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Briefly: The Curious Case of David Huff

As Ryan wrote in last nights game recap, David Huff had another excellent start for the Indians yesterday. Huff has been an absolute revelation since entering the Cleveland rotation, looking nothing like the shaky starter of the year ago and, instead, resembling a mid-rotation innings eater—his original projection and an incredibly valuable asset. The oddest part of all this is that Huff, who shot through the Indians system after being selected 39th overall in the 2006 draft, has badly stalled out in terms of his minor league performance over the past two seasons. This downturn in his AAA statistics has led many, including myself, to assume that Huff had entered the organizational filler pile. I've put his major league statistics in bold, to attempt to make the table a bit more readable. 

Level ERA IP/Start H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB
2008 AA 1.92 6.1 6.0 8.5 1.9 4.43
2008 AAA 3.01 5.0 7.6 9.0 1.7 5.40
2009 AAA 4.35 5.2 8.0 7.3 3.7 2.00
2009 MLB 5.61 5.2 11.2 4.6 2.9 1.59
2010 AAA 4.36 6.0 10.2 6.3 2.5 2.48
2010 MLB 6.21 5.1 11.4 4.2 3.8 1.01
2011 AAA 3.86 5.2 9.4 5.7 2.5 2.28
2011 MLB 0.51 5.2 6.6 7.6 2.0 3.75

Huff came into the Indians system like gangbusters, reaching AAA in his second full season and improving both his strikeout and walk rates as he climbed the ladder. His second go-round in AAA, though, he took large steps backwards, especially with regards to his control, and his stint in the majors that year reinforced his issues—prior to his last three starts, Huff as a major league pitcher has been characterized by mediocre control, giving up lots of contact, and struggling to strike anyone out. As you can imagine, that's not a profile for success. 

As he bounced between the majors and AAA the last two years, he didn't seem to fix any of his issues—the K/BB rates have stayed unimpressive and the contact rate has stayed very high. This season, he has not approached being the best pitcher in Columbus—he's posted a worse K/BB than Barnes, McAllister and Gomez and his H/9 is second worst among the team's starters, trailing only the relentlessly ineffective Corey Kluber. For my eyes, there has been little to indicate Huff was working out his issues in AAA—instead, he seems to be solidifying them through repetition. Huff's performance has improved over his last 10 starts, but not to an extent that would indicate he's found pitching Jesus. By nearly all AAA statistical accounts, he appears to be the same flawed pitcher Indians fans became frustrated with in 2009 and 2010.

What makes this all the more confusing is that in his three major league starts he has looked nothing like that flawed pitcher, displaying a poise and pitch repertoire that is significantly different from what we've seen in the past. There are all manner of conceivable explanations—that Huff was being asked to forgo statistical success in Columbus in favor of practicing new pitches or sequences, that Huff was unable to focus in Columbus because he thought he deserved better (the often posited "pouting in AAA" syndrome), that Huff figured something out literally moments before he reached the majors, or, perhaps most likely, that Huff has had a nice run but will soon transform back into the pumpkin we know and (don't) love. These are just a few of the innumerable rationales we could invent for his performance. 

Regardless of what has (or has not) happened to Huff, we won't be able to offer any real evaluation any time soon. Instead, we can enjoy the performances he does give us. Watching Huff pitch well is a lot of fun, both because of the emotional vindication it offers those of us who have tracked him for years, and because he is a great looking pitcher—an athletic, confident lefty with a live two-seamer and two nice looking offspeed pitches? Sign me up.