David Huff Knows His Opponents

Before the season started few people believed that the Indians stood any real chance of contending. Over the past few seasons they had traded away many of their top players, most notably Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, both of whom would have been under contract with the team for 2010. The have a few bright spots, but they’re mostly a team in transition. While they haven’t changed many peoples’ minds with a 3-6 start, they have seen some notable performances.

David Huff ran into plenty of problems during his first tour of the majors in 2009. Though expectations weren’t too high for him — Baseball America pegged his ceiling as a No. 3 or 4 starter — he failed to deliver. As projected his strikeout rate ranked in the bottom third of the league, and while his walk rate was generally good, at 2.9 per nine innings, it wasn’t quite at the level he attained in the minors. His greatest strength is his control, so it’s no wonder that when it wasn’t at its best he got hit around a bit.

As Marc noted in his review of the 2009 Indians, Huff did show some positives despite a generally disappointing season. His slider, which he developed into a quality third pitch in 2008, ranked well according to pitch-type linear weights. That pitch, combined with his above-average changeup, would help compensate for his 87-92 mph fastball. With a thin pitching staff it wouldn’t take much for Huff to get another shot in 2010. So far he has used both his changeup and his slider well in his first two starts.

Huff’s first start of the season came against Detroit, which features a lineup heavy with righties. In fact, the only left-handed bat he would face was Johnny Damon. While PitchFX missed a few of his pitches, we still got a good idea of his breakdown. His fastball acted as his primary weapon, as he threw the four-seamer 60 times and the two-seamer another nine times. The two-seamer can be handy because it tends to break away from righties. In terms of secondary pitches he threw 19 changeups and seven sliders. Three of those seven sliders he threw to Damon, while another three went to Miguel Cabrera. Scott Sizemore saw the only other one of the night, which he flied to right.

The results were mostly good for Huff that game, as he allowed just one earned run. The Tigers did score four off him, though, and while three scored on a Jhonny Peralta throwing error, Huff did allow four singles in the inning. The runners advanced only one base on each, though, and with two outs and the bases loaded Huff did induce a grounder. It appeared he had escaped trouble — until the Perlata throw, and Andy Marte’s lack of a scoop, that is.

Last night Huff faced another righty-heavy lineup, though the Rangers do feature a few lefties in David Murphy and Josh Hamilton. This time he used the slider more often, throwing it 21 times while using the change just 15 times. Of those 21 sliders, 14 of them went to Hamilton and Murphy. He used mostly fastball-changeup on the rest of the lineup, all of whom hit right handed in the game. It was clearly an effective use of his repertoire, as he allowed just four hits and walked just one during a 104-pitch complete game.

The only blemish on Huff’s night actually came as a result of his fastball. Again, his fastball has been rated average, at best, and probably below average, by scouts and prospect mavens. Yet he used the pitch exclusively to the first two batters in the fourth. Elvis Andrus singled to left on the fourth fastball he saw, a 92 mph pitch that hit the inside edge. There was something of a pattern in this AB, as Huff went outside-inside-outside-inside. The next hitter, Michael Young, did the damage, as he took a second-pitch fastball, which Huff threw right down the pike, over the right field wall. Feed Young a good fastball and he’ll do that.

Thankfully for Huff, it was his only mistake of the afternoon. In fact, he went back to the fastball just once for the rest of the inning, using his slider and changeup to retire Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz. He even used sliders in both of his offerings to Guerrero. The game was efficient in general, as the two teams barely cleared the two-hour mark. Joe West would be proud.

Clearly we can’t expect this of Huff every time out. He’s going to get rocked one of these days, and it will probably happen more than once. Cleveland fans have to like what they’ve seen so far. Huff might not be one of their more exciting pitching prospects, but he represents the possibility for a solid No. 3, a reliable arm in the middle of the rotation. If he continues to mix his pitches well and pick his spots with the slider he could go on to post a very good 2010 season.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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I’m glad you mentioned David Huff. He did show some improvement towards the end of last season too. He’s a smart pitcher, he has some usable weapons, and he seems to make in game adjustments. All pitchers can’t be Lincecum; all pitchers aren’t fully formed when they arrive from the minors. Cleveland can afford him the patience that many starters need ( a lot of pitchers need this; he’s not unique) while they sort things out. I think he’s going to be a solid starter for them for years to come.