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.