So Long, Brandon Webb?

Realistically, for Brandon Webb, Wednesday’s news was probably less a matter of “if” and more a matter of “when,” as it appears Brandon Webb’s recurring shoulder injury will shut him down for the remainder of the season. This just adds to his depressing injury history, going back a mere two years:

May 14, 2011 Transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL (right shoulder surgery).

March 31, 2011 Right shoulder surgery, 15-day DL (retroactive to March 22).

November 2, 2010 Missed all 162 games (right shoulder surgery).

April 17, 2010 Transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL (right shoulder surgery).

April 4, 2010 Right shoulder surgery, early September.

April 12, 2009 Right shoulder injury, early September.

April 8, 2009 Right shoulder injury, day-to-day.

Webb’s swift collapse under the burden of injury serves as yet another reminder of the fragility of the athlete, and even more striking, the fragility of the pitcher. Webb was among the pitching elite ever since winning the 2006 Cy Young award, a season in which he posted a 7.0 WAR thanks to a 3.18 FIP and a similarly excellent 3.10 ERA. After posting two similarly excellent seasons in 2007 and 2008, it looked like the Diamondbacks had themselves one of the games’ most consistently great pitchers. That is, until opening day of the 2009 season, where Webb only managed four innings and would throw his last pitch in the Major Leagues to date.

There should be no doubt that Brandon Webb’s first six years were Hall of Fame quality. Never did his ERA rise above 3.59 in this time and only once did his FIP go above 4.00, and he averaged just under 220 innings pitched. Even if it wasn’t the flashiest performance — Webb only struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings — he was undoubtedly effective.

So effective, in fact, that there was an argument, perhaps, that he was the pitcher to start a franchise around. Only Johan Santana (an interesting case in his own right) and Roy Halladay compiled more wins above replacement from 2003 to 2008, and the difference between Webb and Santana, a mere three wins, is certainly small enough to leave room for debate. Throw in that Webb was only entering his age 30 season, the same age as Santana and two years younger than Halladay.

Of course, here we sit, with the smart money guessing we might have heard the last of Brandon Webb as a major league pitcher. Perhaps we see Webb take the John Smoltz path and return as a closer. Perhaps he works his way back into the majors as a starter next year. Right now, though, Brandon Webb is an afterthought, remembered for the career that could have been instead of the career that should have been and would have been, if not for a weak right shoulder.

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48 Responses to “So Long, Brandon Webb?”

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  1. Scott says:

    Traded Carl Crawford for Webb and Lastings Milledge in a dyansty league a few months before the start of the ’09 season…..oops.

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  2. bonestock94 says:

    Remember when many Yankee fans were angry that they didn’t sign Webb after Lee went elsewhere? Lol…

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  3. Pat says:

    For what it’s worth, you linked Santana’s name to Johan Santa. I just thought that was funny.

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    • Dave S says:

      Santa has a decent OBP. He needs to crank up the average a little though.

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    • MikeS says:

      No, it was actually hilarious. I thought “hey, let’s take a look at what happened to that old White Sox nemesis” and I learned that he had been turned into a 19 year old second base prospect in the Rangers rookie league. Any second I expect him to be traded to the Twins where he will learn to be a light hitting, average fielding, over-rated middle infielder who always seems to slap one through the infield in the seventh or eighth inning of a one run game with men on base against the White Sox.

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    • Matt Defalco says:

      Johan Santa strikes again

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    Averaged ~6 WAR in his healthy seasons.

    He’s one of those guys that spurs the debate on whether a pitcher’s innings should be tightly managed, or whether you should pitch them a lot before their arm/shoulder gives out.

    Even some of the current greats, Verlander, Hernandez, Lincecum, etc have not accumulated 6 consecutive seasons of 200+ IP.

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    • Brandon says:

      Javier Vazquez perhaps?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        JV played for 5 teams during his consecutive 200 IP season streak.

        But, he brings up the point. Do you pitch the hell out of him and get all the value you can out of him, or do you pitch him less and try to get more longevity.

        For example, if you have Webb signed for 4 years, do you pitch him to the tune of 4 6-WAR seasons, or do you limit his innings (and value) and try to get 6 4-WAR seasons? (as if it were a choice A or choice B situation).

        IMHO, I think due to the unpredictable nature of pitchers, teams are going to move toward pitching them more and getting as much out of their contract years as they can.

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    • jim says:

      none of verlander, hernandez, and timmeh have been around for six seasons, so good point there…?

      i think there’s an imposter circlechange11 running amok on fangraphs

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I mentioned those names because they represent teams that are pitching the heck out of their young studs, and not really limiting their innings for the sake of longevity.

        The point was that some of the guys we consider “workhorses” have not approached Webb’s workload yet.

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    • MikeS says:

      Not a “Great” but a pretty good. Mark Buerhle. TEN straight seasons of 200+ IP. Closing in on 11. Averaged about 4.2 WAR/year.

      Halladay is on pace for 200+ this year which would be six straight and eight out of ten.

      If Cliff Lee wasn’t hurt in ’07 he would have done it.

      Verlander and Hernandez come close but both are just now in their sixth full year which makes it impossible for them just yet.

      But all of those “almosts” reinforce your point, don’t they?

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      • AA says:

        Webb’s mechanics are problematic as he always got too far over the ball in throwing that power sinker.

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  5. Stanley Hudson says:

    It was early morning yesterday, I was up before the dawn. And I really have enjoyed my stay, but Webb must be moving on. Goodbye Webb its been nice, hope you find your paradise. Feel no sorrow, feel no shame, come tomorrow, feel no (shoulder) pain.

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  6. SenSurround says:

    Imagine how screwed Arizona would be had they gone through with the long term extension they were kicking around giving him in ’08. They might still be paying him $14 mil a year or so for the next 2-3 years. They didn’t like what they saw in his physical in ’08, and they turned out to be right on the money. Given that he had no previous injury issues and nothing but a track record of huge success, I can only imagine how destroyed his shoulder must have looked like to scare a team off that badly.

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  7. tdotsports1 says:

    Well, it certainly wasn’t due to the “slider effect” as he barely threw it. He basically threw 75%+ sinkers. Not sure if the slider study was for elbow reconstruction, just throwing that out there.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I didn’t mention Wainwright and Carpenter for the same reason. Throwing 6 consecutive 200+ IP seasons is rare. When those 200 IP seasons are closer to 250 than 200, that’s where the discussion gets interesting.

    My interest in in the pitching usage changes due to the “overuse” situtions of Prior and Wood. I’m not seeing many changes. I’m seeing teams give their main pitcher a lot of innings at young ages. Not the Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana IP, but high innings for this era.

    I’m wondering how many pitchers have a few high inning seasons with a lost season in between, followed by another string of high inning seasons.

    What we with Webb is the difference between an elbow injury and a shoulder injury. There is no TJ surgery for the shoulder.

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  9. chuckb says:

    I feel bad for Webb but I (and probably many others) could see this coming from the moment he was injured. As a Cards’ fan, I spent a few years waiting for Mark Mulder to come back and be a productive major league pitcher after his shoulder injury. After hearing what happened to Webb, I read an article — probably by Will Carroll — that talked of how rare it is for pitchers to come back from this type of shoulder injury and used Mulder as an example. I was pretty sure after reading that that Webb was done. It’s really unfortunate, too, b/c he had such a great career going.

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  10. Phantom Stranger says:

    I think as teams realize the overall offensive environment is down, we are going to be seeing a gradual rise in usage of the better starting pitchers.

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  11. Pat Golden says:

    Nobody has mentioned that brandon webb broke into the league in 03 and pitched several years during the height of the steroids era. As a sinker baller, he didnt even get to reap the benefits of the shift towards defense and speed that alot of the guys who debuted in 06 and later (that were mentioned earlier) have.

    An aside, As a community we still continue to look strictly at innings pitched as the degree of usage… why arent we looking at how many pitches each pitcher threw? one inning is not equal to the next and looking at them in a broad stroke is ridiculous. More over, why stop at just pitches, we should have a stat for pitches under duress or something vs pitches thrown at ease.

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    • NEPP says:

      They do have those stats…just not on fangraphs as much. You are right though that its more about #P/IP and total pitches along with high stress innings raather than “Oh, he threw 200 innings at Age 21″. Its far more stressful on an arm to go 4 IP/100 pitches than say 7 IP/120 pitches.

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      • db says:

        Actually, I don’t think anyone knows anything about what leads to pitching injuries. Is it pitches per start? Pitches per inning? Innings per start? Innings per year? Random luck? Genetics? It may be that pitchers would be better off throwing 80 pitches on three days rest than 100 on five. No one knows squat, and all we have are guesswork and witchcraft, i.e., the Verducci effect. I am certain of only two things, it differs by pitcher and having Dusty Baker as your manager is not a good thing.

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      • Cidron says:

        not only that, but there is a difference between a typical 3rd or 4th inning pitching, warmed up, got it all working, and the 6th or 7th, tiring, couple on base, down a run, cant allow a hit type of pitches. or, put another way, not only are innings different, but, so are pitch counts. sometimes a pitcher will have a 130 pitch night, but its pretty easy going, whereas he might have a 75 pitch night, and its all stress/strain/work.

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      • NEPP says:

        Most elite pitchers break into tears when they hear they’ve been drafted by the Reds…I wonder why that is.

        Tears of joy I’m sure.

        There are good theories on the effects of mechanics on injuries and even some good ones on high stress innings but nothing is for sure. Nobody really wants to change a guy’s mechanics to something considered unorthodox because of the huge “What if they’re wrong” and its not worth a potential injury.

        I do like what Nolan Ryan is doing in Texas by pushing his prospects to acclimate themselves to a 7 IP/120 pitch cutoff rather than the somewhat ridiculous 6 IP/100 pitch marker we’ve been subjected to for the last 15-20 years now.

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  12. jim says:

    surprised no one’s mentioned scott kazmir yet

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  13. jpg says:

    I would love to see my Mets take a shot at signing Webb this offseason. If anybody can fix this guy, it’s the Mets and their kick-ass medical staff.

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  14. mwagner41 says:

    How do you explain Steve Carlton who in his career pitched aprox 5,200 innings, and Fergusen Jenkins who came in at aprox 4,500 innings in their respective careers? Carleton pitched 346+ innings in 1972 when he went 27-10. I’m sure Nolan Ryan pitched a few thousand as well. Are they just anomalies?

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    • Cidron says:

      different eras man, different pitching philosophy, different hitters, etc etc.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Philosophies have changed because of pitch count. Don’t you watch ESPN? Every damn game “well 40 years ago he’d still be in the game but now we have this pitch count stuff”.

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    • NEPP says:

      For every Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton, there were probabl 30-40 guys that injured themselves to the point of ending their careers by Age 30. Hell look at Koufax or even Robin Roberts. Roberts’ arm was shot by Age 30 and he had to reinvent himself as a control guy for the latter half of his career…mostly because of his ridiculous IP totals in his early to late 20s. Its a tribute to his abilities as a pitcher that he was able to still compete without a plus fastball.

      Same with a guy like Pedro. Pedro was utterly dominant when he could hit 96-97 on his fastball but he could still pitch effectively at 87-88 because of his overall ability. They are outliers though.

      Ryan was just a freak of nature…the human body isn’t designed to throw that hard in its mid 40s.

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    • chuckb says:

      they were freaks. Yes, they were anomalies. And it is a different era, with relief specialists and closers.

      Halladay right now is at 2440 innings and he’s just 34. It’s not unreasonable to think that he might finish his career in the 3200 range of IP which, in this era, would be a hell of a lot.

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  15. Mike says:

    Traded Matt Kemp for Brandon Webb a couple years ago. Flame away.

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  16. CircleChange11 says:

    Nolan Ryan is a freak. I don’t recall the exact year when he K’d 383 and walked almost 150. Talk about # of pitches in a season. Wow.

    In regards to Webb’s pitches versus innings, that’s generally not looked at because so many guys are similar in their pitches/IP. The exceptions would be cases in efficiency like Maddux and Halladay.

    It’s also difficult to measure the amount of effort that goes into each pitch, in each situation, etc. It’s even tougher to know the genetic tolerance of each guy. It’s possible that Webb throwing 6 seasons of 190 IP would lead to the same injury as 6 seasons averaging 220 IP.

    So many variables, which is why I asked the question if teams are just saying “the he’ll with it” and pitching their studs as much as they need to.

    I think trams probably go into a season with plans not to ride a guy so much but then the playoff race trumps everything else … and well, these guys want to pitch as much as they can in big situations because that’s where the money is.

    I brought up situations like slider usage and wondered how many sliders are thrown in a fatigued, high stress, state where pitchers are looking for a little extra. But we may never know.

    I think that as we see more pitchers using changes and cutters the IP of the main starters may remain high.

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    • mwagner41 says:

      Ryan did that in ’73, ’74 he followed up with 367 according to fangraphs stats. He also had 26 complete games.

      By the way, who did the Mets get for giving up Ryan? Did they have free agency?

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  17. Antonio Bananas says:

    There are so many variables that it’s impossible. They ALL have an effect. Genetics, how he was used as a youth (my HS pitcher would give you 2 weeks off then let you throw 150 pitches, now I have tendonitis like crazy in my shoudler), mechanics, which are also different person to person, stress of pitches, pitches per inning, amount of consecutive “hard starts”, how that organization brings up players in their system, etc. Just a tons of variables.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Types of pitches too. I would imagine a guy with a fastball, cutter, knuckle curve, etc; pitches that don’t involve twisting your forearm would be more successful than a screwballer or slider guy.

      On MLBnetwork a few years ago there was an interesting piece on seperating the hands with the hand holding the ball palm up instead of palm down to reduce the torque of the sudden change in direction. That coudl be something too.

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  18. Antonio Bananas says:

    I like the idea of Webb as a closer. Hard sinker, ridiculous GB%. Basically another Johnny Venters.

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  19. Cuck says:

    Number of pitches are super important. Webb was likely able to go 220 innings in a year because he was a sinkerballer. You don’t force ground balls by throwing sinkers way off the plate. He had to throw it in the strike zone. Halladay said himself that he maximizes the number of innings he can go by throwing everything for a strike to lower his pitch count. I think that highlights the need to examine number of pitches in a season or per start instead of simply IP.

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  21. CircleChange11 says:

    Ryan also used a very high leg kick, did not throw a slider, and was among the first to really embrace conditioning and moderate strength training.

    He’s a freak in many ways, but he also worked very hard to maximize his freaky potential versus just relying on talent.

    Same with Carlton. Very big into martial arts that focus on core strength, synergy, flexibility, strength in the “little muscles”, etc. He also has an insane tolerance for the slider, for whatever reason.

    I have a copy of the Rangers pitching handbook, and their guys focus on throwing a lot. They are proggresive with using long toss, throwing in between starts, etc. Of course other teams do the same, but often with strict limitations.

    I think one of the main differences btw pitchers now and then are the innings thrown as a youth. Certainly Nolan Ryan didn’t play in multiple leagues as a 12yo or follow up a high school season with an elite showcase travel team, nor play in year-round leagues featuring National championships and showcase tourneys. In these tourneys kids pitch a lot of innings in a few days. Yes they have requirements such as 10 IP max for a 3-day tourney. So the ace will throw 6 IP in pool play on Fri and come back and throw 4IP on Sunday… and do this every weekend with other games during the early weekdays. If they’re in multiple leagues, they may pitch on Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun from April to August.

    Teens that play HS, Travel, and Fall baseball may end up making more starts than ML’ers in the same time period. That’s been the case for the last 20 years. Very little off-season. LL teams now practice year-round for the LLWS combing team and private sessions.

    Unfortunately, TJ surgery has become somewhat of an enabler b/c of the perception that once you come back from surgery you’re stronger than you were before. The opposite of it’s intended purpose and Andrews recommendations.

    Strasburg, for example, has been playing in nationwide showcase tourneys since he was 11. How many high stress innings did he pitch from age 11-17, versus just cruising through youth leagues like Ryan and Carlton would have done?

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  22. James M. says:

    You don’t have to go back that far to find a workhorse. Remember Webb’s one time teammate? Tall lefty? Big Unit?

    1990-1993 201-255 IP
    1994 172
    1995 214
    1996 61
    1997-2002 213-272
    2003 114
    2004-2006 205-245
    2007 56
    2008 184

    That’s 14 years out of 17 over 200. Maybe the most impressive of all though is that 184 in 2008 at age 40. And that included a perfect game!

    Oh, 35-40% of his pitches were those wicked sliders that are so hard on the arm.

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