AL Starting Pitchers for $1: The Return of Brandon Webb

There really hasn’t been much player movement amongst the starting pitchers in the AL, so let’s just call it one old face in one new place.  After throwing a total of 4 innings in 2 years due to shoulder bursitis, surgery to correct it, and a lengthy rehab, Brandon Webb is finally headed back to the mound in 2011.  He’s obviously got plenty working against him still and likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, but for a $1 investment, the former NL Cy Young award winner could be worth owning this year.

It’s been a very long and cumbersome road to recovery for Webb and the Rangers have been very careful with the 31 year old righty thus far.  While Webb vowed to be ready for Opening Day, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, not wanting him to overextend himself, started Webb off slowly throwing once every three days and concentrating on building up arm strength.  Webb progressed nicely and, two weeks later, was moved up to bullpen sessions every other day.  Each session was closely monitored by Maddux and with every successful venture, the workload was gradually increased.  Four days ago, Webb threw 61 pitches in live batting practice and reports have been glowing.  But despite the sound progress, Webb will likely begin the season on the DL and might even miss the first month of the season.

However, starting the season on the DL could turn into an advantage for those looking to steal the former ace.  Most owners have a tough time investing in such a reclamation project and would rather use their late round draft choices or remaining auction dollars on players who may provide more immediate gratification.  With no real timetable set for Webb, the desire to use up a bench spot on him grows less and less.  Your window of opportunity then opens up and that late round buck slides into the low risk/high reward category.

Unfortunately, predicting what Webb is going to do in 2011 is a near impossibility.  We all know what kind of a pitcher he used to be — innings eater with an ERA in the low 3′s, solid strikeout totals, and an absolutely insane GB%.  His sinker was considered the best in the game and it’s pretty damn sweet when your ERA, FIP and xFIP are all within just a few tenths of a point from each other.  One of the most reliable hurlers from 2005 through 2008.

But after an injury like this and with such a lengthy recovery, these statistics don’t carry much weight.  You’re relying more on the reports of his progress than anything else.  It’s about tracking his velocity, his command, and his level of comfort on mornings after each mound session.  It’s about what kind of movement the coaches are claiming to see and whether or not he’s got full command of his entire pitch repertoire.  So far, the reports are looking pretty good and that’s all you can really hope for right now.  Every bit of good news is a step in the right direction.

The bottom line here is that you know exactly what type of pitcher he is at full health, so it’s about judging just how close to that level he is capable of pitching today.  Personally, I think that the Rangers have been doing an outstanding job easing him back in and, in turn, are setting him up to have a rock solid season.  You’ll never get him back to where he was 3 or 4 years ago, but I’ll certainly take him if that sinker starts to look half as good as it did before the injury.  OK, maybe three quarters.  Either way, for a $1 investment, you could easily find yourself with the steal of the draft.




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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

3 Responses to “AL Starting Pitchers for $1: The Return of Brandon Webb”

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  1. jaywrong says:

    any reports on his velocity this spring? iirc, during some earlier pitching sessions, he topped at 83mph. that is scary bad.

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    • AustinRHL says:

      Yes, that’s what I’ve heard, too. There was a study at Beyond the Box Score a few weeks ago (http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/12/23/1890969/ground-balls-and-pitch-speed-what-should-we-expect-to-see-from) that showed that ground ball rate on two-seam fastballs showed a pretty strong positive correlation with velocity, so if Webb is at only 83 mph, he probably won’t be able to get grounders at even a 56% rate, much less strike anyone out.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      The reports of Webb’s velocity coming in between 81-85 mph were from a series of sessions he threw back in late September/early October. The article from Beyond the Boxscore that Austin is referencing came out in late December and was using those numbers for analysis.

      Agreed that topping out at 85 is worrisome, but we’re now almost 6 months down the road and Maddux’ program is concentrating on building up Webb’s arm strength. Hopefully the velocity follows.

      We’ll know more in the coming weeks as Webb continues to throw. Remember, he’s only been consistently throwing off the mound for a few weeks now and will certainly need quite a few rehab starts during the beginning of the season. I’m sure there will be plenty of reports on his current velocity as we move forward. But given his history and the positive reports I’ve heard recently, I’m more than willing to make the cheap investment, stash him on my bench for a little while and see where it goes. I don’t lose anything in the grand scheme of things and the potential upside and return value could be huge.

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