Phil Humber completed his second month as a member of the White Sox rotation, and he capped it off by pitching deeper into a major-league ballgame than he ever had before. He allowed just one run over 7 2/3 innings against Toronto on Thursday, and in the process, he bolstered his lead in some pretty important stat categories.
Among White Sox starters, he ranks first in ERA (2.85), WHIP (0.93), BAA (.195) and walks per nine innings (1.95). But even though he's leading the field, Humber may be first in line to head to the bullpen when the six-man rotation breaks up, based on his prior bullpen experience:
"We have to know if this guy can pitch out of the bullpen, how long it will take to get loose," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "There are so many things to go over with [pitching coach Don Cooper] to see about who is the best guy to go there. If Humber has to go there, that’s the way it is. We talk about a few players."
The line of thinking makes sense, but I'd hope the Sox would avoid that route. Humber may not have much of a track record, and some will reject him as a paper lion (he has a .210 BABIP, and his xFIP is over 4.00), so there is logic behind quitting while he's ahead.
But here's my counter: He's cheap, and the same economics that could force him out of the rotation are the same ones that should keep him in the fold.
The White Sox have paid a premium on starting pitchers ever since they won the 2005 World Series. Kenny Williams reupped both Jon Garland and Jose Contreras, he chose Javier Vazquez over Brandon McCarthy, and later Edwin Jackson over Daniel Hudson. Now, his rotation is up to $50 million, and he's not getting his money's worth.
Humber fell into Williams' lap, and unlike Hudson, he's hitting the ground running. That's about the only way a young pitcher can really remain in the picture with the current management, so the conditions should be noted.
Whether he can continue to succeed is up for debate -- his peripherals say "not so fast," whereas Humber's all like, "Hell yeah!" -- but I'd like to see him ensure that he's answered the question to the best of his ability. With one rotation spot opening up (and maybe a second if the Sox bid farewell to Mark Buehrle), the Sox need a replacement, and an inexpensive option would be an awesome change of pace.
If this week proceeds like the ones before, I'd be tempted to stick with the six-man rotation. At this moment, there is no predictable step down from one start to another, thus no discernable disadvantage (save John Danks' schneid-related anxiety) to staying the course.
Problem is, the Sox might be one reliever short for Guillen's taste. With a six-man bullpen (at least one with a LOOGY), there's really one room for one garbage man. Guillen is keeping both Tony Pena and Chris Sale away from almost all important situations, and that's one too many. Sure, Sale might be better than his numbers indicate, but he's not giving Guillen reason to believe in him any more than he was three weeks ago.
It'd be great if the Sox could demote Sale to Charlotte and just let him work on whatever he needs to, but there's no natural replacement that would improve the situation. Either way, the Sox are going to feel the need for another body in the bullpen, and Humber may draw the short straw. But I'd at least wait until one reliever is far too overworked before making any changes. That hasn't been the case so far, and with actual off days on the June schedule, the Sox might be able to continue shorthanded in the bullpen for longer than they originally thought.