Jake Westbrook Extended

The St. Louis Cardinals and Jake Westbrook have agreed to an extension. The new contract is reportedly a one-year, $8.75 million contract for 2013 with a superfluous mutual option worth $9.5 million for 2014 with a $1 million buyout. While the mutual option seems increasingly prevalent, given that it is usually irrelevant in practice, it might be more straightforward to think of this deal as a guaranteed deal for one year and just under $10 million dollars.

Back in 2010, Westbrook was having a mediocre season (4.66 ERA, 4.25 FIP) for Cleveland after almost completely missing the prior two seasons due to injury. Traded to the Cardinals for the stretch run, he pitched quite well for 12 starts for St. Louis (3.48 ERA, 3.52 FIP). Whether it was Dave Duncan‘s “magic” or not, the Cardinals liked what they saw, and gave him a two-year contract for 2011 and 2012 and, you guessed it, a mutual option for 2013 (which the new contract replaces).

In 2011, Westbrook’s past, aging, and regression all seemed to break whatever spell Duncan had cast. Although Westbrook kept the ground balls coming, his strikeout rate dropped back to about that of his 2010 pre-St. Louis rate, while his walk rate was his worst in years. With a 4.66 ERA, Westbrook did not even initially make the Cardinal’s playoff roster, although he was added and pitched out of the bullpen in World Series.

Given his age (34) and recent performance, it is a bit surprising that Westbrook is pitching pretty much as well in 2012 (3.50 ERA, 3.60 FIP) as he did after initially being traded to the Cardinals in 2010. His strikeout rate is still poor (and at his age, it probably is not coming back), but his control seems to be as good as it ever been over a full season. Which Westbrook is the “real” one, the #2 starter of the last part of 2010 and 2012 thus far, or the back-of-the-rotation “innings eater” of 2011? Obviously, this matters a great deal to the Cardinals.

The most simple, boring answer, at least from the numbers, is that he is likely somewhere in between. On one hand, nothing obvious in Westbrook’s numbers this year seem to scream “luck.” His BABIP is not abnormally low (.298), and it is right in line with his career numbers. His ERA and FIP are pretty close to each other, too, as they have been over the course of his career (career: 4.26 ERA, 4.12 FIP). One area that might be subject to some regression is his lower home run/fly ball rate in 2012 (and the small sample of his first partial season in St. Louis). There is some evidence that ground ball pitchers like Westbrook tend to give up home runs on balls that do go in the air. On the other hand, the Cardinals’ home park suppresses home runs. Still, if Westbrook continues to keep the ball on the ground, a bit of random variation and regression on his air balls should not make that much of a difference.

On the other hand, while Westbrook has had more than 150 innings of being very good this year, he had 180 of being pretty bad last year. While Dave Duncan does seem to be able to help many pitchers (and it is worth noting that Duncan has been on a leave of absence all year), that does not make Westbrook’s prior history go away — emphasizing his 2010 Cardinals stint can tend to gloss over the fact that Westbrook was medicore overall in 2010. Put more simply: 2012 is really Westbrook’s first full season of being good since about 2006. It is unlikely that he is establishing a new level of performance at 35.

Westbrooks’ primary pitch is still his sinker, which he mixes with a cutter and slider (the proportion of the two varies depending on whose classification one prefers). Against left-handed bats, Westbrook mixes in a good number of change-ups. That has been his pattern for a while. I will leave a more detailed analysis to the Pitchf/x gurus, which I am decidedly not. Simply looking at the raw numbers, the main difference between the Good Westbrook (2012) and Mediocre Westbrook (2010 and 2011) is that Good Westbrook does not walk left-handed batters as much. I cannot find any obvious big differences in, say, his change-up usage that might explain what is different this year against lefties.

That does not mean that nothing is different, just that nothing stands out. Nor is it to dismiss the results. the point is just that there is no obvious reason to unduly emphasize Westbrooks 2012 or pre-2011 performance beyond what we would do in projecting a player. In 2013, Westbrook’s true talent ERA/FIP is probably in the low 4s. Over a full season, that probably makes him about a two-win player. For $10 million, that is probably fair for a player like Westbrook.

This is not to say that the Cardinals are getting a steal — after all, Westbrook has had serious injury issues in the past, has only pitched 200 or more innings once since 2006, and is in his mid-30s. However, given the Cardinals roster of talented but less-than-spry players, shoring up the middle and back of their starting rotation is a good idea. Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Jaime Garcia cannot exactly be penciled in for 220 innings each next season and Kyle Lohse (~!) is having a good season and will probably command some money in free agency. So even with Lance Lynn looking good and perhaps Shelby Miller really being ready (I’ll leave that one to others), there likely will be plenty of innings for a guy like Westbrook. Jake Westbrook is probably not the #2 pitcher he has looked like this season. However, he is likely to be better than most other #4 starters in the league, and with Cardinals looking at another shot at contention in 2013, signing Westbrook makes a lot of sense.



Print This Post



Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
gnomez
Guest
gnomez
4 years 6 days ago

I like this a lot. Even if Westbrook is hardly a sure bet for good performance, the durability issue regarding Carpenter and Garcia mean the Cardinals need to have insurance options for the rotation. Yes, they have a number of solid pitching prospects, but I don’t think any of the big three (Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins, Carlos Martinez) are sure bets for next year, and I’m not sold on Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, or John Gast as starters at the major league level. Westbrook would be likely to get more than this on the open market, and the thin free agent class seems a sure bet to see prices on the top starters (Greinke, Sanchez, Lohse, McCarthy) go sky-high.

Robbie G.
Guest
Robbie G.
4 years 6 days ago

Kyle Lohse is a “top starter”?

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 6 days ago

He is if you judge by results.
162 IP
2.61 ERA

However, I don’t expect the same next year (% LOB and HR/9 seem most likely to regress).
3.48 FIP
80.1 % LOB
.67 HR/9
1.78 BB/9
5.61 K/9

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
Pinstripe Wizard
4 years 6 days ago

I blieve he is indicating Lohse is a top starter on the free agent market this year, not that he is indeed a top of the rotation guy.

Robbie G.
Guest
Robbie G.
4 years 6 days ago

Maybe I have my head in the sand here, but I am having a difficult time believing that MLB teams will view Kyle Lohse as a “top starter” this offseason.

robby
Guest
robby
4 years 6 days ago

as others said, intent was a top option on FA market this winter…

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 6 days ago

There is good reason to think that almost any fairly reasonable extension of a player’s contract is not a bad idea.
There is an excellent chance that the limitations imposed upon both the domestic draft and the foreign free agent signings by the new player’s contract will result in an explosion in the cost of signing Major League free agents, just as those changes were intended to do for the benefit of the players and the wealthy teams.

jj
Guest
jj
4 years 6 days ago

basically this is just a little more than ok’ing next years option and adding an option to it by STL. I think this is a nice move to make sure they have an innings eater while their guys in the minors get a little more seasoned and/or their vets get healthy.

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 6 days ago

Westbrook did not even initially make the Cardinal’s playoff roster, although he was added and pitched out of the bullpen in World Series.

If I remember correctly, he was left off the roster only for the NLCS (he was on the NLDS and WS rosters).

Trivia answer of the day: Westbrook was the pitcher to receive the win for WS game 6.

themiddle54
Member
themiddle54
4 years 6 days ago

I like this purely as a safe play for when Carpenter and Garcia miss time. If this takes innings from Shelby Miller (for those who have not noticed: 50 K / 1 BB / 1 HR in the last month and utterly shoving it) or if Miller is held back at all due to “Oops! We have too many reliable old guys who can eat innings for 16 times your salary Mr. Miller!” then it’s not such a good play.

Taylor06
Member
Taylor06
4 years 5 days ago

Feel the same way themiddle54

Ben
Guest
Ben
4 years 4 days ago

I agree; however, your stats on Miller are slightly off, at least. Miller has allowed 6 homers in his last 6 games over the past month…at least according to Fangraphs.

themiddle54
Member
themiddle54
4 years 4 days ago

Thanks, my bad. Realized it as soon as I hit ‘post’ and there’s sadly no edit function. It’s esp great to see Miller do this after almost a full year of struggling. I like it when talented kids figure it out instead of fall off the map (see: Montgomery, Mike)

Felonius_Monk
Guest
Felonius_Monk
4 years 6 days ago

Make what you will of this information, but I think Westbrook lost about 15lbs in the off-season. He did look a bit tubby at times last year, and I do wonder if being in better shape in 2012 has at least played a little bit into his apparently improved performance. His FB velocity is up a touch too.

stan
Guest
stan
4 years 5 days ago

That’s been reported constantly in St. Louis- that he got himself into the best shape of his life in the offseason. I have to believe that has something to do with his turnaround. I like this deal for St. Louis. They seem concerned that Carpenter may not pitch next year at all, and when’s the last time it hurt a team to have too much starting pitching?

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
4 years 6 days ago

The mutual option would only come into play if the Cards value him at over 8.5 million and he doesn’t think he could get more than 9.5 million on the open market. Seems very slight. What, again, is the purpose of this?

Todd
Guest
Todd
4 years 5 days ago

“While the mutual option seems increasingly prevalent, given that it is usually irrelevant in practice…”

I’m pretty sure that this extension was, in fact, the exercising of his existing mutual option. So in response to both of you, I will note that it makes sense when one or both sides have interests beyond financial concerns. For example, I would pretty much guarantee you that Westbrook would not be interested in going to another team for an additional (say) half a million dollars. He’s comfortable in St. Louis, and the Cardinals are (evidently) comfortable with him. A mutual option gives both sides an out if something changes, but avoids the need to renegotiate if it doesn’t.

John
Guest
4 years 5 days ago

comment

zipperz
Member
zipperz
4 years 5 days ago

I don’t see any valid reason not to extend Lohse the qualifying offer (not sure, but may come in around $12M-$13M), seeing as it seems likely that someone would offer him a multi-year deal. As far as I can tell, that’s the only way to get the compensatory draft pick now. Worst case scenario, he accepts it and STL has about 7 potential starters. I don’t think Westbrook even @ $9.5m makes him untradeable by any means.

UofIx3
Guest
UofIx3
4 years 4 days ago

One main difference between this year and last year is literally the 20 pounds that Westbrook lost in the offseason

cpebbles
Guest
cpebbles
4 years 4 days ago

No mention of the big fat egg he laid this afternoon? He’s signed four big contracts in his professional career, and the immediate returns have been disappointing each time (Though you can chalk one up to a major injury).

wpDiscuz