Brandon Webb was a superstar. From 2003 to 2009, Brandon Webb went 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA, a 7.3 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 198 starts, including 15 complete games and 8 shutouts, 1 relief appearance, and 1319.2 IP. His groundball rate was a ridiculous 64.2% of his batted balls. His ERA+ was a crazy 142, meaning his ERA was 42% better than league average. (His FIP+ was 124.) He won 1 Cy Young and finished second two more times. His similar players through age 29 included Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Jim Bunning, but Gibson’s ERA+ over that time span was 122 and Bunnings’ was 120. Webb was on pace for an easy Hall of Fame career. Instead, it all fell apart. On Opening Day 2009, Webb injured his shoulder and eventually required surgery. He would miss the rest of 2009. The D-Backs picked up his 8.5 million dollar option in 2010, but he missed the entire season. Webb signed a 1-year, 3 million dollar contract with the Rangers in 2011. Webb finally pitched again, at Double-A Frisco, and he posted just a 9.75 ERA in 4 starts (although according to Minor League Central, his groundball rate was 60.2%), and after that he re-injured his shoulder, prompting a second surgery. He was expected to be ready for the start of 2012. Brandon Webb still hasn’t signed.
Why are we talking about Webb? He’s a cautionary tale. He tells you how quickly things can end, even for the best pitchers in the game, and to especially appreciate all the pitching we have on the Rays. And secondly, Brandon Webb is a guy who the Rays could sign. You don’t come back after two shoulder surgeries. That’s not supposed to be the way it works. But as Webb showed through his groundball rate at Frisco, he still has enough movement on his sinker for it to force groundballs. The only additional thing he would need to do to his arsenal would be to lower the velocity of his once-unhittable changeup that complemented his sinker for so many years- but more dauntingly, he would have to stay healthy. Webb is the ultimate upside guy. He’s proven himself to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, and there’s some chance, even the slightest chance, that he could get back to that. On a minor league deal, he’s worth a shot. He’s 33 now, certainly older when we remember him to be, but young enough to give it one more go. Maybe no one gives him another shot. But if anyone will, it’s the Rays.