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Scouting Pitchers: Brandon Webb

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics as of 6/25/08

Let's look at one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball. Since 2006, Webb's 45 wins trail only Chien-ming Wang (46). Josh Beckett ranks third (43), Carlos Zambrano fourth (42) and Johan Santana fifth (41). With a career G/F ratio of 3.71 and good control, Webb has evolved into a complete pitcher who doesn't beat himself.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

Arizona took the right-handed Webb (6-2, 228, born 5/9/1979) with an eighth-round pick in 2000 out of the University of Kentucky, where he established the single-season strikeout record. Webb handled the difficult High-A California League in 2001, going 6-10 with a 3.99 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 162 innings. In 2002 he went 10-6, 3.14 at Double-A, sparkled in the Arizona Fall League and was clocked from 92-95 MPH.

Webb largely skipped Triple-A to make 28 starts for Arizona in 2003. He led all rookies in strikeouts (172), ranked sixth in the majors in ERA (2.84) and finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He missed a couple of weeks with a tender elbow but did not require surgery. Webb struggled with his mechanics in 2004 and led the majors in walks (119) and unearned runs (28). He went 7-16, 3.59 as Arizona lost 111 games. Webb halved his walks in 2005 but gave up a career-high 229 hits, with lefties batting .298.

Webb improved to 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006 to beat out Trevor Hoffman and Chris Carpenter for the Cy Young Award. He cited his ability to control his sinker and his emotions as factors that helped him break through. Minor elbow trouble slowed him in August. Jake Peavy bested Webb for the award in 2007, when he went 18-10, 3.01 and had a 42-inning scoreless streak from July 20 to August 22. Currently Webb is tied with Joe Saunders for the major league lead in wins (11-4, 3.23). There has been speculation has been that he is going through a "dead-arm" phase, as he has lost his last two starts with some reduced movement on his pitches, the Arizona Republic reports.

Brandon Webb: (G/F 3.43)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	70		55
Curveball	55		25
Slider		N/A
Changeup	60		20
Control	65
Delivery	50
Composure	65

What Webb's 85-89 MPH sinker has lost in velocity, it makes up for in movement. Webb has worked his 75-79 MPH changeup more into his game in the last two years, and his 71-78 MPH curveball has similar movement. He varies the planes and placements of his pitches and doesn't give hitters the same look, keeping them guessing. He pitches to contact and keeps hitters on the defensive. Instead of wasting a pitch with an 0-2 count, Webb will often throw a strike. He consistently has low pitch counts, with a career mark of 15.1 pitches per inning.

Scouts love late movement on pitches as much as velocity - it's all about keeping the ball away from the spot the hitter thinks the ball will be when he commits. Webb generates as much poor contact as anybody. He buries his sinker underneath hitters' hands and can even get a ground ball with a sinker above the belt. His curveball is just slow enough to give hitters the sense they can whack it, but he rarely hangs it.

One downside of Webb's aggressive approach is that innings can unravel on him more quickly than they do with a more deliberate worker or a traditional power pitcher. Obviously, he needs good defense behind him. In his career, left-handed hitters (.270) have fared much better against Webb than righties (.212). Teams that stress contact hit Webb better: his worst starts this year have been against Oakland, Atlanta and Minnesota, teams that work the count. Webb makes quick work of free-swinging teams - he blanked the Nationals on May 31st.

Webb's motion resembles Peavy's, and he would probably have arm problems if he hadn't straightened out his control. As it is, Webb repeats his motion, throws strikes and has quick innings. There are a lot of pitchers with better motions who don't. It will be interesting to see how Webb ages. A good parallel might be Greg Maddux. I don't think Webb will win 350 games, but 200 seems realistic.


Radar Love: Heat in the last week:

94-97: Tim Lincecum in Kansas City on June 22nd.
92-94: Johan Santana against the Mariners on June 23rd.
91-92: Ryan Dempster against the White Sox on June 22nd.
90-93: Jon Garland in Washington on June 24th.
86-88: Mark Buehrle in Los Angeles on June 24th.

Next week: AL East: Joba Chamberlain


Article first appeared 6/26/08