I don’t think Logan Webb is the best starting pitcher in the National League in 2023 and I’m not sure who is. If you take the temperature of baseball writers, most don’t seem too sure, either. The only thing they seem to agree on is that Logan Webb of the San Francisco Giants should be excluded from the conversation.
And I just think that stinks.
Let’s look at what Webb has done this season, ignoring for the moment that his season will ultimately be judged by how he does in his final three starts, helping or hurting the Giants’ chances to appear (briefly) in Major League Baseball’s postseason.
193 IP (leads MLB)
1 shutout (tied with 6 others in NL)
1.08 WHIP (3rd in NL)
177 strikeouts (12th in NL)
3.40 ERA (5th in NL) / 3.28 FIP (4th)
1.4 BB/9 (leads NL)
8.3 K/9 (15th in NL)
6.1 K/BB (leads NL)
61.1% groundball rate (leads MLB)
4.1 fWAR (5th in NL)
4.6 bWAR (2nd in NL)
I feel like that’s a decent mix of “old” and “new” stats, which will be important for the rest of this piece, as the discourse surrounding this conversation has already gotten a little wacky. Before getting into what other people — who have more direct influence on voting or, at least, the conversation, than me — I’ll just point out the strengths of all these numbers in the larger conversation.
Being a top five starting pitcher in terms of wins generated (WAR) combined with pitching the most innings of any other pitcher seems like an incredibly valuable combination. Although he doesn’t strike out as many players as some other pitchers, he walks the fewest, and along with his number of hits allowed, he is very good at limiting baserunners. Combining that skill with an above average ability to miss bats is valuable. The ability to induce groundballs during the “launch angle” era and doing so better than anybody else while also still having the ability to miss bats is very valuable.
But, he has a 3.40 ERA and that’s that.
A brief run through the conversation really reminds you that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The leader in the clubhouse appears to be the Padres’ Blake Snell. When you look at his case, it’s not a controversial choice:
167 IP (well, ok, except for that)
217 strikeouts (2nd in NL)
2.43 ERA (leads MLB) / 3.53 FIP (7th in NL)
5.0 BB/9 (worst among qualified SP in NL)
11.7 K/9 (2nd in NL)
2.33 K/BB (18th in NL)
0.8 HR/9 (3rd in NL)
3.6 fWAR (6th in NL)
5.3 bWAR (1st in NL)
Blake Snell -170
Earlier this week, DraftKings had Webb 7th:
Logan Webb 7th at +10000
Yesterday, Mike Axisa wrote about the race for CBS Sports:
Snell and Steele have the lowest ERAs in the league by more than half a run, yet they’re a good 30 innings behind the league leaders. Strider leads the league in strikeouts by a ton, though he’s not even top 10 in innings (which in a way is a feather in his cap because his strikeout rate is insane). If we’re going to consider Gallen (second in innings, ninth in ERA), then Logan Webb (first in innings, sixth in ERA) needs to be in the conversation too. Gerrit Cole is the clear cut best pitcher in the league in the AL this year. That guy doesn’t exist in the NL this season.
The primary candidates from the article appeared to be: Snell, Steele, Strider, Gallen, and Zack Wheeler. Wheeler, it must be noted, leads all starting pitchers in Major League Baseball with 5.4 fWAR.
The Felix Hernandez win in 2010 was “revolutionary” because of his 13-12 record, but when it comes right down to it, he had a 2.27 ERA. Zack Wheeler’s is 3.70, Spencer Strider’s is 3.73, Zac Gallen’s is 3.50, and Logan Webb’s is 3.40. The only real competition — and when you survey the takes, this is the frequent comp — is Chicago’s Justin Steele, who has a 2.49 ERA along with a 16-3 record in just 159 IP.
Padres beat writer Kevin Acee made his pitch for Snell (on a losing team) over Steele (on a winning team) the other night:
Snell has yielded an MLB-low .187 batting average, 55 points lower than Steele. Snell has thrown eight more innings in three more starts and and after striking out eight Wednesday has 58 more strikeouts than Steele, who has a lower WHIP (1.13 to 1.22).
Snell on Wednesday made his 21st start against a playoff contender and lowered his ERA in those games to 2.26. In 17 starts against playoff contenders, Steele has a 2.82 ERA.
Snell has a 1.31 ERA in 20 starts since May 31 compared to Steeles’ 2.30 ERA in 16 starts in that span.
Webb doesn’t compare in this micro analysis. Mainly, he has a 3.79 ERA (3.30 FIP) since May 31 (19 starts, 121 IP). In 18 starts (and counting) versus playoff contenders, he has a 3.30 ERA (117.1 IP). He has a .247 batting average against (hardly surprising, given his groundball focus). He has a .662 OPS against compared to Snell’s .597.
Logan Webb isn’t better than Blake Snell in a lot of ways, but it’s not like Logan Webb isn’t a great pitcher. It’s not like he doesn’t warrant mention in a Cy Young discussion. I’ll let a more respected writer make the point:
Extremely cranky old man yelling at clouds take. Spencer Strider has 28 fewer innings than Logan Webb. That is 4-5 starts worth of innings for a normal pitcher, or 6 starts if you are Blake Snell.— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) September 6, 2023
I think I am going to lose the fight that you should average at least 6 IP / GS https://t.co/DwrVmRmoCA
Also, Snell allows an absolutely incredible number of walks, to the point that it’s almost irrelevant that he has a .187 batting average against. Justin Steele’s 55- and Logan Webb’s 60-point difference in that measurement more than balances out when you consider that Steele has walked just 33 and Webb only 29. Snell had 64 walks by July 25th.
But it’s very clear that what makes Logan Webb a great and valuable pitcher is not what the Baseball Writers’ Association of America value in an award recipient. Last year, despite a 4.8 bWAR and 4.2 fWAR and 2.90 ERA, Webb got two votes and was 11th in voting. He got one less vote than Kyle Wright, who went 21-5. The battle was won on the pitcher wins front, but the war was lost in terms of looking at these awards more broadly.
Webb’s positives are very obvious and so are his negatives. I think the home/road ERA split (2.81/4.13) hurts him and I think a K/9 of 9+ would probably help him out even more. To do that, he’d need to strikeout 34 in his final three starts (an estimate of number of starts left, and assuming 6 innings per start); but, I’m also trying to make an argument on the BBWAA’s terms and I don’t think I should have to — I think they should look at what Logan Webb does well and how effective his skill set has been and come to realization on their own that he should be a top 5 vote-getter easily. Except we all know that won’t happen. It all comes down to ERA and strikeouts, except when it doesn’t.