One of baseball’s biggest surprises thus far in 2021 has been the play of the San Francisco Giants. Not only are they in first place in the NL West, but their 0.618 winning percentage is also best in baseball to this point. While their offense has certainly over performed a huge part of their success has been starting pitching. Their starters have posted an ERA of 3.04, the third-best in baseball to this point. If you listened to any of our pods this offseason, I consistently talked up the Giants’ pitching development which I believe to be one of the more underrated in all of baseball. One of their biggest success stories to date has been Logan Webb.
Webb is one pitcher who has had a bit of a cheering section in the last few seasons but he was a popular late-round dart throw for many. He has always posted great numbers in the minors but before this season the success had yet to translate. Thus far he has posted a 3.86 ERA with an even better FIP and has seen a career-high in strikeouts. The interesting thing for Webb is that the extra strikeouts are actually coming along with an increase in sinkers, something that usually does not go hand-in-hand. However, with Webb like many others I discuss in this article, the story really lies in the location.
While it has not exactly shown up in his walk rates, the biggest change for Webb compared to the beginning of his career is a massive command improvement. Webb went from average to among one of the best in the league in rfCommand. I typically do not like to put too much weight into command itself but when you see what it has done for Webb, the importance cannot be overstated.
One of the biggest improvements for Webb has been an increase in his swinging strike rate, after posting swstr% of around 9% in both 2019 and 2020, he has seen that number rise to over 11%. This is a massive jump and typically when we see improvements like this we believe the stuff has gotten “nastier”. However, Webb is a perfect example of why the research I did for the Data Monster tells us the true story.
Take a look at his Whiff numbers from the Data Monster above. As you can see, his xWhiff has risen by almost 2% points while his In_Whiff has improved slightly. What this tells me is that while his “stuff” isn’t playing better (In_Whiff), he is locating his pitches much better for whiff generation, thus leading to the career-high swinging strike rate. He is a fantastic example of why it is important to understand the differences between the two. In terms of overall success as a pitcher, In_Whiff is much more telling, but you can also see pitchers improve massively by locating better. Webb’s best pitch thus far has easily been his slider which he has been locating insanely well.
As you can see from the above charts, he has dominated down and into left-handers with his slider, an area that is meant to generate a ton of whiffs. What you don’t see from this chart above is that Webb also has excelled at generating called strikes, his IZ is sixth-best in the league among all pitchers with 250 pitches thrown.
When you put it all together you see a pitcher who has taken a huge step forward in his ability to locate. This has allowed him to maximize his skills while also helping to elevate his weaknesses. Despite not having truly “elite stuff” Webb has managed to raise his floor and turn himself into a fantastic starting pitcher for both real-life and fantasy purposes.