Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Philip Humber entered an elite class Saturday by recording the 21st perfect game in major league history.
But one question still remains: did Brendan Ryan really swing at that last pitch?
Home plate umpire Brian Runge thought so and in the end, that's all that matters.
Clearly, Ryan didn't agree, barking at Runge before half-heartedly meandering toward first base, where he was promptly declared out.
It was a strange ending, but the result was still perfect.
Humber's flawless performance came at the hands of a 7-9 Seattle Mariners team that was batting just .223 through Saturday's action.
Sure, the Mariners aren't the greatest team Humber could have made history against, but it's still an amazing feat. The fact that EA Sports is giving out a million dollars to anyone who throws a perfect game ... in a VIDEO GAME, speaks volumes about how hard this is to do in real life and on XBox.
Humber was tremendous Saturday, but is he a good fit for your fantasy team?
Maybe the better question is, is a pitcher who throws a perfect game or a no- hitter automatically fantasy-worthy?
The answer is rather unclear. Perfect games and no-hitters often hinge on factors outside of a pitcher's control, like good defense (DeWayne Wise's leaping catch to preserve Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009), nice weather, favorable calls from the umpires and almost always a bit of shear luck. Plenty of great pitchers have never earned no-hitters (Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez) and many average pitchers have (Hideo Nomo and Jonathan Sanchez). There really isn't a lot of rhyme or reason to it.
There does, however, appear to be a difference between pitchers who were "perfect" and those who settled for just being unhittable. While only five of the last 12 pitchers to throw a no-hitter were All-Stars that same season, five of the last six pitchers to achieve perfection have made it to the Mid-Summer Classic later in the year.
Our outlier here is Dallas Braden, who retired all 27 Tampa Bay Rays he faced back on May 9, 2010. Braden, hampered by injuries in recent seasons, still has never been invited to an All-Star game. Even playing in the pitcher- friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum hasn't helped Braden's stats: after the perfect game in 2010, he was just 7-12 with a 3.62 ERA the rest of the season.
So even though most perfect game pitchers have gone on to attain future success, stardom is far from a guarantee for Humber.
If you hadn't heard of Humber until yesterday, you're not alone. Until this morning, Humber was owned in only 0.5 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. That number has since been bumped up to 7.3 percent.
It's understandable why fantasy owners have been skeptical of Humber in the past. He only has 56 games of major league experience (30 of his appearances have occurred over the last two seasons) and just 30 as a starter.
His repertoire isn't exactly Justin Verlander-like, either. Humber's fastball only reaches about 90, a speed that most major leaguer hitters won't find overwhelming. He throws a curve ball and a cutter, but neither one fools hitters on a consistent basis (he had just 116 strikeouts in 163 innings pitched last season).
He's been dominant against righties (.203 batting average against last season) and pedestrian against lefties (.268).
Humber's ERA in 2011 was solid but not elite (3.75) and his record was just 9-9.
And despite his lack of big-league experience, Humber isn't particularly young. He'll turn 30 in December.
So how was Humber able to turn in such a stunning performance on Saturday?
One enormous reason why Humber has had so much success in his first two starts (0.63 ERA) of 2012 is because he has abandoned his cutter in favor of a much more effective slider. Humber slung 32 sliders on Saturday, by far the most he's ever thrown in an outing. Fifteen of the right-hander's sliders resulted in outs, an absolutely amazing success rate. He also mixed in 15 curve balls.
Aside from his new emphasis on throwing breaking pitches, Humber owes a lot of his 2012 success to his superior control. Humber has always been remarkably accurate with his pitches: his 41 walks were the fewest of any healthy White Sox starter last season.
Saturday, Humber didn't reach a three-ball count until falling behind 3-0 to Michael Saunders to begin the ninth inning. Humber responded by firing three strikes in a row and eventually striking out Saunders for his eighth punchout of the game. How's that for pitching under pressure?
For critics who discount Humber's performance because it was against the Mariners, look to Humber's outings against the Rays and New York Yankees last season, where he proved he can pitch well against some of the league's best. Humber was 1-1 with a steady 2.70 ERA against New York and enjoyed similar success against Tampa Bay (1-1, 3.97 ERA).
Fantasy owners should be careful with Humber, though. Last season, the White Sox starter wore down in the second half of the season. After going 8-5 with a very respectable 3.10 ERA before the All-Star break, Humber limped to a 1-4 mark the rest of the way with a 5.01 ERA. Hitters also started to make better contact off Humber in the second half, batting .287 against him compared to just .218 before the All-Star break.
Perhaps Humber struggled in the second half because it was only his first season as a full-time starter and he was experiencing fatigue. Now that Humber has had a year to adjust to his role as a starter, the fatigue factor might not be as dramatic as it was in 2011, but it's still something his owners should keep in mind.
It's a little early to crown Humber the king of fantasy but he looks well on his way to becoming a very solid starting pitching option in all formats.
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