Indians Promote David Huff: Is He the Answer for Cleveland's Rotation?

By Lewie Pollis

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that the Cleveland Indians are in the market for a starting pitcher.

As far back as November, it was clear that Chris Antonetti wanted some veteran help in the rotation to help eat innings and mentor the Tribe’s young pitching staff. Now that they’re in contention, it’s no secret that the Indians are looking for an arm to replace Mitch Talbot (and maybe another for Fausto Carmona, too) in the rotation.

On Sunday, the team announced that David Huff would make his 2011 debut Monday in the first game of a doubleheader with the Minnesota Twins. Sure, the Indians were in need of a spot starter, but it’s not as though the promotion is unwarranted: in 17 starts for Triple-A Columbus, he’s 8-3 with a 3.86 ERA and a 2.3 K/BB ratio.

I haven’t heard many people say they expect Huff, 26, to stick around for long, and with Carmona coming back Monday night and Jeanmar Gomez already up in place of Talbot, there’s no clear spot for him in the rotation. But in the back of many fans’ minds, the thought must be beginning to form: is Huff the arm the Indians need?

Quite simply: no, he is not. Before you let the idea germinate, know that the Achilles heel in Huff’s game is actually even weaker than it was in his last failed stint with the Tribe.

In his minor league career, Huff is 36-14 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. In 38 career MLB starts, he’s fared much worse, going 13-19 with a 5.84 ERA and a horrific 1.61 WHIP. Obviously he’s faced stiffer competition with the Indians than he has with the Clippers and Aeros, but the problem is more specific than that: Huff has no ability to fool major league hitters.

Over the course of Huff’s minor league career, he’s whiffed opposing hitters at a 7.2 K/9. Bring him up to the majors, though, and suddenly he’s striking out only 4.4 K/9—less than a strikeout every two innings. In 15 starts last year, he struck out exactly 10% of opposing hitters. That would have been the worst in all of baseball if he’d thrown enough innings to qualify.

He’s had trouble hitting his spots in the big leagues, too. In the minors, Huff walked only 2.4 BB/9, but that’s ballooned to 3.3 in the majors. When he gets the call to The Show, his K/BB ratio falls from 3.0 to 1.4. Obviously you expect some decline at a higher level of play, but a collapse of that magnitude is scary.

The worst part: Instead of improving at an age in which pitchers enter their primes, he’s going the wrong way. After striking out opposing hitters at a 9.0 K/9 clip in Buffalo in 2008, his strikeout rate fell to 7.3 K/9 in 2009 to 6.3 K/9 last year to just 5.7 K/9 this season—all at the same level. If he had trouble missing MLB bats while he was dealing at Triple-A, how does he expect to fool major-league hitters now that he can’t seem to in the minors?

Manny Acta said that Huff had gotten better about locating his fastball down in the zone, but Charlie Adams, who covers the Clippers for, told me he’d still like to see more progress in that regard, as well as adding a breaking pitch to his repertoire. “It’s tough to see marked improvement over the long haul until he beings  something new to the table,” he said.

There’s always a chance the results could be different this time, and Cleveland could certainly do a lot worse for a single spot start. But before you let yourself start thinking it, Huff isn’t the cure for what ails the Indians’ rotation.

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