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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Do the San Francisco Giants have their ace of the future?

Giants pitcher Logan Webb pitched like an all-star this season

By ALEX MOTAWI — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

SF Giants pitcher Logan Webb had a 2021 season worth remembering. As a 24-year-old coming into the 2021 season, most people would’ve pegged his season as a success if he so much as anchored himself in the San Francisco rotation, but he blew expectations away. 

Webb pitched to the tune of a 5.47 ERA during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and turned from a hopeful innings-eater into the late-season ace of the MLB-best, 107-win Giants. And then he still had the gas to shut down a top offense in the playoffs — twice. How’s that for a breakout season? 

The Giants as a whole crushed preseason predictions across the board and gave the world a magnificent five-game series against the Dodgers, which would’ve been impossible if Webb hadn’t pitched for over 14 innings of one-run ball across two dominant starts. 

The Giants as a franchise are awash with impressive postseason results from their ace pitchers, and Webb’s string of starts firmly entrenched him in the ranks of Giants postseason greats with pitchers like Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. However, the Giants did end the season with a first-round playoff exit and need to retool for next season, where Webb will be an integral part. Will the Giants be able to rely on Webb next season, and is he their ace of the future?

While prospect reports generally get thrown out the window once a player first sees quality time in the majors, it’s worth noting that when Webb lost prospect status in 2020, he was viewed as a four or five starter based on the predicted efficacy of his slider and changeup and had just developed a cutter. It was enough to get him to the majors, but the pitch package wasn’t cutting it against the top level of hitters, since his sky-high 5.47 ERA and peripherals weren’t much better. 

Going into his breakout season, he drastically changed his offerings to great results. The small change he made from 2020 was changing with the frequency of his off-speed offerings. He started throwing his knockout slider more compared to his changeup, especially to right-handed batters. His huge change was greatly cutting down on his four-seamers, effectively replacing it with his sinker as his main offering. These changes turned him from a below-average pitcher into an ace for at least the 2021 season.

Webb’s four-seam fastball was an average pitch at best, but his sinker was one of the best pitches in the MLB this season. It stood out because his sinker tunnels with his changeup and the fact that the pitch drops over eight inches above average, dumbfounding batters at the plate. In addition, having two plus off-speed offerings in both his slider and his changeup allows him to mix up batters and be effective against both lefties and righties, which is great for his MLB future. The other big change in 2021 Logan Webb is enhanced control. His BB/9 fell almost two batters (from 3.98 to 2.18), so if he can sustain the lower walk rate, he will be set up well for another great season.

The drastic change in Webb’s pitch mix and his increase in control feels like enough evidence to conclude that Webb as a pitcher has greatly improved, but I would be hesitant to grant him ace status for next season. While Giants fans are probably familiar with the concept of regression and the fact that it doesn’t always happen, being an elite pitcher in the MLB isn’t easy. 

While his peripherals suggest that he wasn’t especially lucky or anything this season, other MLB teams will have had a year to try and figure out the new Logan Webb. He will also be pressured to perform like an ace, especially if the Giants lose the other integral parts of their 2021 pitching core. It’s also important to note that Webb pitched a career-high in innings this season, so there is a possibility the increased wear-and-tear on his arm will build up, especially considering he only pitched 54 innings in the 2020 COVID-shortened season.

In the end, Logan Webb used this magnificent season to establish himself as a budding star on a team looking to win the World Series over the next few seasons and had a season and playoff performance that will be remembered for many seasons to come. Replicating a season like this would be a dream scenario and an achievement way too lofty to expect in 2022, but there is no reason to think the young upcomer can’t catapult into stardom over the next few seasons. 

All data used in the piece is courtesy of Fangraphs as well as Baseball Savant.

Written by: Alex Motawi — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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