Thursday afternoon, Arizona sent underachieving pitcher Allen Webster packing, as the Diamondbacks shipped him to the Pirates for cash. The move is a low-risk decent-reward for the Pirates, as they did not give up any talent, but merely sent cash to Arizona.
The Dodgers drafted Allen Webster in 2008 out of high school, and he ended up in Boston when L.A. packaged him in the Adrian Gonzalez / Carl Crawford / Josh Beckett deal. The Red Sox bounced Webster between Triple-A and the majors for two years before trading him to Arizona in the Wade Miley trade. With a less-than-stellar major-league track record, the DBacks DFA'd Webster earlier this offseason, foreshadowing an unlikely return to the desert in 2016.
Webster could be considered a ‘change of scenery' candidate and may do well under the tutelage of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Searage has a demonstrated track record of turning around pitchers performances via various mechanical changes and pitch selection adjustments.
Per Brooks Baseball, Webster possesses three quality pitches, and although his pitch selection evolved since his MLB matriculation, he still relies mostly on a sinker, fourseam fastball, and changeup.
In 2014, Webster's sinker ranked second in whiff rate among all starting pitchers who threw the pitch at least 100 times. He generated a 23.8 percent swing-and-miss on the pitch, trailing only Dan Straily. His changeup was nearly as good --- Webster induced a 45.53 percent whiff rate on the pitch good for sixth in all of baseball.
Unfortunately for Webster (and the DBacks and Red Sox), the sum of the parts never equaled the raw stuff. He continually struggles with his command and has a 12.1 percent walk rate to a 13.9 percent strikeout rate. He has yet to harness his pitches into a high enough strikeout rate, and his pedestrian velocity is not a differentiator either. Again, per Brooks, Webster lost speed on both of his fastballs.
The Pirates are hoping their pitching sage can revive the potential of Webster and make him into a viable player for the Buccos. Searage generally helps older pitchers reinvent themselves, but the 25-year-old Webster will be given an opportunity to work on various adjustments.
In one example, Francisco Liriano's usage (table below) of his fourseamer changed radically from 2011 until he joined the Pirates in 2013. Concentrating on a two-seam fastball, he went from a 2.1 total fWAR for 2011 and 2012 to 3.3 fWAR in 2013 as a pupil of Searage.
Searage worked with A.J. Burnett in similar fashion. Burnett joined the Pirates in 2012, and his fourseam usage plummeted in favor of more offspeed usage.
Webster is a great candidate for ‘Searage Rehabilitation', and with some pitching adjustments and working hitters in a different way, there's still time in his young career to be impactful. This is the type of move that Pirates fans should welcome, as it cost the team little. Adding a 25 year old with the pedigree of Webster — even if it has not manifested itself in the majors — is a risk worth taking.