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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Humber surpasses Wainwright – for one day at least

Pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Philip Humber threw the 21st perfect game in major league history in Seattle on Saturday afternoon. As those who saw the highlights know, the 27th and final out was secured on a contested check swing by former Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan.

Humber’s success came slowly. This is the 29-year-old’s ninth professional season. The right-hander was originally was taken by the New York Mets as the third overall pick of the 2004 draft from Rice University but has bounced around baseball since.

What really made me think was one of the many side stories told about Humber after his gem.

Like so many other pitchers, Humber is a Tommy John survivor. However, he serves as reminder that the procedure is not automatic. Humber is one of the minority that did not return to his prior level of performance afterward, as measured by fastball velocity.

Then considered a top 100 prospect across baseball, Humber’s career took a detour in July 2005 when he required the elbow ligament replacement surgery. He was still a minor leaguer at the time. That season, Humber began in the Florida State League and had moved up to Double-A at the time of the injury.

In the New York Times, Tyler Kepner recalls how the after-affects of the surgery altered Humber’s career trajectory.

“When Humber returned, he struggled to sustain his old velocity. He said last year that he tried too hard to manufacture it, and it was not until late in 2010 that the ball came out of his hand with ease,” Kepner wrote.

Also from that article: “Everybody talks about, when you get Tommy John surgery, you come back the same or better, and he’s one of those examples that, hey, you don’t always get that fastball velocity back,” Jim Duquette, the Mets’ GM when Humber was drafted, told Kepner. “It doesn’t always happen that way.”

Humber was sent to the Minnesota as part of the 2008 trade in which the Mets acquired Johan Santana. He moved on to Kansas City and Oakland before landing in the Windy City.

Now throwing in the low 90’s with movement on his offerings, Humber logged the very first complete game of his career on Saturday. And what a game it was!

By now, you probably know that I am thinking about Humber’s story in the context of Adam Wainwright’s current difficulties. I am not suggesting I know why Waino’s velocity is down or that it won’t return. (His four-seam averaged 89.50 MPH in his most recent start, according to data presented by Brooks Baseball.)

It is far too early to draw any conclusions or worry excessively.

It is good to know, as Humber has shown us, that there are multiple ways to get the job done. Still, one just has to hope this is a short-term diversion for Wainwright and not the start of a five-year journey.

Of course, every person is different plus Wainwright has the benefit of years of knowledge and sustained success upon which to draw, experiences that Humber lacked back in 2005.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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8 Responses to “Humber surpasses Wainwright – for one day at least”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Matt Morris had a TJ operation during 1999. During 2000, he served as a relief pitcher. Then Morris had his career year during 2001, winning 22 games and finishing 3rd in the Cy Young competition. So Morris gathered strength after the TJ surgery, but not during his first season back.

    Chris Carpenter needed TJ surgery early during 2007. He endeavored to resume pitching as a starter during mid 2008 and was saddled up by TLR, but under the pressure and pace, had a flare up of his chronic nerve problem during his 4th start of 2008. However, Carpenter was able to return during 2009 and have a super season, and he continued to pitch well in 2010 and 2011.

    Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook have had the operation too.

    These examples suggest a guy can pitch after a year, but takes the better part of two years to build up to full strength.

  2. crdswmn says:

    Anyone with a modicum of common sense should realize that Waino was not going to come back to exactly where he was before so quickly. Unfortunately, from what I have seen, a modicum of common sense is severely lacking in some quarters of Cardinal Nation. I saw an analysis elsewhere on the internet of Waino’s struggles, but not being of a statistical bent it is difficult for me to explain what I read, but essentially the person said if you looked at Waino’s K/BB rate and his peripherals you would see that there was no cause for worry. Waino is not going to win the Cy Young award this year. He is not likely to win 20 games either. I don’t think throwing him under the bus at this early stage of the game is warranted. But some people like to hear themselves talk and like to put on a show of being smarter than everyone else so no doubt until Waino gets himself straightened out we will have to put up with that nonsense.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Not to worry, Wainwright will stay in rotation. Fans always complain about somebody.

  4. Bw52 says:

    The question is…………………what happens if Chris Carpenter shows well when he rehabs and has no issues.and Waino continues to struggle and ……………….Lance Lynn continues pitching very well? What happens then?Its still a while off from happening and many things can happen before then.

  5. blingboy says:

    Attention Shane Robinson. You’re just a AAA depth guy, so stop it.

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