|Ryan Webb (photo: SD Dirk)|
This is somewhat old news by now, but as everyone knows, the Orioles signed right-handed relief pitcher Ryan Webb to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. Now, I assume you think it’s probably not necessary to devote space on this site for two Ryan Webb posts in as many days, and you may be right. But other than trading Jim Johnson (which we already covered here) and signing several players the casual baseball fan has never heard of, there hasn’t been much else going on in #Birdland. Additionally, despite all of the rumors yesterday that Baltimore is looking to sign an “established” closer, Webb could end up playing a significant bullpen role for the Orioles in the upcoming season, as he doesn’t appear to have as much of a platoon issue (at least in recent years) as the rest of the currently constructed bullpen.
One of the first things you probably heard after Webb signed was the fact that he’s a very similar pitcher to Jim Johnson, and to a certain extent, this is true.
Another similarity between Johnson and Webb is their reliance on throwing sinkers. According to Brooks Baseball, since 2011 Webb has thrown his sinker 59.1% of the time, nearly 15% more often than Johnson. Webb also throws a slider almost 30% of the time, and will occasionally show a four-seam fastball and a change-up that when combined, batters only see 10% of the time. Since Webb spent the last three years in the Marlins organization, it’s likely that you haven’t seen him pitch at all. So to get a quick idea of what his stuff looks like, here’s what you can likely expect to see over the next two years.
To this point, Webb looks like a shrewd signing by the front office. However, there are two questions that come up when looking at his career. The first is the fact that he’s pitched most of his innings in extreme pitchers parks (San Diego and Miami). Although his career FB% of 21.8% sits well below the league average (34.3% in 2013), playing the majority of his games in those spacious stadiums could be a reason his career HR/FB% sits at a well below league average of 6.9%. With Webb now scheduled to pitch most of the time in the hitters haven that is Camden Yards, it’s easy to see why this may be a concern. However, I think this issue is overblown. Over his career, both his FB% and HR/FB% are higher when pitching away from home (24.4% FB% and 8.4% HR/FB%), but they still sit well below league averages in both categories. Pitching in Camden Yards may increase the number of home runs Webb allows ever so slightly, but it’s not going to turn him into a different pitcher.
The other issue is more worrisome. Since pitching with an average four-seam fastball velocity greater than 96 mph in 2009, Webb’s fastball and sinker velocities have decreased in each year since. And while the decreases between 2009 and 2012 were gradual, the 2013 season saw quite the fall off.
That’s not a good looking trend, and one you normally wouldn’t expect to see for a guy who is still just 27 years old. I have not seen anything saying that Webb was not 100% healthy, and other than a DL stint for shoulder inflammation in 2011, he’s been pretty durable over the course of his career. It’s possible that he wasn’t 100% out of spring training, as his velocity was way down in April, gradually increasing to approximately 2011 levels by September. This isn’t something to worry about now, but it is something to keep an eye on.
A poor man’s Jim Johnson, Webb could likely handle the closing role if the Orioles fail to sign a “proven” closer, although it’s been rumored that Tommy Hunter would get that job if no one else is brought in from outside the organization. As Matt pointed out yesterday, Johnson was also once thought of as an unlikely candidate for the closer position. However, after two very successful years holding that position in Baltimore, he is just another example that closers are made, not born. It’s possible that Webb could follow that same path as Johnson, especially since he is able to get hitters out using very similar methods.
After trading Jim Johnson and saving the projected $10 million he is expected to earn in 2014, signing Ryan Webb appears to be an excellent strategy by the front office. In Webb, they get a similar pitcher for two years at less than half the cost of one year of Johnson. And with Machado and Hardy manning the left side of the infield, a lot of the groundballs Webb generates should turn into plenty of outs. Now, let’s just hope that the front office doesn’t use the rest of the savings from the Jim Johnson trade on a “proven” closer, as this team has plenty of other holes to fill.