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Arizona Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50: #4, Brandon Webb

This Beer’s For You, Webby.

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 4.41 (2/10/4)
  • Seasons: 2003-2009
  • Stats: 199 games (198 GS), 1319.2 IP, 3.27 ERA, 142 ERA+, 33.3 bWAR, 29.7 fWAR
  • Best Season (1): 2006 - 34 games, 235.0 IP, 3.01 ERA, 152 ERA+, 7.0 bWAR, Won Cy Young Award
  • Best Season (2): 2007 - 34 games, 236.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 158 ERA+, 6.4 bWAR, Second-place Cy Young Award

Okay, so I cheated. I picked two seasons for Brandon Webb. But how do I pick between those two seasons when they are so freaking similar to each other? Webby gave up 91 runs in both seasons, with 79 earned runs in 2006 and 81 in 2007. Like, look how close those innings and ERAs are? I’m not going to favor 2006 because of the Cy Young award because he led the MLB in ERA+ for both seasons (and should have beaten Peavy for the Cy Young in 2007, too).

So Brandon Webb is my all-time favorite player. Of any team in any sport in any time. And, I’m going to honor his way-too-short career in my favorite way possible: with a beer whiskey boozecap. There is nothing I would like to do more than have a drink (or three) in Webby’s honor.

So let’s get this started. I just took a shot of Corazón tequila (I was out of Corralejo) and gave myself a generous two-finger pour of Woodford Reserve whiskey (neat) that I have started drinking as of.... now. In ten minutes, I will begin writing. I opened up a bunch of Webby stats/facts and articles last night but I have no organized plan. I’ve thought about this post for about a month now (since the moment I signed up) but that’s it. This article will be written entirely stream-of-consciousness (or maybe stream-of-drunkeness) so expect 50 paragraphs and a lot of emotions. And possibly zero sense. I make no promises for what happens going forward. Damnit, I’m already sad.

Life sucks.

I feel like this is all karma for having the opportunity to win a World Series in our franchise’s fourth year of existence. To give us a player like Brandon Webb, that has still not been matched by any player before or after his arrival in the majors. A player so unique - and so downright good - and then to take him away from us.

We got six years and one game of Webby. And he never threw another pitch in the Majors again. A potential hall-of-fame candidate, already one of the best Diamondbacks of all time (his current “number 4” ranking is not good enough for Webb), the first homegrown star in Arizona. All gone because of a crummy shoulder.

Webb was taken from us right in the prime of his career. And I hope to show to you in however many paragraphs this takes exactly why he was so special.

So I already finished my Woodford Reserve. I should not have done this on an empty stomach. Oh well. Now, I am pouring a Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA (9%). Only good things happen from tequila-whiskey-beer, right?

This is my Brandon Webb shirt. My best friend and I each got them (at the same time) in 2006, after waiting two long, agonizing years for the team shop to sell them. We thought 2005 would be the year, but instead, we were instead given Troy Glaus (ugh) and Jason Marquis (?!?) shirts. Yeah, Jason Marquis and his career 8.9 fWAR was given a shirt, after a mid-season trade, before Brandon Webb.

My best friend and I wore this shirt every 5 days for the next three years. That shirt has seen Hell twice and made it back both times. The front is riddled with holes from the frequent washing. The side is ripped when I caught it on a playground swingset during a late-night escapade with a girl to a park in my neighborhood. This shirt still hangs in my closet and might hold more meaning than any possession in my house.

And in 2009, Webby was taken from me. From my best friend. From all of us. From the world of baseball.

Brandon Webb was extremely unheralded. He was born in Ashland, Kentucky (which isn’t far from me in Indianapolis... maybe I should visit) and attended the University of Kentucky. I honestly can’t find how many years of college he played but he was drafted in the whopping 8th round by the Diamondbacks in the 2000 draft. These are the players we picked before Webb: Michael Schultz (0.0 bWAR), Bill White (-0.4 bWAR), Joshua Kroeger (-0.6 bWAR), Bradley Cresse (never made MLB), Scott Barber (never made MLB), Timothy Olsen (never made MLB). So our draft class ahead of Webby accumulated -1.0 bWAR. Neato.

(Fun fact: Baseball-Reference doesn’t even list Brandon Webb as a “notable selection” on their wiki page but somehow lists Xavier Nady, Chad Qualls, Dontrelle Willis, Jason Kubel, and Adam LaRoche as fellow Dbacks on that list. )

After being drafted, Webb was obviously sent to the minors where he did quite well. In 2001, Webby posted a 3.99 ERA cross 162.1 IP in A+ ball. In 2002, he put up a fantastic 3.17 ERA across 159.0 IP split across AA/AAA as a 23-year-old. Yet, he couldn’t even crack the Top 10 prospects in our organization per Baseball America, where 26th-overall Scott Hairston led the way. Other Diamondbacks in the top 100: Mike Gosling, Lyle Overbay, John Patterson. Apparently, scouts were concerned with Brandon Webb’s mechanics. Apparently, MLB scouts are stpid.

(why is Webb’s Wikipedia picture of him bunting?!?!?! someone fix that please)

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants
Here’s Brandon Webb’s sinker, striking out Barry Bonds and curing cancer, allegedly.
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

On April 22nd, 2003, (the day after my birthday!!) Brandon Webb made his MLB debut with a scoreless one-inning relief appearance against the Expos. That would mark the only relief appearance of Webb’s career.

Webby got his next appearance as the starter on April 27th, 2003, the first of a two-day doubleheader against the Mets. Webb would of course throw a cool 7 shutout innings, with 10 strikeouts, 1 walk, and 3 hits allowed. An impressive debut. Fun fact: Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson’s 22 combined strikeouts are the most strikeouts by two starting pitchers in a doubleheader in MLB history (or was at the time). Pretty sweet.

And the rest was history. Webb would finish the season in the MLB, throwing 180.2 IP across only 28 starts with a fantastic 2.84 ERA (165 ERA+) and 6.2 bWAR - as a freaking rookie.

Yes, Brandon Webb posted 6.2 bWAR in 2003. Easy rookie of the year, amirite? Wrong. Somehow, in one of the most egregious errors in modern human history, Brandon Webb finished third in NL Rookie of the Year award voting, behind Dontrelle Willis’s measly 3.9 bWAR and Scott Podsednik’s (REALLY?) 4.4 bWAR. Apparently it was Brandon Webb’s fault that he “only” went 10-9 that season (2.84 ERA) while Dontrelle Willis went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA. Bullshit.

But yet, that was exactly who Brandon Webb was. The most criminally underrated player in baseball in the aughts and still the most criminally underrated player in Diamondbacks franchise history. The fact that he finished fourth proves this fact (sorry Gonzo, but Webb >>>> you).

Of course, as we all know, Webby turned into a freaking star. He “struggled” in 2004 behind the all-time worst defense in modern baseball history because he tried to strikeout everyone (look as his walks per year: 68, 119, 59, 50, 72, 65 - one of these is not like the others), but he still posted a 128 ERA+. In 2005, a 125 ERA+. But he was just getting started.

In 2006 , Brandon Webb won the Cy Young award, becoming the second Diamondback (after Randy Johnson) to do so. Webb threw 235 IP with a 3.10 ERA, leading the MLB with a 152 ERA+. In 2007, he would repeat that performance, almost to a tee, with 236.1 IP and a 3.01 ERA (again.. leading with a 158 ERA+). And not to be out-done, his 2008 was 226.2 IP and 3.30 ERA (140 ERA+). Like, seriously, look at this table to see how freaking dominant Webb was:

Brandon Webb, 2006-2008

2006 235 66 68 67
2007 236.1 64 70 73
2008 226.2 73 74 77

Remember how good Greinke was last year? He put up a 70/76/77 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-. Webb was better or equal to that for three straight years. At ages 26 through 28. Do you realize how insane this is??

Then 2009 happened. Webb was our opening-day starter. He lasted 4 innings, gave up 6 runs, and was pulled. He would never pitch in the MLB again. Maybe the scouts were right about his mechanics being a concern. Everyone could see that his FB velo was declining quickly. Damn that shoulder bursitis.

We were robbed. Have you noticed a theme in my Top 50 posts? I picked Chad Tracy, Stephen Drew, and Brandon Webb. All three were among my favorite DBacks of all time.

(beer done. just poured a two-finger pour of a “mystery” 10-year-old blended scotch I got from my birthday from Masters of Malt. I don’t know who made it but it’s damn good)

Have you noticed a running theme? All three players fell into, in my mind, the “what could have been?” category. And I know many baseball players fit in that category. But is there any single player that might fit into that category more so than Brandon Webb?

I told you I would prove how “great” Webby was. Well, here I am. Time for what I do best (or at least I think I do): provide the stats.

Webb put up 33.3 bWAR in only 6 years - the third most WAR among all Diamondbacks players. Webby - like Goldschmidt is now - is unique in that he essentially did all of this under his six years of team control. And how does he stand up to time?

Among all pitchers since 1947 (when the MLB allowed African Americans to play), Brandon Webb is 5th in bWAR (among starting pitchers) in the first six years of his career:

During this same span, Webby has the third-best ERA+ among all starting pitchers (minimum 1000 IP) in the first six years of their careers:

Let’s take that ERA+ one step further. I’m going to hop over to FanGraphs and use ERA-. Where does Brandon Webb rank, since 1920 (the “live ball” era), in ERA- among MLB starting pitchers?

Brandon Webb has the 7th-best ERA- since 1920. This list has 1731 players on it and Brandon Webb is 7th. That’s the top 99.6% of all qualified MLB starting pitchers since 1920 and he was a home-grown player out of our farm system. The stats nerd in me does not have the words to express how freaking crazy this is.

Brandon Webb was absolutely exceptional. I really hope these lists (please click the links just to see how expansive they are) help prove to you just how good Brandon Webb was for us.

I’ve written before about how unique Brandon Webb was, by being able to achieve an elite groundball percentage with an above-average strikeout percentage. Batted ball data is only available back to 2002, but I’m sure you won;’t be surprised in the slightest to know that Brandon Webb leads all pitchers since 2002 in Groundball%, nearly 2% higher than second place (Derek Lowe, 62.4%) and more than 4% higher than third place Dallas Keuchel (60.1%).

I hope by now I’ve convinced not only how great Brandon Webb was during his time in Arizona but just how unique he still is. But if you’re somehow not convinced, I’m going to try one more approach.

A player comp.

Let us meet the late Roy Halladay. He goes onto the Hall of Fame Ballot next year. And he’s got a pretty damn good chance of making it. Looking at this article, what are some of the facts that help Halladay stand out?

Let’s break these down for Webby, shall we?

  • He has 200 pitcher wins and two Cy Young Awards. Every other pitcher to do so is in the Hall of Fame except for Roger Clemens.

Webb already had a Cy Young and was runner-up twice. He had 87 wins over 6 years. If Webb was to play another 8 years, he would only need to average 14.125 wins/year to get to 200; less if he played more than 10 years. Getting to 200 wins and 2 Cy Youngs certainly wasn’t out of reach for Webby.

  • Of the 76 pitchers with at least a single Cy Young Award, only 15 recorded at least 200 wins and an ERA of 3.38 (Halladay’s career ERA) or better. Among that group, only Roger Clemens and Vida Blue (who pitched in a lower run-scoring environment) are absent from the Hall of Fame.

We already covered the 200 wins above. Webb had a 3.27 career ERA (72 ERA-) while pitching in one of the most offensive parks in the MLB. Halladay had a 76 ERA-.

Well, where does Brandon Webb rank on this list? Webb is 30th (out of 200) with 1.69 award win shares in only six years. That is a lot of really good pitchers ahead of Webb, most of which played many more years than him.

What am I getting at here? Brandon Webb was on a hall-of-fame track. And I’m not making up the Halladay comp; up until a few years ago, finding a player with a GB% over 55% and a K% over 18% was damn near impossible. Look at this table:


Player ERA- FIP- GB% K%
Player ERA- FIP- GB% K%
Roy Halladay 76 78 54.1 18.80%
Brandon Webb 72 77 64.3 19.30%

Now, we do have some other comps that are currently pitching: Dallas Keuchel, Jamie Garcia, Tyson Ross, Lance McCullers, and Marcus Stroman. All five are pretty damn good pitchers. But it’s obviously far too early to claim any of them are HoF-bound. But Webb was certainly on pace for the Hall and seeing and his only real contemporary comp, Roy Halladay, is going to make in in the next few years, it makes me ask: “What if?”

The SBNation editor just crashed so maybe it’s time for me to move on (I am struggling to stay awake).

Brandon Webb was amazing. His six+ years in Arizona were Goldschmidt-levels of dominance and he was just taken from us out of nowhere. His reign of groundballs were a key part of my childhood (I was ~14-19 during his run) and no other player in any sport has resonated with me more than Webby.

We don’t have many videos of Webb, since the internet seems to have disappeared prior to 2008. Or else I’d show you a video of Webby dominating the Cubs in his playoff debut in 2007, with 7 innings of 1-run ball.

But I’ll leave you with this. But first, some context.

The Diamondbacks had 2 complete games last year - one by Ray, one by Greinke. Ray’s was a shutout. Between 2006 and 2008, Webb threw 12 complete games and 7 CG:SOs.

And I’m sure that you already know, but Webb has the longest scoreless inning streak in Diamondbacks history at 42 IP, which is also the 7th-longest in MLB history. This is a video of Webb’s third consecutive shutout during this streak, at which he hit the 42 IP mark in a complete-game shutout on the road in Atlanta:

Brandon Webb was truly one-of-kind and he has an amazingly special place in Diamondbacks franchise history. Yet… I still think he’s overlooked by much of the fanbase and that makes me really sad. These four drinks I’ve had tonight are for you, Webby.