Sunday, December 26, 2010
Webb's fastball key to redemption
By Doug Kern, Katie Sharp & Lee Singer
The baseball offseason started with whispers of the Texas Rangers signing a former Cy Young winner for the long term. It’s now approaching the new year and the Rangers have indeed inked a former Cy Young winner, just not Cliff Lee and not necessarily for the long term.
The Rangers and starting pitcher Brandon Webb have reportedly come to an agreement on a contract. The deal, assumed to be for one year, is pending a physical. Webb has not pitched in the majors since Opening Day of 2009 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. It is not surprising, then, that the success or failure of this signing will hinge largely on Webb’s health and his ability to regain his former velocity.
Early reports on Webb's progress indicate that he has good movement on his sinker, but that his velocity is not yet back to where it was. In order to once again be effective, Webb will need to regain that speed on his fastball. Although he's never been a power pitcher, his heater gets more effective as its velocity increases.
From 2007 to 2009, opponents teed off on the slower end of his range, and were frequently jammed when he got up into the low 90s.
Webb’s ability to regain his velocity – and, thus, his effectiveness – will probably have to wait to be evaluated until at least Spring Training. In a vacuum, however, Webb’s addition makes a great deal of sense for the Rangers pitching staff.
Webb, since the beginning of his career, has thrived off his ability to induce ground balls. From 2003 to 2008, he was one of the top groundball pitchers in the Majors, posting a groundball rate of 64.3 percent according to Fangraphs, which was the highest in the majors during that time span.
Webb joins a Rangers staff that last season struggled to induce grounders. In 2010, Rangers pitchers had a groundball percentage of 41.5 percent, the 2nd-lowest rate in the majors, according to Fangraphs. Webb's addition could not only function to balance the rotation's strengths, but it could also help the pitcher himself, considering the presence of Elvis Andrus at shortstop.
Needless to say, there are a number of mitigating factors that will determine the success of this deal – the money involved, Webb’s health and his ability to regain his fastball – but, in theory, this groundball-inducing former Cy Young winner is a low-risk, high-reward fallback option after losing out on Lee.