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What to Expect from Phil Humber

Philip Humber had quite the weekend. After throwing the 21st Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history, there’s a good chance fantasy owners have already taken notice. After a strong breakout last season — in which he posted a 3.10 ERA — Humber struggled during the second half, lowering his draft stock this season. But after his strong start this year, Humber has jumped back on the fantasy radar. While it’s just been two starts, Humber is working with a new approach that could make him a valuable fantasy asset.

When Humber joined the Chicago White Sox last season, there was a lot of talk about him developing a cutter. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper has been known to teach the pitch, and it was thought to be a main reason for Humber’s early season success in 2010. Problem was, the cutter wasn’t actually working that well for Humber. At some point last April, Humber scrapped the cutter and focused on throwing a slider.

That slider was Humber’s biggest weapon against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. According to Buster Olney, Humber produced fifteen outs with the slider in that game. Last season, Humber’s slider was an effective pitch — registering a 2.7 pitch type value. While Humber’s change and curveball were more efficient last season, it was still a good showing for a pitch he just started throwing.

If his last two starts are any indication, Humber’s confidence in his slider has grown quite a bit. According to pitch f/x, Humber is throwing his slider nearly as much as his fastball this season. The results have been pretty devastating for opposing hitters. Humber’s slider currently holds a 24% whiff rate this season, making it easily his most effective pitch this season. His curve and change-up have still rated well, meaning he now has three pitches capable of producing a positive pitch value.

As a result of throwing his slider more, Humber has thrown fewer fastballs this season. Considering his fastball has always received a negative pitch value, his new approach could prove beneficial.

There is reason to worry, however. As Papa Sarris showed us last April, throwing a ton of sliders isn’t great for the elbow. So, while it might be Humber’s best pitch right now, he may have to consider throwing fewer if he hopes to avoid injury at some point this season.

Still, Humber’s new approach seems to be paying off early this season. And while it might be putting extra stress on his elbow, it’s also leading to incredible results on the field. After his performance this weekend, Humber will likely be the most added player in fantasy leagues. While two starts is too early to make any definitive conclusions about whether he’ll continue to pitch effectively, the signs are definitely encouraging thus far.

Based on his effectiveness last year, and his strong start this season, Humber probably deserves to be added in most mixed leagues. Another year with the slider seems to have helped tremendously, and Don Cooper has a bit of a track record with former top picks (John Danks, Gavin Floyd). The only concern about Humber is the stress he may be putting on his elbow. If he continues to pitch well, he could be the ideal mid-season trade candidate. But things are definitely looking up for the former first round draft pick.