Dejan Kovacevic spoke today with Brandon Webb’s agent, Jonathan Mauer, about whether Webb would be interested in signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mauer, who also represents Pirates’ infield prospect Josh Harrison, mentioned that not only was Webb open to signing with the Pirates, but that the Pirates were one of the teams interested in Webb, which we first heard two weeks ago.
Webb has been limited to just four innings in the last two seasons after going down with a shoulder injury in his first start of the 2009 season. He underwent labrum surgery, and was expected to return in 2010, but suffered several set-backs and missed the entire season. We heard reports during instructs that Webb was throwing around 85 MPH, which Mauer mentioned was about 75-80 percent of his usual strength.
Tommy John surgery gets a lot of attention, but labrum surgery is the real career killer for pitchers. The recovery time is about a year, and even after the player recovers, he can struggle in his first year back. Here are a few examples of pitchers who underwent labrum surgery:
Ben Sheets: Sheets missed the 2009 season, and returned in 2010, putting up a 4.53 ERA in 119.1 innings. He also put up a 6.34 K/9 ratio, which was his lowest since his rookie season in 2001, a 3.24 BB/9 ratio, which was a career worst, and a 1.36 HR/9 ratio, also his lowest since his rookie year. His average fastball velocity went from 92.8 in 2008 to 91.5 in 2010.
Jeff Francis: Also missed the 2009 season, and returned in 2010 with a 5.00 ERA in 104.1 innings. His secondary numbers weren’t bad compared to his career numbers, and he managed to put up the best walk rate of his career. His fastball velocity was at 87.7 in 2008 and was basically the same in 2010 at 87.6. Francis was also unlucky, leading to his 5.00 ERA.
Chris Carpenter: Carpenter is a rare exception, missing the entire season in 2003, then bouncing back in 2004 with the best year of his career, and winning the Cy Young award in 2005. His move to the Cardinals, under Dave Duncan, might have played a role there, but he clearly had a great recovery from the injury.
Webb never really was a high velocity pitcher, averaging around 88-89 MPH with his fastball, so he doesn’t have far to go to reach his former velocity. The question is, will his other pitches be effective enough to bounce back to his former self? Webb could be Carpenter, bouncing back as a Cy Young caliber pitcher, or he could be Ben Sheets, with a rocky return to the mound. All of the set-backs in 2010 don’t leave a lot of hope that he will be another Chris Carpenter.
The appeal on both sides is understandable. The Pirates, with their open rotation spots, offer Webb a good shot at staying in the rotation all year, giving him the chance to establish value and re-enter the market next off-season. Webb provides the Pirates with a potential rotation upgrade, and if he does bounce back, a very nice trade chip at the deadline that could fetch a big return.
Webb is no guarantee though, although at this point there aren’t many guarantees on the market. The Pirates have also been linked to Justin Duchscherer, Jeff Francis, and Scott Olsen. None of those options provide any guarantees, and all three come with their own risks. The appeal with Webb is that he’s a former Cy Young winner, although there’s a strong chance that he performs nothing like a Cy Young winner, at least during the 2011 season. That’s especially the case when considering that he’s missed almost two full seasons. He will be ready to pitch at the start of Spring Training, but the question is, how effective can he be?
My personal preference would be Duchscherer or Francis over Webb. Duchscherer puts up great numbers when healthy, and Francis has a year under his belt since his surgery, and the only thing holding back his numbers in that year was some bad luck, likely due to poor defense. The Pirates adding Webb wouldn’t be a bad move at all, as it would be a good risk to take considering his potential upside if he does have a bounce back season. I just think that bounce back season is far from a guarantee.