Webb Entangled In Front of Lackluster D

Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon Webb generates ground balls. A lot of them. In fact, the University of Kentucky product lapped the competition in terms of burning worms in 2008, with a 3.15 GB/FB ratio (second place went to free agent Derek Lowe, at a distant 2.63 to one).

With so many of Webb’s offerings being pounded into the infield dirt, the D-Backs’ co-ace will often require the services of his infielders to convert those grounders into outs. Let’s take a look at Arizona’s projected starting infield for the 2009 season, with their 2008 and career UZR/150 ratings at their respective positions:

1B Conor Jackson: 4.4 UZR/150 in ’08, -1.6 UZR/150 career
2B Felipe Lopez: -7.9 UZR/150 in ’08, -4.4 UZR/150 career
SS Stephen Drew: -14.5 UZR/150 in ’08, -13.5 UZR/150 career
3B Mark Reynolds: -2.2 UZR/150 in ’08, -4.6 UZR/150 career

Yuck. Arizona’s projected infield rated as 20.2 runs below average per 150 games last season, and the career totals are even worse: -24.1 runs below per 150 contests. If these guys continue to flash leaden leather, Webb might not be on speaking terms with his infielders by May. Granted, the 29 year-old posted a .297 BABIP with Drew and Reynolds on the left side of the infield and Jackson occasionally at first in 2008, but it’s still disconcerting that such a groundball-centric pitcher will reside in front of four below-average defenders.

Over the past few weeks, I have discussed the importance of context when evaluating pitchers. Whether it be Texas’ similarly lagging fielding prowess or Seattle’s new incredibly rangy outfield, the quality of the defenders behind a pitcher can make a noticeable impact on his performance. When a batter puts the ball in play, the pitcher is fairly dependent upon his fielders to convert that ball into an out. When those defenders struggle to do so, that pitcher is going to surrender some hits and runs that he really shouldn’t have.

Luckily with Webb, the pitcher in question here also possesses excellent controllable skills that aren’t subject to the caprices of his defense. With a 2.82 K/BB ratio and few home runs surrendered, Webb posted a 3.28 FIP this past season. Webb is undoubtedly an excellent starter deserving of a high draft pick. But, it is worth noting that the fielders behind him aren’t especially adept and might cause his stat line to look a little worse than it should.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Sergey K
Sergey K

yeah, sounds about right