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Logan Webb’s Cy Young odds

He’s not a longshot and that’s a bit of a surprise.

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Angels
So much pressure: be perfect or your team loses, be perfect or else because your team loses it impacts the odds of you receiving individual accolades.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When the San Francisco Giants signed Logan Webb to a 5-year, $90 million extension back in April, my cynical brain ignored that Webb was good and focused on the timing.

The Giants were 5-7 and had just lost two out of three to the Dodgers in Oracle Park. This was after an offseason of pain and intrigue that compelled Larry Baer to insist that fans just wait and see how a stew of players would wind up being a five-star meal. When that didn’t materialize right away — the Dodgers loss followed a series loss to the Royals, after all — I saw the extension as a sign of panic.

There’s nothing in the current front office’s decision-making that would otherwise explain a 5-year extension to a pitcher, the players who carry the largest risk profiles when it comes to long-term deals. I spent a lot of time during my layoff figuring out everything I got wrong and why. That doesn’t mean I stopped being wrong, of course, but it compelled me to focus on what the new front office said before and after their transactions.

Webb’s deal ends after his age-31 season which is when all free agent contracts get exponentially riskier, so that might’ve mitigated some of the risk; but, with two years of arbitration left it felt odd that such an extension would’ve been a priority for the front office. It felt like a move made by the marketing department.

A homegrown talent who was already a postseason hero and had some Cy Young votes under his belt? A guy who echoes Matt Cain and, by extension, the glory days? It’s a slam-dunk marketing move! The bigger risk might’ve been stringing him along through arbitration rather than anoint him the ace.

Really, truly, I was wrong. And not just a little wrong. The team confirmed they’d been in talks about an extension all the way back in Spring Training:

Asked if there had been talks, Webb referred reporters to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, and Zaidi later confirmed that there have been some discussions about doing something long-term.

Timing-wise, the Giants probably thought that announcing the extension during their season-opening home stand would be a real boon to ticket sales and fan excitement. They probably expected to be better than 2-4 and that Webb would’ve had at least a win.

Recall that he was 0-3 through 3 starts with a 4.76 ERA (4.27 FIP) at the time of the announcement, and had allowed 4 home runs in just 17 IP. Since the extension, though, he’s 12-9 in 21 starts with a 3.21 ERA (3.16 FIP). Taken together, FanGraphs tags him with 3.3 wins above replacement, Baseball Reference a 3.4 bWAR, and Baseball Prospectus says he’s the best starter in the NL right now with a 3.9 WARP.

He’s really, truly great, something I never questioned, but my cynicism about his extension could certainly cloud an observer’s view of my opinion. There’s a decent chance he’s on his way to his best season, too; one that might even be good enough to push him into the Winner’s Circle for NL Cy Young.

A few days ago, Leo Morgenstern wrote for FanGraphs, “The Cy Young Races Are Up In the Air,” paying particular attention to this facet of the NL side:

it’s possible we see an NL Cy Young with an ERA in the threes for the first time since Brandon Webb in 2006.

His math put seven dudes in the race:

Zack Wheeler, 4.3 fWAR
Zac Gallen, 4.0
Spencer Strider, 3.7
Justin Steele, 3.1
Logan Webb, 3.0
Blake Snell, 2.5
Corbin Burnes, 2.3

Now, there have been some changes to this leaderboard since Webb has had another start— Webb’s 2023 line of 9-9, 154.1 IP, 8.8 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9, 3.38 ERA/3.28 FIP and 60.9% groundball rate are now worth 3.3 fWAR. It’s #9 in MLB and #4 in NL.

Look, I just thought Zac Gallen winning it was a foregone conclusion, but the premise of Morgenstern’s post is that he’s never been a unanimous choice for all three NL Cy Young polls and he has a 3.37 ERA. That’s sweaty reasoning, but this is an August baseball article, and writers are as susceptible to the dog days as the rest of us.

Still, I’m intrigued by that notion of ERA still being a factor in the voting process. He immediately discounts NL leader Zack Wheeler’s 4.3 fWAR because of his 3.74 ERA

In the last ten years, no NL pitcher with an ERA that high has gotten so much as a single vote.

Let’s look at that list of seven again, only with ERA:

Zack Wheeler, 3.74
Zac Gallen, 3.37
Spencer Strider, 3.94
Justin Steele, 2.68
Logan Webb, 3.38
Blake Snell, 2.61
Corbin Burnes, 3.42

Do we really think it’s going to come down to Blake Snell, Justin Steele, and Zac Gallen? Probably not, and that’s where Logan Webb’s candidacy gets really interesting. For reasons, Morgenstern omits five other guys around Steele, Snell, and Burnes (Miles Mikolas, Jesus Luzardo, Marcus Stroman, Jordan Montgomery, and Sandy Alcantara), but they’re all guys he’s pitching better than at this point in the season.

Webb has 30 innings on Snell (who also carries a 5.2 BB/9) and 33 on Steele as I type this (though, Steele’s W-L is 13-3) and Corbin Burnes is a weird inclusion (“he was an All-Star this summer, and he’s a former Cy Young winner; name recognition alone could earn him some support”) when last year’s NL Cy Young, Sandy Alcantara has a slight fWAR edge (2.4 to 2.3).

I think the bigger point is that WAR is not the sole decider in this voting process. He shows how ERA has a lot to do with it and shows that the average league rank for an NL Cy Young winner since 2018 has been 1st. Literally, the dude with the best ERA has been the winner.

That means Blake Snell has it if the award were handed out today. Justin Steele would be second and Logan Webb might get some down ballot votes as the 7th-best ERA. The top 10 really puts the whole “Cy Young is decided by ERA” in perspective, I think:

  1. Blake Snell, 2.61
  2. Justin Steele, 2.68
  3. Merrill Kelly, 3.05
  4. Kodai Senga, 3.24
  5. Alex Cobb, 3.30
  6. Zac Gallen, 3.37
  7. Logan Webb, 3.38
  8. Jordan Montgomery, 3.42
  9. Corbin Burnes, 3.42
  10. Bryce Elder, 3.42

Snell, Gallen, Webb, and Senga are the only ones from this list to also appear in the top 10 of NL strikeout leaders, which combined with innings and ERA probably make more compelling cases for the “I don’t believe in WAR” crowd than just ERA.

I’m not sure that Wheeler and Strider are automatically disqualified because of their ERAs. The strikeouts and W-L records could keep them top of mind for a lot of voters. Keeping all that in mind, then, I think — ironically — the right list is still, basically, the best by fWAR:

Zack Wheeler
Zac Gallen
Spencer Strider
Logan Webb
Justin Steele
Blake Snell

Let’s see how Webb can win it. To start with, he’s going to need to lower his ERA. Had it not been for his career-worst start against the Nationals on July 22nd, he might well be on his way. Much like the bullpen, Webb’s season really took off once the calendar turned to May. He had a 4.10 ERA and 3.88 FIP through six March/April starts, and since then he’s at 3.15 and 3.09 in 117 IP (18 starts). That’s Cy Young-quality and that’s despite his splits.

I’ve talked about his home/road splits this season before:

Home - 11 starts | 76.2 IP | 2.23 ERA | 76-12 K-BB | 7 HRA
Roads - 13 starts | 77.2 IP | 4.52 ERA | 75-13 K-BB | 10 HRA

Even if you knock out the three March/April road starts (4 earned runs apiece allowed in New York, Chicago, and Miami), he still has a 4 ER game in Colorado 5 ER in Toronto, and 6 ER in Washington; though, in his seven other road starts to this point, just 2, 1, 1, 3, 2, 2, 1.

I declare that Logan Webb can do it. He’ll just have to avoid any more blowups. Will that be easy? Not at all. The Giants are in the most difficult part of their season, and while the team never plays it straight when it comes to their pitching probables, here’s a possible look at what’s left for Webb the rest of the way:

Five home games: Rangers, Reds, Rockies, Guardians, Dodgers

Five road games: Braves, Phillies, Padres, Diamondbacks, Dodgers

Just figure that they’re all tough, and those road games look like they’ll be tough on his ERA if not on the team’s playoff odds. Still, the other candidates have gone through rough patches and have been scathed by them! Morgenstern cites

he went through a rough patch from June 27 to August 1, posting a 4.67 ERA and 4.55 FIP in seven starts. His ERA rose from 2.84 to 3.41, and his FIP from 2.58 to 3.19. He certainly didn’t destroy his Cy Young case, but he gave other contenders a chance to catch up.

Webb’s one of those guys! He’ll have more innings than Snell and Steele when it’s all said and done. Strider’s last five starts? 5.86 ERA in 27.2 IP. Wheeler is on the same general pace as Webb (9-2 with a 3.16 ERA / 3.28 FIP in his last 11 starts or 68.1 IP), but he’s coming from a much larger setback (he hit his season-high ERA of 4.33 on June 2nd); meanwhile, the Diamondbacks’ schedule — while not as difficult as the Giants’ — will be tough the rest of the way, where 14 of their final 21 will be road games in the midwest and East Coast.

Morgenstern’s rest of the season projection has Webb coming in 6th in ERA by season’s end, with Corbin Burnes ahead of him, which probably explains his inclusion from the start; but, if Logan Webb can simply hold the line at where he’s at — 3.38 — he’d beat his projection and the other’s projections (Gallen, especially, projects to end up with a 3.42 ERA). It’s within the realm of possibility.

But also, does this matter? Probably not. Individual awards are not nearly as important as team success during a playoff chase. At the same time, I’m compelled to remind the fandom that even though the Giants’ lineup is trash and will not improve the rest of the season, they still have one of the best starting pitchers in the game, and he’ll be good for a long time.