Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The rise and fall of Phillip Humber

There have been 23 official perfect games in major league history.

Few appear to have been as unlikely as the one thrown earlier this season by former Twin Phillip Humber. When he threw his gem, he appeared to have finally emerged as a legitimate major league starter.

Phil Humber after his perfect game
on April 21 in Seattle. At the time,
his ERA was 0.63; today, it's 6.50.
Not so. After his embarrassing outing Tuesday against the Twins -- 10 batters faced, one retired, eight runs allowed, a batting average allowed of 1.000 (the one out was a sacrifice fly and thus not an official at-bat) -- Humber has an ERA of 6.50. Six and a half runs per nine innings -- in a season in which he threw a perfect game.

Which raises the question: Is he the worst pitcher ever to have a perfect game?

Granting that all perfect games are flukes, there is a real connection between them and the quality of the pitcher.

The vast bulk of perfectos come from quality pitchers. Six of the 23 were authored by Hall of Famers (Monte Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter), and Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay (and maybe Felix Hernandez) will someday join the list. Then there are such perfect-game pitchers as David Wells, Dennis Martinez and David Cone -- distinguished pitchers but unlikely to be chosen for Cooperstown.

Only a handful of true mediocrities throw perfect games. Lee Richmond, who threw the first perfecto back in 1880, was 75-100, 3.06; he had two 30-plus loss seasons. Charlie Robertson (1922) was 49-80, 4.44 in an eight-year major league career. Dallas Braden has started three games since 2010 because of injuries; he's 26-36, 4.16  for his career. Don Larsen was 81-91, 3.78.

And Humber is 16-15, 4.88.

Humber and Braden are both active (at least theoretically in Braden's case; he had rotator cuff surgery in late August, and his career appears to be in genuine jeopardy), so they could still rise or fall. But right now I'd have to say Humber is the worst perfect game author in history.

And really, there's no shame in that. Somebody has to be the worst of the 23. But an ERA of 6.50 -- yeah, that's embarrassing.

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