Brandon Webb’s career was noteworthy and a warning

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Wednesday Feb.06/2013

ESPN.com

By Paul Francis Sullivan (Lead Baseball Writer):

Brandon Webb is retiring from major league baseball, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. This hardly seems like a monumental announcement this spring. Webb has been out of sight and out of mind since the beginning of the 2009 season. His official retirement notice is reminiscent of a band announcing their breakup long after they had their last hit.

But Brandon Webb’s career, brief as it was, was remarkable and also should be remembered the next time an ace pitcher looks for a long term extension.

As outlandish as it may sound now, Brandon Webb was putting together the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. This is not hyperbole.

The former University of Kentucky star was an 8th round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000.

He shot up through Arizona’s farm system and by 2003, the 24 year old Webb was a major leaguer and finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year vote. He posted a 2.84 ERA over 180 2/3 innings, winning 10 games for an Arizona squad that finished third in the National League West.

By 2006, he became an elite pitcher. He led the league in wins, shutouts and ERA+ and had the top WAR for pitchers. He won the National League Cy Young Award and looked like he was just getting warmed up.

His 42 consecutive scoreless inning streak in 2007 was part of his spectacular Cy Young defense. Webb led the National League with innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and ERA+. He finished second in the league for ERA, wins and WAR for pitchers while pitching the Diamondbacks all the way to the NLCS.

He was the runner up to Jake Peavy for the 2007 Cy Young Award.

In 2008, he looked like he was going to have his best season yet. He won his first 9 starts and by June 6 was 11-2 with a 2.58 ERA, averaging 7 innings a start. He was a 19 game winner by August 21 and looked ready to pitch the Diamondbacks back into the playoffs.

He had three bad starts at the end of August and the start of September that helped knock Arizona into second place against the Dodgers and probably ended his Cy Young bid. He would finish second to Tim Lincecum but still led the league in wins and games started while pitching 226 2/3 innings.

By age 30, he was starting his seventh big league season. Three of those years he was either the Cy Young winner or the runner up. Anyone would have looked at him and saw a workhorse starter who was an elite pitcher. And no doubt any team would have spent top dollar for him and traded away a group of blue chip prospects to acquire him.

He threw a grand total of one game in the majors since the 2009 season. He pitched poorly on opening day in 2009. He went to the disabled list with shoulder issues. He made a pair of minor league appearances in the Rangers system in 2011. He never pitched in the majors again.

Sadly a career where he got the hard part of the Cooperstown resume out of the way (the elite seasons and Cy Young victory) never got to the numbers compiling stage.

Like the actor John Cazale who appeared in five classic movies and then died before his greatness could be appreciated, Webb’s brilliance shot past too quickly before his elite status was celebrated.

A Cy Young winner and regular contender for the award can be the most coveted commodity in baseball. But the likes of Webb are not necessarily uncommon.

Pitchers like Bret Saberhagen and Fernando Valenzuela exploded onto the scene early and became World Series heroes and Cy Young winners before their 30th birthday. But injuries and inconsistencies flamed out their career. Jack McDowell looked poised to become the greatest pitcher in the American League by 1993. By the end of the 1996 season he was gone from the majors, save for a cameo here and there.

Even Webb’s American League counterpart in the Cy Young vote, Johan Santana, is a cautionary tale. By Santana’s 29th birthday, he had five top 5 Cy Young tallies to his credit including winning the award in 2004 and 2006. He seemed as much of a Hall of Fame lock as any pitcher in the game. But injuries have kept him from approaching the elite status over the past three seasons.

So now the Giants mull the future of their multiple Cy Young Award winning post season hero, Tim Lincecum. The Rays are weighing the options of the reigning Cy Young winner David Price, whose eye popping save clinched the 2008 pennant. The Mariners are thinking about extending the contract of their Cy Young winning ace, King Felix Hernandez.

Which ones are safe bets? Which ones will pitch deep into their 30’s and become sure fire Hall of Famers like Greg Maddux or Roy Halladay?

Which ones will flame out?

As good bets as Lincecum (his subpar 2012 season notwithstanding) and Price and Hernandez look to be, are they much more a lock as what Brandon Webb was after 2008 season?

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com or their partners.***

A big thank-you goes out to our Lead Baseball Writer Paul Sullivan. Sully has appeared in the HBO Sports documentaries “Curse of the Bambino” and “Reverse the Curse of the Bambino” as well as on ESPN2’s Cold Pizza and NESN’s “Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey.” He has performed stand up comedy all across the United States and appeared on the TV show “Monk.” He is currently a producer for Wild Eyes Productions in Los Angeles. Sully has previously produced such shows as”Axe Men”, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show.” He received an Emmy nomination for his work on San Francisco public television. An award-winning filmmaker, he directed the feature film “I’ll Believe You” as well as many short films including “Sergi” as featured on PBS’ “Independent Lens.” Sully’s personal blog is here He has been a contributing baseball writer for USA Today, Baseball Digest, The Hardball Times and Time Out New York. His videos can be found on the Sully Baseball channel on YouTube.  You can reach Sully on Twitter here

Sully has been writing baseball forever and you will love his style.  He will also have his own page that he will be able to post other stuff other than articles and podcasts.

Please e-mail me  at: mlbreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.  To subscribe to our website and have the Daily Reports sent directly to your inbox, click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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About Paul Francis Sullivan

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Posted on February 6, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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