HAVE WE SEEN THE BEST THAT DAVID HUFF HAS TO OFFER?
The Cleveland Indians do not have a left-handed starter in their rotation as we head toward the 2011 season. David Huff had a very promising start to his career but the promise he showed in the minors in 2008 was diminished in 2009 and completely extinguished in 2010. David Huff, who will turn 27 in 2011, is hoping to follow Cliff Lee who had a horrible year in 2007 and Fausto Carmona who fell apart in 2009 and have a bounce back year in 2011. Will he be given the first shot at the #5 starter this April? What improvements does David Huff have to make to have success at the Major League Level?
In 2006, David Huff would lead the UCLA Bruins with 100 strikeouts in 129.2 innings and would be the Indians first round pick in the 2006 amateur draft #39 overall. Huff was the supplemental draft pick awarded to the Tribe for the loss of free agent Bobby Howry who signed with the Chicago Cubs following the 2005 season.
On July 21, 2006, he would sign with the Indians for $900K and finish the season by pitching 7.2 innings in Class A Mahoning Valley. In 2007, he would got off to a good start at High A Kinston going 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA before being shut down after experiencing elbow soreness.
Huff would begin the 2008 season at AA Akron and would make 10 starts going 5-1 with a 1.92 ERA. He would have a K/9 rate of 8.3, a BB/9 rate of 1.9, and he'd keep the ball in the park having a HR/9 rate of 0.7. He pitched with a little luck revealed by a BABIP of .228, a LOB% of 80.8% but had a respectable FIP of 2.99 (a E-F gap of 1.07 suggests regression).
The Indians would promote him to AAA Buffalo to finish the season. He would regress at Buffalo as he made16 starts, pitch 80.2 innings, post a 6-4 record with an ERA of 3.01. His K/9 rate would increase to 9.0 and his BB/9 would decrease to 1.7, but his HR/9 increased to 0.9. His BABIP jumped to .278 and his LOB% dropped to 73.5% and his FIP of 3.15 nearly matched his ERA of 3.01 (E-F gap of 0.14). At the end of the 2008 season, Tony Lastoria of Indians Propsect Insider ranked David Huff as the #5 prospect in the organization.
Huff would start 2009 in Columbus where he would make 7 starts before being recalled to Cleveland. At Columbus, he would pitch 39.1 innings, going 5-1 with an ERA of 4.35. There were some warning signs at Columbus which could of been a red flag, his K/9 rate had dropped to 7.3, his BB/9 had increased to 3.7, and his HR/9 increased to 1.1. His BABIP was .273 and his LOB% was 72.7%. His FIP was 4.45 (an E-F gap of 0.10).
Regardless of the red flags, Huff would get recalled on May 17, 2009 to start against the Tampa Bay Rays as Jeremy Sowers who was starting in place of Aaron Laffey had been moved to the bullpen was ineffective going 0-2 with a 12.00 ERA. Huff would take a loss in his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 17, 2010 in Tampa in what would be a wild game which included the Rays losing their DH due to a lineup card error and a 8th inning brawl from a weekend of heated play between the two teams.
Huff would finish the 2009 season with the Indians leading the team in victories with an 11-8 record with an ERA of 5.61. He would make 23 starts and pitching 128.1 innings on the year. Despite the victory total, the red flags which surfaced in his brief time in AAA were exposed at the major league level His K/9 had dropped to 4.6 and his BB/9 was 2.9 (a K/BB ratio of 1.59 is very poor), his WHIP of 1.558 was above the leage average range of 1.2 to 1.3, his HR/9 was a 1.12 (league average around 1.0). His BABIP was .317 (.290-.300 is average) and his LOB% was 66.6% (league average should be around 72%) suggest that he did pitch into some bad luck, but his FIP was 4.69 (E-F gap of 0.92). Another luck factor is the HR/FB% which is usually at 10.6%. Huff maintained a 8.3%. The HR/FB% component can be seen in the slightly higher xFIP for Huff of 5.11. One other component to look at is the breakdown of ground ball, fly ball, and line drive (GB%, FB%, LD%) where the league average is 45/36/19. In 2009, Huff was 37.8/41.9/20.3.
Even though Huff led the team in victories in 2009, his spot in the rotation was not secure as he came to spring training in 2010. Whether or not his job was in jeopardy, manager Manny Acta announced that Mitch Talbot was his fourth starter and the final spot would come down to Carlos Carrasco and Huff. Huff would win the job by going 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA during an inconsistent spring which manager Manny Acta summarized below:
"But we felt there was no losing situation for us, we're keeping a guy who won 11 games in the big leagues last year. He's got some room for improvement and had some ups and downs this spring, but at the end of the day, he knows what he's up against."
The improvements that Huff had to make were nowhere to be found as he would go 2-9 with a 6.04 over his first 13 starts and be sent to AAA Columbus on July 21, 2010. His most memorable moment in the 2010 season may of been getting hit by a line drive off the bat in Alex Rodriguez (video). In July, the Indians needed a spot starter and someone impersonating David Huff tweeted that he'd be back. This became the story around Cleveland as David Huff was not recalled and the question was asked by the media if a tweet cost Huff the start? Huff would be recalled on August 3, 2010 after posting a 6-0 record with an ERA of 3.80 at AAA Columbus. He'd make two more starts going 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA and would be sent back to Columbus on August 11, 2010. Manny Acta would have the following comments:
“He needs to command his fastball,” said manager Manny Acta. “We’ve said it over and over and over. This is a guy we need to be good for us to move forward as a ballclub. He’s proven in the past that he has the stuff to have some success up here. He needs to command his fastball. It’s as simple as that.”
David Huff would go 2-11 with an ERA of 6.24 for the Indians in 2010. He'd have a K/9 of 4.2 and a BB/9 of 3.8 (a K/BB ration of 1.09). He'd have a WHIP of 1.695, a BABIP of .310, and a LOB% of 65%. His LD/FB/GB was 20.6/36.4/43 which probably contributed to his HR/9 rate which increased to 1.58, his HR/FB% increased to 11.2%, and his FIP was 5.83(E-F gap of 0.41).
David Huff would go 8-2 with an ERA of 4.36 at Columbus. He'd have a K/9 of 7.32 and a BB/9 of 3.66 (a K/BB ratio of 2). He's have a WHIP of 1.410, a BABIP of .322, a LOB% of 73.1%. His FIP was 4.13 for an E-F gap of 0.23.
If Tim Belcher can find a way to unlock the secret to how Huff can increase his GB%, increase his K/9, and decrease his BB/9 then he may be able to find success at the major league level.