The Orioles traded Jim Johnson on Monday night (read my analysis on that deal here). This left a void in their bullpen and made many fans, and columnists, question the team’s offseason strategies. Today, it has been reported, the Orioles signed 27 year old RHP Ryan Webb to a two year $4.5 million dollar deal. Webb has spent five years in the major leagues working out of the bullpens in both San Diego and more recently Miami. Webb was non-tendered Monday night by the Marlins making him a free agent after posting a 2.91 ERA last season out of the Marlins Bullpen. He was mainly used in late innings and has never recorded a save in his career. Webb is an interesting target for the Orioles bullpen after the Jim Johnson trade.
Webb and Jim Johnson recorded essentially the same peripheral pitching statistics during the 2012 season. Looking at the graph below you can see how similar the two pitchers are. They had similar Groundball, Line Drive, Fly ball, Homerun/Fly ball, Swinging Strike, Strikeout, and Walk rates in the 2012 season. Webb had a slightly lower LD% in 2012 and a much higher Infield Fly Ball Percentage (IFFB%) indicating that he was slightly better at producing weaker contact. However, Johnson had slightly better K% and BB%. They produced strikingly similar results last season.
What remains to be seen is if Webb can translate his pitching arsenal to a different league. He has spent his entire career in the NL. Moving to the AL East could prove difficult, as it has for many. If he can produce similar results as he has in his NL career for the Orioles next season, he will make an ideal setup man. Looking back at qualified relief pitchers in 2013, Webb was pretty stellar. He had a way above average GB%, a below average LD%, a below average FB%, and a way above average IFFB%. Those are all great batted ball numbers for any pitcher. However, Webb struggles to produce strikeouts and swinging strikes which are certainly his two biggest weaknesses. This could lead to problems being such a high contact relief pitcher–again much like Jim Johnson–if he happens to start being unlucky or doesn’t have his best stuff one night.
All that being said, expect Ryan Webb to essentially be Jim Johnson-lite, redux, 2.0, whatever you wish to call him. He’ll likely be an effective, not elite, late-inning relief pitcher. Reading into some of the tweets from Orioles beat writers, it appears he will not be the closer but be used as a setup man. Consider him in the Darren O’Day role of “high leverage swing man” or more simply put “when we need a big out not in the 9th inning guy.” Basically, the Orioles signed Jim Johnson for $8 million less, but he probably won’t close. This is a good deal for the Orioles and reveals how teams can find relief help cheaply. Hopefully for Webb and the Orioles, it all works out.