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.

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