First Pitch: Allen Webster Could Be a Sleeper to Rebuild the Pirates’ Bullpen

The Pittsburgh Pirates have done an outstanding job finding great relief pitchers at low prices. This has come in all forms, whether it’s a Mark Melancon type, or an Arquimedes Caminero, or a non-prospect turned into a MLB reliever, such as Tony Watson or Jared Hughes.

A look at their primary bullpen last year shows a ton of value. Melancon was acquired for Joel Hanrahan in a classic buy low/sell high move. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes were struggling Double-A starters turned legit prospects once they moved to the bullpen. Arquimedes Caminero was acquired for cash. So was Vance Worley. Antonio Bastardo was added for Joely Rodriguez. Rob Scahill was added for Shane Carle. The last two are Grade C pitching prospects with some value, but definitely an area where the Pirates have a lot of depth in their minor league system. Then there’s Joe Blanton, who was added via waivers.

The biggest expense the Pirates paid for a reliever last year was at the deadline when they sent out JaCoby Jones for Joakim Soria. And that wasn’t a huge expense at all.

Going into the 2016 season, the Pirates will be in need of relievers. Bastardo is a free agent, you can expect Melancon to be traded, and that leaves Watson, Hughes, and Caminero as the main guys returning. They’ll need at least four more relievers, including a few guys who could step up as late inning options. Just like before, you can expect the Pirates to go the value route.

They may have made one of their biggest value moves of the off-season today when they added Allen Webster from the Diamondbacks for cash. Webster was recently one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He has averaged 94 MPH in the past with his fastball, and has touched 97-98. Perhaps the best argument for Webster being a good reclamation project comes from Eno Sarris at FanGraphs, which came a day before the Pirates added him:

If you’re interested in stuff and stuff and then stuff some more, you want Allen Webster. Even despite enduring a horrid year, he has three pitches that are above-average in whiff rates, and the changeup would rank in the top 20 (minimum 100 thrown) if he got more chances to throw it. The problem is that he has no command, and his velocity has fallen to the point that it’s average for a righty.

Bottom-of-the-league command and average velocity on a straight-ish four-seamer, even when paired with a sinker, change, and breaking ball that are above-average by movement and results — that package doesn’t make for a great pitcher. But Webster went into this season preparing to be a starter. What would his velocity look like in short stints from the get-go? If it were back up to 94, that might mitigate some of his command issues, and it would help to have empty bases and a directive to get three outs.

If you look at a lot of the successful reclamation projects in the past, you’ll find that they came to the Pirates with serious command issues and sometimes a lack of ground balls or balls thrown down in the zone. The Pirates have a good tendency of fixing those command problems and getting more ground balls, either by fixing mechanics to get a fastball working down in the zone, or by focusing more on a two-seam fastball to generate grounders.

Webster has some of the best stuff of the guys the Pirates have added so far. It’s not a big group, and they haven’t really added anyone at a bigger expense than Webster. But this is a guy who isn’t far removed from being one of the best prospects in the game, and he hardly has enough time in the majors to totally write him off. Most of his time in the majors has been as a starting pitcher, and as we have seen many times, some of the best relievers come from failed starters. If Tony Watson can go from a failed starter in Double-A to one of the best relievers in baseball, then it’s absolutely possible that Webster could go from a failed starter in the majors to exactly the quality of reliever the Pirates need next year.

I say “failed starter”, but that might be unfair for a guy who only has 23 starts in two hitter friendly environments over three seasons. Webster could still make it as a starter. But the reality is that the Pirates don’t need him as a starter right now (assuming they will add a sure bet for their rotation spot, which isn’t a big assumption), which means Webster has the easier task of turning things around in a reliever role. And if he can turn it around as a reliever, then perhaps the Pirates could move him back to the rotation in the future.

They’ve got Webster under control for six full seasons, and if he works out, this will be a great long-term move. If he can’t turn it around, they’ve lost nothing. This is exactly the type of move the Pirates need to make to build their next top bullpen, and find their next big reliever. Webster seems like a great bet to work out, based on his previous prospect status and the track record of the Pirates. I don’t see the Pirates stopping at just him, and with more moves like this, they’re bound for at least one of them working out and adding a huge value reliever to replace Melancon and the rest of the 2015 group.

**Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Hope you have a great holiday! We have some articles prepped for tomorrow, including the reveal of the cover for the 2016 Prospect Guide, which will go on pre-sale on Friday. Sean McCool worked on the cover, and did an outstanding job. I can’t wait for you to see it, and especially can’t wait to finish the book, which will probably be done shortly after the Rule 5 draft is complete. But tomorrow I’m taking off, as I’m in charge of cooking the turkey around here. It’s currently sitting in a brine made up of Apple cider, Wild Turkey 101, and herbs and spices. After 12 hours in that brine, I’ll stuff it with a yellow onion and a honeycrisp apple, both cut into quarters, along with a few sticks of celery and fresh rosemary, all to add flavor. Then I’ll rub it down with a combination of butter and spices, and throw it in the smoker, using a combination of apple wood and hickory chips every 45 minutes. And then after dinner I’m going to go for a bike ride for the rest of my life to work off all the turkey.

**Pedro Alvarez Believes the Time is Right For a Trade. I think the Pirates would be in agreement with him. The only problem? I don’t really see another team dealing for him, and if they did, I don’t see the Pirates getting much back.

**Pirates Acquire RHP Allen Webster From Diamondbacks. The biggest move of the day, and what could be a key addition to the bullpen this year.

**Pirates Sign 1B/OF Jake Goebbert, Added to 40-Man Roster. I see this as a replacement for Andrew Lambo, adding more depth to the organization at the corner spots, and a backup option at first base. Goebbert didn’t really show any platoon splits in 2015, although he struggled against lefties in 2014. He seems like a good second option for the left side of the first base platoon, but I doubt the Pirates stop at just adding him for their off-season plan at first base.

**Winter Leagues: Strong Outing For Heredia, Ortiz Provides Offense in Win. John Dreker breaks down the winter league action for the day, already looking at one of the newly signed minor league free agents.

**No Pirates Mentioned Among Top Names For Upcoming Rule 5 Draft. From Tuesday, the Pirates didn’t have any names among the guys mentioned as risks to be taken, which is good news for those who would like to see Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes remaining in the organization.

**Austin Meadows Named Second Best Prospect in AFL. Meadows got a lot of attention this off-season due to his time in the AFL, despite poor numbers in the process.

  • The more I read about Webster the more I think he could be a guy who they might think can be turned into a starter. Teams tend not to give up on guys with 3 plus pitches as starters. I think even if he starts the season in long relief, if he shows improved command he could end up as a starter somewhere down the road, even if it is 2017…or he could be a big buncha nothing all the way around.

  • Tim, I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving. You deserve at lease one day off, but i really can’t wait for my PP book. Between your site and MLB on TV, My wife doesn’t see me.

  • Great move on webster. All reward, no risk

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    November 26, 2015 11:16 am

    I agree – this kind of move makes sense, as he is young, has good pedigree, and could return a decent reward for the small price that was paid. From now to the end of time, this kind of signing and “top prospect gone bad” kind of pitcher will be compared to and measured by Arrieta. That is very unlikely, but he could become a very good power arm reliever.

  • When you have Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton in your rotation you have plenty of room for another starter. As far as I’m concerned We are missing #2 and #4 starters in this got your #1 in Cole and your #3 in Liriano and Locke OR Morton as your #5. But having both in the rotation is a problem

    • Liriano is a damn good #2.

    • If Liriano is your #3, you have one of the best rotations in baseball with whoever your #2 is. Only about 20-25 pitchers as good or better than Liriano last year, and one of them was Cole.

    • I know it is Thanksgiving – and I swore off posting for the day when I got up…

      But PLEASE do some research and look at the facts…

      Fangraphs had Locke @83 among al MLB starters with more than 100 innings – Morton @ 106…
      Do the math…
      That makes Locke a bottom of the # 3 starters and Morton a mid range # 4

      I had a boss once who told me everyone is entitled to their own opinion – but not their own facts.

      You may not like it – but there are many starters getting regular work in the majors who are a lot worse than Locke and Morton.

      And many of those are making a lot more money

      • There are 133 MLB starting pitchers who threw 100 innings in 2015:

        Pitcher: ERA- Rank / Runs Allowed WAR rank
        Locke: 113 / 125
        Morton: 121 / 126

        There are 152 starting pitchers who have throw at least 300 innings from 2012-15;

        Pitcher: ERA- Rank / Runs Allowed WAR rank / FIP WAR rank
        Locke: 127 / 128 / 127
        Morton: 115 / 140 / 113

        The idea that a rotation with both Locke and Morton could have issues is well founded. I think both will likely be better than 2016, but given their track records pitching in the NL, in a park that slightly favors pitchers, and that neither have handled high innings load improvements would be welcomed.

  • Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!!!!!!

    Save me ANY pie that starts with a “P”.

  • Guys with 3 pitch mixes usually don’t get sent to the bullpen (Jeff Montgomery and Trevor Hoffman were notable exceptions). I think he could do well there, but if you get his command fixed to the point where he looks like a bullpen asset, why not have him spend a month or so in Indy as a depth starter? You usually don’t need a 7 man pen in April with all the off days.

    • He’s out of options, so you would run the risk of fixing him for someone else’s benefit.

      • Also seems like he will need that extra time to get totally worked out as a SP. He needs to fix the control issues and likely scrap a pitch (either just throw the 2 seamer and no 4 seamer or stop pretending to throw the curve) and have time.

        Without options, it seems like he could work out some kinks a bit quicker in the bullpen. Gets a bit of a velo spike from the bullpen (hopefully) and work mainly FB-CH-SL.

  • Happy Thanksgiving fellow Pirates fans. I’m thankful for this site and the many passionate fans who add to the excellent articles with their insightful comments.

  • Happy Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t it be great for Webster to be Arrieta 2.0?

  • Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Very thankful for this website. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • The Pirates seem to like mining that gold mine in Arizona – is that not where we got Keon Broxton in another cash deal? He had some very solid numbers as a SP in 2013 and 2014 in AAA while in the Red Sox org and the numbers did not reveal control issues at those stops. Then when he went to the Red Sox he struggled with Command. Could it be as little as being over-pumped getting to the majors.

    Happy Thanksgiving and thanks to you, John and the others for an excellent read every day on P2.

  • Everyone have a great Thanksgiving.

  • Tim … Nice article and I agree this is the type of player we have come to expect to step in and succeed. He could be a find!
    On another note maybe we should stop calling the Melancon trade a steal. Melancon has a 6.3 WAR for us with one year of control left – which is great. But Brock Holt has a 4.1 WAR with 3 years of control left. While we may have needed a closer more than another 2B, this was a victory by the Red Sox in the long run, not the Pirates

    • The overall value tilts a bit further to the Pirates when you consider Hanrahan’s salary and lack of production. Then there’s the potential return for Melancon, which could add more value going forward.

      • Why is it we have yet to see Melancons name linked anywhere?

        • How many ‘real’ Pirate rumors do you ever hear? (And how many of those rare rumors ever prove true? Very few).

          Most of NH’s moves seem to come from out of nowhere. He’s very stealthy that way.

          • I don’t think anybody offering a lot for rentals, Lee.

          • Just to go back to the Hanrahan deal as an example (looking at the MLBTR archives):

            December 19: First rumor saying the Red Sox are interested in Hanrahan (from Heyman)
            December 20: Red Sox closing in on deal, Sands mentioned to be in the trade
            December 21: Red Sox would be willing to give up Franklin Morales or Alfredo Aceves
            December 26: Trade executed

            You heard about their interest one day before the deal was pretty much done. And then there was almost a week to execute it, although as I recall, that was delayed due to the holidays as much as the negotiations.

            Almost all of the other moves just come out of nowhere with no warming. And that’s always fun when you’re a Pirates writer, because it’s like you’re always on call.

        • MLBTR said Houston is considering Melancon, while going after Miller as their top guy.

          • How about we start the ball rolling by eating $3 mil of Pedro’s salary in 2016, toss in Jeff Locke, and Keon Broxton to the CWS for Jose Quintana? If that is not enough, they need help at 3B, a LH DH, RF, C, and 2B.

            • Would never work….3 guys we don’t want for a good lefty starter. Also, the Sox don’t need a DH, they have Abreu and LaRoche.

              • That deal wont work, but “they dont need a DH” isnt really fair since LaRoche sucks. They could certainly use a DH or 1Bmen and find whatever way they need to get rid of LaRoche.

            • 26 year old SP under control for 5 more years at reasonable prices coming off back to back 5 WAR seasons. Not only is that deal gonna make CHW FO people laugh endlessly, they just arent moving Quintana period.

              He is insanely valuable considering his age, contract, and ability to throw out 3+ WAR with ease. Bell would likely be needed to get that deal done.

        • The Pirates are usually quiet about their moves. You rarely hear about the moves they actually make until they are made.

      • No it doesn’t. Holt has produced well over 4 war last 2 years at a cost of 1 million vs the 8 million we paid melancon the last 2 years. The difference is 7 million which is basically what Boston paid hanrahan.

        Steamer projects more production from holt than melancon next year and he isn’t arb eligible until 2017.

        We can talk about different values for relievers but a guy making nothing with 4 years of control left coming off back to back years of 2 plus WAR has more surplus value than melancon who will cost 10m next year.

    • I’ve never trusted WAR as a measure of a reliever.