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Player Review: Logan Webb

An appreciation.

Logan Webb smiling. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Six pitches into the 2023 season, Logan Webb and the San Francisco Giants were in a hole. A sinker straying over the middle of the plate to Aaron Judge is always going to sting, but it certainly hurt worse considering only three months previous, Judge, the in-vogue free agent, leveraged the Giants’ interest to sweeten New York’s, a nine-year, $360 million contract that would keep the Linden-native in pinstripes for life.

San Francisco spurned in the offseason, burned Opening Day. A tasty headline that told only part of the story: Webb K’ed Judge in his next two at-bats on his way to a season high 12 strikeouts. A tight outside slider tunneling off his sinker and a diving change up—both coaxing a whiff from Judge’s gavel. Two weeks later, Webb would sign a contract extension that would keep him with the Giants through his age-32 season.

Webb would go on to pace the Major Leagues with 216 innings pitched while Judge’s 458 plate appearances (106 games) weren’t enough to qualify for a batting title. This is not to say the Giants dodged a bullet with Judge, or to compare them directly, just to illustrate one of the deeper joys of baseball: watching home grown talent develop, mature and thrive. Surely we would’ve found a way to appreciate Judge’s 175 OPS+ in 2023, but the relationship is pressured by its initial transaction, thus based in expectation: Here’s 360 million dollars now where’s our 360 million home runs?

Fruit from your garden, or fruit from a massive produce pile at Safeway? The latter is certainly cheaper and less time-consuming, but the experience will be fuller with the former. Harken back to those ancient saints: Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey, Belt, Crawford—Webb is primed to ripen on a similar eternal homegrown vine. In 2021 we saw him clinch the NL West in game 162 before allowing 1 run over 14.2 innings and two starts, including Game 5, in the division series against the Dodgers. In 2022 he finished 11th in Cy Young voting while establishing his durability, and 2023 only saw him improve in those areas while making the case for one of the most valuable starting pitchers in baseball.

Here Brady makes it plain:

“He had a star season, cementing his status as not just an ace but also a workhorse, and finished second in Cy Young voting. He grew into a spectacular leader. He publicly pshawed the idea of caring about individual awards instead of just winning. He signed an extension to stick with the Giants through the 2028 season. He took to social media to publicly defend the city of San Francisco amid a truly silly national narrative.”

If anyone has claim to groan after last year, it’s Webb. Start after start, inning after inning, he labored up the mound, dealt from it, rolled down, received little to nothing in return and labored back up again. His 3.21 run support average was the lowest among qualified starters, while the team managed only a sub-.500 record (15-18) in games he pitched in. He pitched into the 7th inning 20 times and didn’t get through the 6th only six times. He threw his first career shutout in Colorado to maintain a fragile 1-0 lead. His second complete game, his last start of the season, secured a slim 2-1 lead over San Diego.

A Sisyphean spectacle—a futility that feels even more oppressive after these two past seasons, under the weight of division rivals’ blatant successes. Yet, Webb has stepped up, spoken up as others have tired or struggled or been let go. San Francisco couldn’t woo Judge, lost Correa, yet Webb doubled down. He not only took on the mantle of ace but advocate for the team and its city (sans its basketball and football teams).

But I get it. It’s only the first week of January, the baseball rock pushed barely a seam up the mountain, not a game has been played, and already the upcoming season has exhausted its welcome. It feels like 2024 ended in December of 2023. It ain’t over til it’s over; we’ll get ‘em next year—maxims muted with a heavy palm to the snooze button and a mutter to the rooster: Wake me up when it’s 2035…

Spend too long in certain bleak corners of the internet and yeah, the whole thing is maddeningly pointless if the point of a baseball is your team’s win-loss record—which it isn’t.

(Pause for those pulling at their eye sockets in exasperation...)

In reality the point of baseball is Tim Lincecum’s hair. The point of baseball is Barry Bonds being walked with the bases loaded. The point of baseball is Darin Ruf scoring from first. The point of baseball is that we care who Kelby Tomlinson is, or Patrick Bailey’s squeeze bunt, or to argue over which double play is better: 6-4-3 or 4-6-3? The point of baseball is Jon Miller. The point of baseball is Logan Webb’s change-up—not that its 28 Run Value makes it arguably one of the best pitches in the MLB last season, but how beautiful it plays off his sinker and mirrors his slider.

No, despite being under a big blue SoCal thumb, I’m excited for 2024 because I’m excited to watch Logan Webb. There was so much he did well in 2023: keeping the ball on the ground, attacking the zone and not handing out free bases, managing innings and eliciting chase—and talk about the thrill of an ace operating with a 20.7% Whiff rate. Yet there are still plenty of areas of growth. His home run rate (0.83 HR/9) is solid compared to the league but spiked compared to his previous seasons (0.51 in ‘22). Late-inning long balls from Jorge Soler or Alec Burleson or Gunnar Henderson scuttled multiple solid outings, and the culprit could be as simple as overthrowing—a need to do too much with a pitch in a close game—that sacrifices location and movement. It seemed to take him a month to get a feel for all of his pitches: by his 7th start he had allowed 8 homer runs while his ERA sat at 4.10 at the end of April.

The wheat and chaff, meat and gristle—you gotta love it all because, well, Logan Webb is a Giant. He’s on our team. Some advice from Seneca, the well-known Roman southpaw: “What difference does it make how much there is laid away in a man’s safe or in his barns, how much head of stock he grazes or how much capital he puts out at interest if he is always after what is another’s and only counts what he has yet to get, never what he has already.”

Ohtani, Yamamoto, Judge, Semien, Freeman, Harper—oh god, the list goes on—but at the end of the day, they don’t post up in our barn.

Jumping two millennia and a derivative language, we’ll swipe from Camus. Despite the bleakness of this coming season, let us imagine Webb smiling—a sneer of defiance and competitive relish.

Absurd? Of course, but that’s the point of baseball.