Stats & Info: Brandon Webb

Could streaking Verlander win 25?

September, 2, 2011
Justin Verlander goes for his 21st win on Friday, as the Detroit Tigers host the Chicago White Sox. Presuming he starts every fifth day, mark Verlander down for six more starts in 2011. That puts some notable milestones within his grasp.

Could Verlander be the first pitcher in 21 years to win 25 games in a season? In 1990, Bob Welch went 27-6 for the A’s on his way to the Cy Young Award. Since then, two pitchers reached 24 wins (John Smoltz in 1996 and Randy Johnson in 2002), but no one made it to a quarter-century. In fact, only two AL pitchers have even reached 23 wins (Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Barry Zito in 2003).

If he reaches 25 wins, Verlander would be just the sixth pitcher to do so since the designated hitter arrived in 1973. In the past 30 years, Welch’s season stands alone.

On Friday, Verlander could be the first Tigers pitcher to reach 21 wins since Jack Morris in 1985. You have to go back to Mickey Lolich in 1971 to find their last 25-game winner.

With 218 strikeouts, Verlander also has a shot at a rare 25-win, 250-strikeout season. In the past 65 seasons, only four pitchers have pulled that off: Steve Carlton (1972), Lolich (1971), Denny McLain (1968) and Sandy Koufax (three times).

Verlander has put himself in this position thanks to wins in each of his past eight starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brandon Webb in 2008 was the last pitcher to win nine straight, and the last Tigers pitcher to do so was McLain in 1968.
Justin Verlander

With these lofty numbers potentially looming, MVP buzz now accompanies each start. Appearing only every fifth day, starting pitchers are debatable MVP candidates. However, in terms of value to his team, it’s hard to ignore what Verlander has done.

Consider the following from Elias: Verlander is 14-3 in games following a Detroit loss. In the past 30 years, only two pitchers have earned 15 victories following a team loss in a single season: Felix Hernandez (15 in 2009) and Roger Clemens (15 in 1992).

Verlander has already reached the historical minimum win total for a starter to win the award. In 1943, Spud Chandler won 20 games on his way to the MVP. The eight starters to win it since have all won at least 22 games.

Even with more wins, Verlander’s ERA might not be low enough. Four of the last five starting pitchers to win an MVP finished with an ERA below 2.00. The exception was Roger Clemens (24-4, 2.48 ERA) for the 1986 Red Sox.

Webb's fastball key to redemption

December, 26, 2010
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.

Brandon Webb
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.

Unfavorable action for Jackson

May, 17, 2010
The Arizona Diamondbacks and their fans expected big things of Edwin Jackson this season after his trade to the desert this offseason. It seemed like the 1-2 punch of Dan Haren and Jackson, along with the possible return of Brandon Webb, would give the D-Backs a chance in the wide-open NL West. But Jackson is not the same guy we saw in Detroit last year, even with the move from the American to the National League.

What has caused Jackson’s slide and can a return to 2009 form be expected?

So far Jackson has taken advantage of the relatively punchless NL lineups, holding 8- and 9-hole hitters to a batting/slugging line of .143/.179. That’s an improvement from the .201/.262 line he posted last year in the AL. Of course that means that the first seven hitters are getting to him, and that’s primarily by not chasing his fastball.

As hitters are more selective with his heater this season, they are picking out the right ones. Opponents are ripping Jackson’s fastball, hitting .336 and slugging .560 against it, way up from .278 and .480 a year ago. The difference is even bigger when you take out the weak eighth and ninth hitters in the NL, as hitters one through seven are hitting .400 and slugging .670 against Jackson’s fastball. Velocity doesn’t seem to be a problem, as he’s averaging just 0.5 MPH less than last year.

However, there are two things that are having a bigger effect on Jackson this season: batting average on balls in play and fly ball rates. According to Baseball Reference, in 2009, Jackson had a slightly-better-than-average BABIP of .279, but that has skyrocketed to .359 so far this season.

Additionally, even as Jackson has increased his GB/FB rate from 0.66 to nearly 1.0, his infield-fly ball rate has plummeted from 16 percent last year to just four percent so far in 2010. This is not a good sign, and is reflected in his HR/FB rate, which has increased for the second straight season, up to 10.8 percent so far this year. In fact, he’s got three starts already this year where he’s gotten more ground balls than fly balls, after having five such starts all of last season.

Jackson pitches tonight against the Florida Marlins, who are middle-of-the-pack against fastballs so far this season. Perhaps if he gets a little bit of luck on balls in play, or some help from his defense, he might begin to get back on track.