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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.