Westbrook Stays in Saint Louis

After losing most of 2008 and all of 2009, Jake Westbrook bounced back to his old self this past season with a 200-inning, low-4 FIP effort. And today the Cardinals rewarded him with a new two-year contract for $17.5 million guaranteed.

A reliably 4-win pitcher from 2004-6, Westbrook took a hit with the injuries starting in 2007 causing a loss almost entirely just of playing time, not of production. In fact, Westbrook’s key performance markers have been quite stable ever since he broke into full time play in 2003. His strikeouts have always been meager, hovering right around five every nine innings with little variation. The same goes for the walks and ground balls too. No pitcher is a sure bet, but Westbrook has a case for being predictable for as long as he’s on the mound.

That playing time will be the key factor when this contract is posthumously judged. Since the injuries, Westbrook has averaged a win above replacement for about every 80 innings pitched. At $17.5 million over the next two seasons and a market rate around $4 million per win, the Cardinals need about 4.25 wins out of Westbrook to make this a fair deal. That would equate to about 340 total innings from Westbrook if he can maintain his three-year performance average.

His career rates are better than that and he showed some improvement (go figure) when moving to the National League, but there is aging and the injuries to factor in. Tommy John surgery has a known recovery time line, which Westbrook is now clear of so I wouldn’t rate him a higher risk than any other generic pitcher to miss time.
Furthermore, Westbrook’s skills and the short duration of the contract protect against him falling off the table completely so the primary risk from St. Louis’ standpoint is his health. I think there is only a low chance this ends up a disaster for them.

On the other hand, Westbrook’s not a good bet to vastly outperform expectations either. His four-win-a-year heyday was pre-injury and while his FIP-type numbers look similar now to then, the league-wide constant has decreased as run scoring has fallen so he has gotten worse. We don’t have enough data in yet to make a good comparison to projections, but spitballing it, I find this a fair deal in a medium-risk, medium-reward mold.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

18 Responses to “Westbrook Stays in Saint Louis”

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  1. SquirrelBoy says:

    I would just like to clarify that you mean WAR, not flat out wins. I was confused with what you were talking about until I looked at his WAR.

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  2. Adam says:

    Is the contract for 16.5 or 17.5? First paragraph says 16.5, later on it says 17.5

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    Wish Lohse would’ve signed the same deal.

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    • chuckb says:

      I wish Mozeliak would’ve been wise enough to sign Lohse to the same deal.

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      • petejohn says:

        Wait, chuckb, you don’t like it when the Cards GM mashes the panic button and tosses a contract at a guy that he hasn’t earned, all right before the economic bubble violently explodes?

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  4. Nick says:

    Pretty sure the deal is $16.5 million for the first two years, with a $1 million buyout for the third year option, making the total guaranteed money on the contract $17.5 million.

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  5. tbad says:

    Checked out the Tommy John link…He posted an almost 5 win season in ’80 with a K/9 of 2.65

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  6. Adam says:

    “Westbrook took a hit with the injuries starting in 2007 causing a loss in almost entirely just of playing time, not of production.”

    Just throwing that out there if you wanna fix it. Nice write up.

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  7. this guy says:

    Nice article.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    Actually, Lohse’s contract is probably one of the reasons that guys like Penny and Westbrook were given reasonable deals instead of being paid for what they could be.

    Looking back to the Lohse deal, and during that time StL pitchers were doing well in StL and cashing in elsewhere (Williams, Suppan, Looper, etc).

    It almost seemed at the time that the only choices were to lose the guy or overpay him, since the minor leagues were so thin at SP (especially after the Mulder-Haren trade).

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I mean to to include Jeff Weaver in that mix as well. Pitched well for StL for about 1/3 of a season, cashed in with SEA for something like 9M/y.

      StL was becoming the place you went to to regain your control, have Duncan teach you how to pitch in the zone with movement, and then go sign a bigger contract with another (often a divisional opponent).

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    • petejohn says:

      Woody Williams actually left when he seemed to be out of gas in 2005.

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  9. Ryan says:

    I think this will end up being a good deal . . . hopefully.

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  10. cpebbles says:

    Don’t stoop to internet spam-marketing, Edgar. Someone will call, you’re the World Series MVP.

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