How Soon We Forget: Brandon Webb

Throughout the course of baseball history, there have been nearly 20,000 men who have taken the field at the professional level. Many wash out after a cup of coffee, while a select few go on to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Needless to say, quite a few players are simply going to be lost to history. No players deserve to be forgotten, but when’s the last time you heard a rousing discussion about Hipolito Pichardo?

However, one would think that a player that won a Cy Young award and finished 2nd twice in a span of 3 seasons in the last decade would be brought up every now and then, right? Sadly, that’s not the case for one Brandon Tyler Webb. Mentions of the former D’Backs ace (in the media or elsewhere) are few and very far between these days, and it’s a damn shame.

Webb, a victim of shoulder bursitis and nagging rotator cuff problems, fell off the MLB map at arguably the top of his game. He took the hill a mere one time in 2009, got roughed up (by the opposing offense and physically), and never played a Major League Baseball game again. Within a year or two, the former ace was largely forgotten about outside of Arizona. Around the same time, a contemporary with a ton of promise, a brief period of dominance and a debilitating injury, was still getting a ton of press. His name? Mark Prior.

Now, why would a guy like Prior, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the bigs since 2006, still be fresh in the casual fan’s mind whereas Webb only manages to elicit an “Oh, I remember that guy! D’Backs right? Who’s he with now?”. A few reasons likely: First, Prior pitched in Chicago, a huge media market and as such was a fixture in sports news while Webb pitched for the relatively small-market Diamondbacks. Fans on the east coast probably had even fewer memories of Webb, given that the bulk of his games only came on at 10:05pm locally. Second, Prior was a more mighty hurler, racking up great strikeout numbers with an overpowering arsenal of a mid-90s fastball, curveball and slurve. Webb, on the other hand, relied upon his sinker which led to many groundball outs and unspectacular K totals.

Webb was always considered to be a quality pitcher, but when you take a closer look at his numbers, they paint a picture that would project a Hall of Fame-type career had he stayed healthy. For qualifying starters (1000+ IP from 1918-2012), Webb holds the #4 all-time spot for Adjusted ERA (ERA+). Looking at the table below, you can see he was in some pretty good company.

Rk Player ERA+ IP From To Age G GS ERA
1 Pedro Martinez 154 2827.1 1992 2009 20-37 476 409 2.93
2 Lefty Grove 148 3940.2 1925 1941 25-41 616 457 3.06
3 Roger Clemens 143 4916.2 1984 2007 21-44 709 707 3.12
4 Brandon Webb 142 1319.2 2003 2009 24-30 199 198 3.27
5 Johan Santana 136 2025.2 2000 2012 21-33 360 284 3.20
6 Randy Johnson 135 4135.1 1988 2009 24-45 618 603 3.29
7 Roy Halladay 134 2682.1 1998 2012 21-35 402 376 3.30
8 Harry Brecheen 133 1907.2 1940 1953 25-38 318 240 2.92
9 Whitey Ford 133 3170.1 1950 1967 21-38 498 438 2.75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/26/2012.

An elite club, n’est-ce pas? About half of these players overlapped with Webb, so let’s take a look at how he stacked up against his contemporaries from 2003-08 (discounting ’09 due to only 1 game played):

Rk Player WAR From To Age
1 Johan Santana 38.2 2003 2008 24-29
2 Brandon Webb 31.7 2003 2008 24-29
3 Roy Halladay 29.3 2003 2008 26-31
4 Carlos Zambrano 29.1 2003 2008 22-27
5 Roy Oswalt 27.7 2003 2008 25-30
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/26/2012.

He ranked 2nd in rWAR among pitchers (3rd in fWAR) in that time span, and you’ve all let him fade away from your memory. Tsk, tsk. In that same span, he also finished 2nd in Quality Starts, notching 132 “Webb Gems,” good for 22 a season.

Rk Player QS
1 Johan Santana 133
2 Brandon Webb 132
3 Roy Oswalt 130
4 Mark Buehrle 127
5 Jake Peavy 124
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/26/2012.

These numbers are all well and good, but what they have failed to illustrate is that those were Webb’s first six seasons as a pro. He burst on the scene in 2003, notching 6 WAR, and never looked back. Three years later, he was named to his first All-Star team and took home the Cy Young award. In 2007, he threw 42 straight scoreless innings, including 3 complete game shutouts. His first six years rank 9th-best in MLB history (seen below), surrounded by Hall of Famers and fringe candidates. Furthermore, his Wins Above Replacement per 200 innings ranks 4th all-time among pitchers with 25+ WAR in their first six seasons, just a shade beneath Tom Terrific (top 5 players are italicized).

Rk Player WAR From To Age G GS IP WAR/200 IP
1 Tom Seaver 39.6 1967 1972 22-27 215 210 1641.1 4.83
2 Robin Roberts 37.9 1948 1953 21-26 230 207 1669.1 4.54
3 Lefty Grove 35.8 1925 1930 25-30 272 179 1545.1 4.63
4 Bert Blyleven 35.5 1970 1975 19-24 216 213 1611.1 4.41
5 Bob Feller 34.7 1936 1941 17-22 205 175 1448.1 4.79
6 Roger Clemens 34.1 1984 1989 21-26 175 174 1284.2 5.31
7 Dizzy Dean 33.1 1930 1936 20-26 246 171 1540.0 4.3
8 Dave Stieb 31.8 1979 1984 21-26 186 184 1389.0 4.58
9 Brandon Webb 31.7 2003 2008 24-29 198 197 1315.2 4.82
10 Eddie Rommel 31.5 1920 1925 22-27 281 170 1589.2 3.96
11 Bret Saberhagen 30.4 1984 1989 20-25 204 178 1329.0 4.57
12 Teddy Higuera 30.1 1985 1990 27-32 181 179 1255.0 4.8
13 Juan Marichal 29.8 1960 1965 22-27 190 184 1414.2 4.21
14 Frank Tanana 29.7 1973 1978 19-24 175 170 1321.0 4.5
15 Tim Hudson 29.4 1999 2004 23-28 183 183 1240.2 4.74
16 Dwight Gooden 29.3 1984 1989 19-24 177 175 1291.0 4.54
17 Carl Hubbell 29.2 1928 1933 25-30 217 176 1474.1 3.96
18 Roy Oswalt 28.8 2001 2006 23-28 188 177 1201.1 4.8
19 Kevin Appier 28.5 1989 1994 21-26 159 147 1017.0 5.6
20 Dennis Eckersley 28.4 1975 1980 20-25 201 185 1346.0 4.22
21 Rick Reuschel 28.3 1972 1977 23-28 213 203 1352.2 4.19
22 Fergie Jenkins 28.2 1965 1970 22-27 229 171 1418.1 3.98
23 Don Drysdale 27.3 1956 1961 19-24 228 179 1315.1 4.15
24 Brad Radke 26.1 1995 2000 22-27 198 197 1311.2 3.98
25 Bill Lee 25.8 1934 1939 24-29 240 201 1570.2 3.29
26 Mike Mussina 25.7 1991 1996 22-27 161 161 1137.2 4.52
27 Wes Ferrell 25.4 1927 1932 19-24 167 131 1120.1 4.54
28 Barry Zito 25.0 2000 2005 22-27 188 188 1209.1 4.14
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/26/2012.

Once again, we find Webb rubbing statistical elbows with some of the greats. Tack on a few more years of this elite level of production and he would be a bona fide Cooperstown candidate. From looking at the data, you can certainly draw a parallel between Webb and Teddy Higuera, who was sort of the Brandon Webb of the late 80s, putting up six stellar seasons before fading away from the game and collective memory. Now, let’s not quite count Brandon Webb out. He’s only 33 and a comeback wouldn’t be out of the question, although it would be quite the tall order. If April 6, 2009 serves to be the last time Webb played a major league game, then so be it. He left one hell of a legacy, whether you were aware or not.

Postscript: In case you were wondering why I took the time to delve into the case of Brandon Webb, I did so after I brought him up in a conversation with a mix of casual and diehard fans and the bulk of them had completely forgotten this man. Also, after reading Hall of Nearly Great (which we here at HHS cannot recommend enough), I felt the need to celebrate his fantastic, albeit short career, one which I hope will never be lost to history.

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27 Comments on "How Soon We Forget: Brandon Webb"

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Luis Gomez
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One of the main reasons, I think, that Mark Prior is still fresh in our memory, is because of the many attempts he has made to comeback to the Major Leagues. In recent seasons, he was signed to a minor league contract with the Padres in at least on two different ocasions. As you most certainly know, injuries did not let him pitch again.

Insert Name Here
Guest

Actually, Prior was pitching in AAA with the Pawtucket Red Sox this season, attempting to make a comeback as a middle reliever or set-up man. He pitched well (3.96 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and an astounding 13.7 K/9 in 19 appearances) but was never recalled to the big leagues, as the Red Sox bullpen was about the one thing that didn’t need improvement when Prior signed with the organization.

As I understand, there was hope that he would be transferred back to starting to help out the BoSox, but that never materialized.

mosc
Guest

He only pitched 25 innings, was there another health issue? I really wish we had better injury reports on at least AAA and AA teams.

Tom
Guest

You made me curious mosc. No injuries, he just wasn’t good enough. He had an equally astounding 8.3 BB/9 to go with the K rate and was released on 8/17/2012.

If you google “red sox release mark prior” you’ll find a number of brief stories.

Phil
Guest

Wow. You hit the nail on the head, Dalton. Completely forgot about this guy and Higuera and SHOCKED that their advanced #s are that good.

nightfly
Guest

Great post. That last list has some of the all-time under-appreciated guys: it took forever for Bert Blyleven to get his Hall nod, and I see Dave Stieb, Kevin Appier, and Brad Radke (!) in the mix.

It makes me wonder if, in ten years, someone will get onto the neural filters (or whatever the next Internet is) to wonder why nobody remembers Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver, or Jon Lester.

John Autin
Editor

Kudos for remembering Webb, Teddy and Ape … and for the first HHS post to ask “n’est-ce pas?”

Hartvig
Guest
I think the final list is the most telling of the bunch. Yes, he was a couple years older than many on that list- Grove and Hubbell being two very notable exceptions- so I’m not certain he would have had time to craft a Hall of Fame career but with some luck he may have come pretty close. I think that a lot of people also tend to forget that Arizona is one of the best ballparks for hitters in the major leagues- which to my way of thinking would make it even more difficult for a young pitcher to… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Why did you set the era+ cutoff at 1918?
Walter Johnson, Joe Wood, Ed Walsh and Addie Joss were pretty good, too.

tag
Guest
Enjoyed the post. Always liked Brandon Webb and he’s certainly not forgotten in these quarters. One nitpick: we’ve got to stop using “legacy” in sports writing to mean that a player left statistics, great memories, storied YouTube highlights, etc. He might have left a legacy (money and property) to his family or a foundation, but not to fans or some gauzy concept like “baseball as a whole.” Even if we consider a legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past,” Webb could only leave a legacy if he taught dozens of pitchers… Read more »
RJ
Guest

He’s not forgotten by this Giants fan. Of all Webb’s NL West rivals, he pitched best against SF: 13 wins, 5 losses, a 3.22 ERA and 1.215 WHIP are all his best or tied-best (losses) marks against division foes. It’s not quite Kershaw-level dominance, but more than enough to not want to see his name in the opposing line-up.

bstar
Guest

This may have been the wrong crowd to wag your finger at for misremembering Webb’s career, Dalton, but it was fun to reminisce about what he did and wonder what he could have done all over again.

mosc
Guest

I didn’t forget about Brandon Webb. I even remember him in a rangers hat from when he tried to pitch again more recently. The real question for me is: How the hell did you pick Hipolito Pichardo?

Doug
Editor

Amazing that the last list contains nobody that makes you say “Who the heck was that guy?”. So, I’ll nominate somebody for that role. I give you Curt Davis.

Davis debuted at age 30 and had 23.3 WAR for his first 6 seasons. He and Dwight Gooden are the only pitchers since 1918 with 15+ WAR in their first two seasons.

Nick Pain
Guest

One of my favorite things about looking up players I’m unfamiliar with is the potential for great nicknames. Gotta love “Coonskin” Davis.

Doug
Editor
What the heck – I’ll nominate another “Who’s he?” guy (although, I expect this is somebody slightly more familiar). Tex Hughson has some parallels to Webb. In his first 6 seasons (age 25-31, one missed season), Hughson had 131 ERA+, 23.8 WAR (incl. 4 straight seasons over 5 WAR), 3-time all-star, twice won 20 games, and has assorted black ink including wins, strikeouts, WHIP, BB/9, SO/BB, etc. Like Webb, he played for only one franchise (Red Sox), and was pretty much done after that run. After those 6 seasons, Hughson was moved to the bullpen and saw his ERA+ plummet… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

Hughson is no “who’s he?” guy to me. On the last day of the 1949 season when the Yankees and Red Sox were tied for first he came in to relieve in the bottom of the 8th with the Yankees leading 2-0. He gave up 3 runs to them, runs which iced the game for them. The Sox scored 3 in the 9th making the final score 5-3.

Doug
Guest

Yes, Richard. I remember you remarking on Hughson on the piece I did on Mel Parnell after Mel’s passing.

Unfortunately for Hughson, that pasting by the Bombers would be his final major league appearance. It was his first game in 3 weeks, and only his 3rd inning of work in almost 5 weeks. True, Hughson had allowed no runs and only 3 hits in his last 5 outings, but still a very odd choice to bring in a guy you’ve hardly used in a situation when you absolutely must keep the game close.

GrandyMan
Guest

This Curt Davis guy was doing pretty darn well into his 40s. I wonder why he didn’t debut until 30? If his age-30 and -31 seasons were any indicator of his value as a pitcher, he may have been an HOFer had he debuted between 23 and 25!

Doug
Editor

Davis was a late starter, period. He didn’t play his first minor league game until age 24, then played 5 seasons with the San Francisco Seals in the PCL, where he was probably earning comparable money to what he would make in the majors. Played with, among others, Joe DiMaggio, Frankie Crosetti and Augie Galan, so it was a pretty good level of play.

Chuck L
Guest

As an east coast fan, I never got to see Webb pitch. Always assumed he was a middle of the rotation guy, but apparently not. Puzzling that he was above Halladay in WAR in that range

mosc
Guest

I remember watching him pitch in yankee stadium. I went digging, he only did it once:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200706120.shtml

His “sinker” Had a lot of running (moving in against righties) movement.

birtelcom
Editor
The top 5 NL pitchers in WAR (b-ref version) over the six-year period 2003 through 2008 were Webb, Zambrano, Oswalt, Peavy and Sheets. Collectively those five guys generated 131.8 WAR over those six seasons. Over the four subsequent seasons, 2009 through 2012, those same five guys collectively generated 24.2 WAR. Pitching is a precarious business in which guys often get old fast. One would generally expect a fall-off in performance for any fixed group of top guys over a six-year period when you then look at their performance in the following four-year period. But the dropoff for these top 5… Read more »
Jonas Gumby
Guest
I remember Webb, not only for being an AZ resident and D-Back fan, but also for having drafted him in about the 8th round in 2009 — a solid pick-up had he not irreparably destroyed his arm in game 1 of that season. It set me back literally days – DAYS – in my quest for fantasy glory. His legacy, TAG, was having taught ME not to draft a pitcher that the Diamondback organization purchased insurance upon (the previous off-season, amidst ongoing extension negotations, the Diamondbacks insisted his arm motion and throwing technique were not equipped for a long-term deal… Read more »
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