Lefty Huff Could Be Piece of the Pitching Puzzle

After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today, we examine a player who is out of minor league options, meaning they must be on the 25-man roster.

David Huff’s 2012 season did not go as he might have planned.

After spending nearly all of the year in the minor leagues at Triple-A Columbus, the 28-year-old pitcher now finds himself fighting for a job with the Cleveland Indians. If he is not able to succeed in securing a spot on the 25-man roster at the end of spring training, it could spell the end of his time in the Indians’ organization.

Like Jeanmar Gomez and Carlos Carrasco, Huff is out of options. If he does not make the roster, he would need to clear waivers before he could return to Columbus. Being a left-handed starter with sporadic success in the big leagues, it is possible he could get an audition elsewhere in the majors.

Huff played himself back into consideration for a role on next year’s club with a strong September showing after his surprise call up following the completion of Columbus’s season. In six appearances, including four starts, Huff was 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA over 26 and two-third innings of work. Despite allowing more than a hit per inning, he displayed good control in the strike zone and averaged nearly four strikeouts per every walk.

When Huff joined the team, it was believed he was going to work primarily as a long man out of the bullpen, relieving a pitching staff struggling and ineffective for most of the season. He was joining several former Clippers’ teammates from the Columbus rotation, including Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Chris Seddon, and Gomez.

In his first appearance for Cleveland on September 7th, he relieved Gomez in the bottom of the fourth inning with the club trailing the Minnesota Twins 4-2. He struck out the first two batters he faced and four overall while working three and one-third innings of perfect relief. The Indians promptly plated a pair of runs to tie the game after his first inning and broke the tie with a three-run seventh, securing the team and Huff with the win.

While his second appearance did not net the team a win, the circumstances were similar. After Gomez allowed five runs in four innings of work, Huff held the Texas Rangers at bay, allowing a walk and three hits in two and two-third innings of scoreless relief. He struck out four batters again, this time all on swinging strikes.

Huff moved into the rotation for Gomez and started all four of his final appearances. He pitched into the fifth inning in each of his starts. He allowed three earned runs in three of the four starts. He was hit hard in his final start, the season finale, giving up seven runs on three home runs.

What made Huff’s call up such a surprise was that he did not have what most would consider a dominant year in Columbus during the season. He was 7-6 at AAA with a 4.97 ERA. He made 22 starts and threw two complete games, including one shut out. He kept his walk totals low, averaging just 2.3 walks per nine innings, but he averaged a strikeout less per nine innings than he did in the majors. He was prone to the long ball, giving up 27 in 134 innings of work, easily his worst home run per nine inning ratio of his minor league career.

Huff has had several previous opportunities with the Indians that he has failed to capitalize on. During his eleven win rookie campaign in 2009, he allowed nearly two walks per start and had a tendency of allowing too many hits. His ERA of 5.61 was much higher than desired.

The 2010 season saw him continue with his struggles to keep runs off the board. Prior to his demotion in late June, Huff allowed three earned runs or more in ten of eleven starts, earning him a 1-8 record in that span and a 2-9 record overall. He returned for two starts in August and gave up eight earned runs in earning a pair of losses. He was optioned back to Columbus, where he spent the rest of the season.

Huff did not join Cleveland’s roster in 2011 until the middle of July, replacing a struggling Gomez in the rotation. He put together an impressive six-game run to start his big league season, allowing one earned run or less in five of those appearances. The month of September was unkind to him though, as he lost four of his five starts and pushed his ERA for the season up two full runs with a 6.20 mark for the month.

Despite the ups and downs he has seen over the course of his big league career, he has shown those periodic moments of excellence. Being a left-hander also gives him a leg up on his competition, as the Indians rotation as it stands today is made up entirely of right-handers and each of his primary competitors for a spot in the rotation (Gomez, Carrasco) are right-handed as well.

Huff is unusual when compared to most left-handed pitchers. For his career, left-handed batters actually hit him better (.316) than right-handers (.286), eliminating some of the perceived benefits provided by having a lefty on the pitching staff.

It could be possible that Huff’s role on the team could be in the bullpen. In an extremely limited sample size, he has faired well as a reliever, giving up no runs and four hits while striking out eight, limiting the opposition to a .182 batting average and a .217 on-base percentage. As a starter, he has a .298 batting average against lifetime and allows a .352 on-base percentage. Adding further credence to the argument is that opposing batters’ offensive numbers steadily increase when seeing him multiple times in an appearance. Limiting batters to one or two opportunities against him per game may improve his overall effort and numbers.

If Huff has any hopes of making the 2013 roster, it will stem from a strong spring training, using the momentum gained by his efforts in September this season. A solid effort could secure him a spot somewhere, regardless of how Gomez or Carrasco perform in their own individual efforts.

Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

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