admit it, maybe his command hasn't been as pinpoint as it was earlier in the year.
But a .220 BABIP -- Humber's mark after his July 2 start -- doesn't stay a .220 BABIP for long, especially for a guy without power stuff. My scratch math says opponents have a .489 BABIP against Humber in his last three starts.
Even with all those other factors, that's pretty horrible luck. At some point, this is likely to stop, but there's a good chance Humber isn't able to repeat his mid-April-early-July performance again in August and September.