Ambiguity And Brandon Webb

There’s absolutely no risk and a massive reward for the Rangers to sign former NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb to a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with a $3 million base salary.

But that doesn’t eliminate the questions surrounding Webb and whether he’s going to regain a semblance of the form that not only won him the Cy Young in 2006, but allowed him to finish second in the voting the subsequent two years.

As recently as late September, Webb’s velocity was in the Jamie Moyer-zone of 78-82—MLB FanHouse Story.

This is a problem.

What makes the wonderment of what the Rangers are getting more pronounced is the shift from the National League to the American League and pitching in a Rangers home ballpark that is notoriously hitter friendly. If Webb’s sinker was at its diving, darting, bowling ball best, then he’d thrive in Texas; but this point is moot because if that were the case, he would’ve been unlikely to leave Arizona; and if he did leave Arizona, he’d have been in greater demand than Cliff Lee.

None of this is important in the grand scheme of things. What would concern me more than anything regarding Webb is the ambiguity in his injury. The surgery wasn’t for a torn labrum or a rotator cuff; according to this ESPN Story, Webb’s surgery was “shoulder debridement surgery, which essentially cleans out loose debris and inflamed tissue”.

He’s missed two full years with this injury and the velocity hasn’t returned yet.

If a pitcher has a defined issue, it’s repaired and there’s a proven method of rehab, then you can pretty much know what you’re getting when he returns. With this? After missing two years and being unable to break a pane of glass with his fastball in his early workouts?

You can look at other pitchers who rehabbed from injuries and compare them to pitchers who’ve had similar issues. Tommy John surgery has become so common that it’s almost a guarantee that a pitcher will be as good or better than they were before.

Rotator cuff surgery is more dicey and, for the most part, the pitchers who’ve rehabilitated have altered their approach to account for the diminished stuff.

Frank Tanana was a power fastballer in the Sandy Koufax mold who blew people away until he hurt his shoulder; rejuvenating his career as a junkballer, he carved out a long career for himself. But he, like Moyer, was a lefty.

Alex Fernandez and Steve Busby were top-tier pitchers who tore their rotator cuffs and were never the same; both retired at 30.

Another aspect of Webb’s comeback is how the injury will affect the unique sinking action that has been the foundation for his success.

For all the dissection of pitching mechanics using various techniques prevalent today—computer generated, eyeballing, whatever—no one can adequately explain why a Webb or Kevin Brown have had the ability to throw the ball and create a seemingly natural movement where others have tried to copy them with different grips, twisting of the wrist and even scuffing the ball—and failed.

Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Al Leiter made a living off of a cut fastball; Bruce Sutter from a split-fingered fastball; Webb and Brown from their sinkers.

Pitching is such an individualistic endeavor that the thought of creating a baseline set of mechanics for everyone to follow can’t work any better than trying to make everyone into a scientist for NASA. Some have the aptitude; some don’t.

If mechanics and techniques are altered to prevent injury, who’s to say that the change isn’t going to ruin what it was that made the pitcher effective in the first place?

When he broke into baseball with the Texas Rangers, Ron Darling was a pitcher who had movement with a 3/4 arm angle. The Rangers made him change to an over-the-top motion to develop a curveball. The results weren’t good. When he was traded to the Mets, they immediately switched him back to his normal way of throwing. Had he stayed with the Rangers, there’s every chance he would never have made it to the big leagues.

Webb might come back. He might need to adjust his style to account for the diminished velocity. It may be that the mere thrill of competition will pop his fastball back up into the high-80s range—that’s enough to get by if a pitcher is skillful and has control; but there will be those questions surrounding Webb; they’re not helped by the absence of a defined problem that was solved by the surgery.

A clean-up?

Personally, I’d prefer to have someone say, “you tore your rotator cuff” and move on from there rather than wait two years and still not be able to pitch.

If I were the Rangers, I’d expect nothing from Webb and be happy if he contributes anything at all. It’s a shame because the way Webb was going, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame; now, he’s trying to rebuild his career and may not have the tools to do it.

History is not his friend.

  • Viewer Mail 12.28.2010:

Mike Fierman writes RE Bob Feller and Dave Eiland:

it’s hard to even make a comparison to what guys like Feller and Williams did back then. The zeitgest was so different I think we can’t even wrap our heads around what most people simply considered to be a duty. duty..a word that hasn’t completely disappeared, but has lost most of it’s relevance. What i DO wonder is what these guys would have done if there had been draft dispensations given to Major Leaguers. How many of them would have volunteered to go anyway?

Eiland is making a fool of himself, but since he is safely out of the media glare in Florida not many are paying attention. Not only would I keep very quiet after the stunt he pulled ( and NO i do not care what the reason was- either do your job or quit)- he really hasn’t got much to crow about as a Yankee pitching coach. see Joba and AJ. but also look at CC- he’s been excellent, but his K’s have gone down and his walks, up. I’ll grant that he’s been good with some of the bullpen guys like Robertson. I’m glad he’s gone

good post

It’s such a different world now. Today’s players, for the most part, were probably treated differently from the time they were children because they could hit the ball a mile or throw harder than everyone else; this led to the sense of entitlement and the notion that the rules of regular society don’t apply to them. It’s brought us to where we are now. I would think that there are a fair number of players who would willingly go to fight if they were called upon; others would try and use connections to weasel their way out of it.

With Eiland, there’s not much more to say. I would tend to think that he’s going to keep his mouth shut; we’re not the only ones saying it and I wouldn’t be stunned to hear that someone from the Yankees contacted him and told him to pipe down…or else.

—-

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Bob Feller and Jorge Posada:

Excellent piece on the heroes of Feller’s day compared to the so called ‘heroes’ of today. Pretty sure Mike Vick ain’t gonna go fight no Nazis.

You really think Posada would waive his no-trade clause to get dealt? I feel like he wouldn’ t know how to act in another uniform. And I’m serious!

Everyone involved with the nurturing of these star athletes like Mike Vick shares in what they become as they reach the pinnacle. If they don’t know anything else, how are they supposed to know better?

With Posada, I think it’ll come down to money and wanting a new contract that he’s not going to get from the Yankees; plus, the Yankees he knew—Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Paul O’Neill—aren’t the Yankees of today. He doesn’t seem particularly happy these days and they have treated him shabbily. For all his moodiness and reputation for being difficult, he has some legitimate gripes.

—-

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and having patience:

You’re right – Yankee fans don’t like to wait…and I don’t.

Unless you want Carl Pavano, you’re not going to have a choice. And I doubt you want Carl Pavano.

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  1. #1 by Jeff on December 28, 2010 - 4:07 pm

    Definitely rolling the dice on Webb… but like ya say, why not? They haven’t much to lose in this deal. Plus, now I can say my top shape velocity was at least in the range of Brandon Webb’s!

  2. #2 by mike fierman on December 28, 2010 - 4:39 pm

    I understand the rangers felt like they had to do something and I get it that Webb is someone with such a well of talent that you go ahead and take a chance on him. What I don’t get, especially for a team with a 50 mill+ payroll is how you can allocate a guaranteed 3 million to this guy. if that deal was such a no-brainer then how come richer teams like the Yankees give him a MLB contract?

  3. #3 by Matt on December 28, 2010 - 4:55 pm

    It suddenly occurs to me that Carl Pavano is a perfect fit for the Yankees right now. They desperately need that reliable, veteran strike-thrower in their rotation and the 2 year strong money contract Pavano will require fits nicely into their window of contention with their current group. How ironic.

  4. #4 by Jane Heller on December 28, 2010 - 5:03 pm

    You really think the Yankees have treated Posada shabbily? He got paid handsomely with his last contract. Now he’s an aging catcher with diminished skills. I love him but I don’t want to see him behind the plate for every game anymore.

    • #5 by mike fierman on December 28, 2010 - 9:57 pm

      good point jane, I missed that part as a breezed though this missive- 52 million and 4 years – i’d love to be treated that shabbily. Perhaps you mean Paul that Jorge was disrespected in the 09/10 playoffs by being benched when AJ pitched. Thing is, with all the wild pitches it was hard to argue having someone esle behind the plate for 6 innings in those games…

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