By Jason Shetler
On Wednesday, the Pirates obtained Allen Webster from the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of their continuous trend of taking on reclamation projects. Just recently, he was one of the better pitching prospects in baseball, ranking as high as the 44th best overall prospect by MLB.com prior to 2014. Webster’s time in the big leagues to this point has been a real struggle, posting a 6.13 ERA along with a 1.60 WHIP in 120.1 innings pitched. His walk rate and home run ratio of 4.9 and 1.5 respectively make for obviously a real bad recipe for disaster. Despite the struggles, here’s what makes Webster an interesting pitcher for the Pirates to turn around.
This past season with the Diamondbacks, Webster threw the two-seam fastball more than he did the four-seam fastball. The result was a decent groundball rate of 47%. He also got batters to make weak contact, as he posted a soft contact percentage of 22.3%, which was about 7% better than he had in 2013 and 2014 with the Boston Red Sox. In his debut season with the Red Sox a couple years ago, Webster’s average fastball velocity was impressive at 94.4 mph. The velocity this year was down to 91.5 mph. Since he wasn’t hurt, it might have just been a case of adding and subtracting velocity for deception. He also throws a slider, which can be a good pitch if he’s able to command it. Webster will be 26 entering the 2016 season, so it’s not as if he’s in his 30’s where the velocity would start to decline. If pitching coach Ray Searage is able to get Webster to make a mechanical adjustment to improve his control, then there’s a good chance the velocity may increase.
What makes Webster different from the other reclamation projects that the Pirates have taken on the last few years, is that he’s still a young pitcher who has yet to prove himself in the Majors where as A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez were veteran pitchers who had past success, but just hit a bump in the road. With Liriano and Gerrit Cole in front of the rotation, as well as having Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon on the horizon, the Pirates don’t need Webster to pitch like an ace type. If he’s able to perform decent enough while being an innings eater as a backend starter, the Pirates will more than take that for a pitcher making the league minimum until 2018.