Ryan Webb was one last week’s more surprising non-tenders. Miami decided Webb wasn’t worth his projected $1.5 million salary, according to Matt Swartz’s arbitration projections. In the past two seasons, Webb was worth 1.2 wins for the Marlins while working in 131 games. But don’t feel bad for Webb. He didn’t stay unemployed long: Baltimore added the reliever on a two-year deal for $4.5 million.
The team reportedly liked how Webb’s ground-ball skills compared to the freshly-traded Jim Johnson, and acknowledged Webb’s career splits while also noting he made improvements in that department this past season. Pitchers can change the type of pitcher they are, such as Edward Mujica’s transition from an extreme fly-ball pitcher to a heavy ground-ball pitcher. But how does a pitcher improve his ability to get out opposite-handed batters without adding a pitch?
Webb’s approach against lefties has been predicated primarily on a fastball-slider approach while attacking the outer half of the strike zone.
Left-handed batters who faced Webb between 2009 and 2012 had a .345 wOBA, with a 15% strikeout rate and a 10% walk rate in 375 plate appearances. When Webb faced right-handed batters, opponents had a .283 wOBA, a 17% strikeout rate and a 6% walk rate in 479 plate appearances.
This year, though, Webb changed his fortunes by changing his approach to lefties. Rather than focusing on the strike zone’s outer half, Webb made a deliberate effort to work inside to left-handers.
“Pitchers like to pitch on the outer half of the plate — away — because it’s hard to hit a pitch on the outer half of the plate out of the park. Stay on the outer half and, unless the guy has unusual opposite-field power, he’s likely to stay in the park. But continually pitch on the outer half — away, away, away — and hitters start to “dive.” They stride toward the outer half of the plate and now, as far as the hitter is concerned, that pitch on the outside corner is right down the middle.”
The overall percentage of pitches Webb threw inside to lefties was just below 20%, while 33% of his sliders where thrown inside. Last season, Webb upped his overall percentage of pitches inside to 30% and nearly half of his sliders were thrown inside. Webb used a changeup in the past against lefties — but he achieved better results changing the pitch’s location, rather than the pitch he was throwing to left-handed batters.
Webb’s splits were noticeably lower in 2013 with the new approach as his wOBA against lefties dropped to .302; righties remained low at .278. These gains were achieved despite the fact Webb’s velocity has declined in recent seasons, although it did get stronger later in the season.
Webb’s addition in Baltimore is a nice fit for a bullpen that is full of relievers with strong to severe splits. While there are rumors of Baltimore moving Bud Norris to the bullpen to replace Johnson, Webb gives the Orioles another option to consider.