Much has been made of the uncertainty in the Giants’ rotation beyond this season. Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto (whose club option is likely to be bought out) are all in line to hit free agency. The San Francisco front office will have their work cut out for them in reconstructing a starting staff, but they do have one long-term building block under control: Logan Webb.
Webb hasn’t gotten as much fanfare as he deserves, probably a byproduct of the numerous bounce-back and breakout seasons up and down the San Francisco roster. His volume has been held in check by a couple of mid-season stints on the injured list due to shoulder troubles. But when Webb has been healthy enough to take the ball — as he is at the moment — he’s been incredible.
The right-hander has been one of the league’s most successful at keeping runs off the board. Webb owns a 2.56 ERA over 112 1/3 frames, the eighth-lowest mark among pitchers with 100+ innings pitched. And he’s unanimously posted strong peripherals. Webb has struck out 27% of batters faced, a mark that’s more than four percentage points better than the 22.7% average for starters. That’s backed up by strong rates of swinging strikes (12.3%) and called strikes (18.8%), both of which are more than a point above average. Webb has always had solid control, and his 6.7% walk percentage this season is lower than the league-wide mark.
While Webb has been at least solid across the board, he’s been truly excellent at keeping the ball on the ground. His 60.8% grounder rate is second-highest (trailing only Framber Valdez) among that same group of starters. Webb has leaned more heavily on his sinker, one of the lower-spinning fastballs in the game, this season. Unlike with four-seamers, the lack of spin is a feature for the sinker. Lower spin makes it less resistant to gravity, generally enabling pitchers to get more downhill action on the offering. Unsurprisingly, his sinker has been one of the best ground-ball pitches in the game.
Webb’s wide array of abilities makes for a rare skillset. Only 17 of the 103 pitchers with 100+ innings have posted better than average strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates. That’s not a unanimously great group — Adbert Alzolay and JT Brubaker haven’t had much success, for instance — but it’s certainly a positive indicator. 13 of those 17 hurlers have an ERA of 3.76 or lower, with five posting a sub-3.00 mark.
Webb has been good since the start of the season, but he’s really turned things on of late. Going back to the All-Star Break, he has an MLB-best 1.64 ERA in ten starts with high-end strikeout and walk rates. He’s benefitted from some batted ball and strand luck, but fielding independent pitching metrics still suggest Webb has been highly impressive. Only Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer have a SIERA better than Webb’s 3.00 since the Break, and his full-season mark of 3.18 is among the league’s ten best.
While the Giants’ front office will have plenty of decisions to make this offseason, they can at least pencil Webb in at or near the top of the 2022 rotation. The 24-year-old still has four more seasons of team control, and he won’t reach arbitration eligibility until the conclusion of next season. They could contemplate a long-term extension, but there’s still not yet a ton of urgency on that front.
One more pressing call that could be on the table is whether Webb’s breakout season has vaulted him to the top of this year’s rotation. San Francisco holds a one-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West race after taking two of three from Los Angeles over the weekend. While they’re obviously hoping to hang onto that lead and avoid the Wild Card Game, there’s still a real chance they wind up in a one-game playoff next month.
If that ultimately turns out to be the case, Giants’ brass would face a tough choice deciding to whom to give the ball. Opening Day starter Gausman has been excellent going back two years and might be the top starting pitcher to hit the free agent market this offseason. But Webb has arguably been even better than Gausman this year. They’re essentially tied in ERA. Gausman has a slight edge in punchouts but Webb’s been much better at racking up grounders. Webb has the edge in SIERA and the two have nearly identical marks in FIP (2.89 for Gausman, 2.90 for Webb).
That would be a moot point if the Giants hold onto the division. Even if they do wind up in the Wild Card, having to make that kind of difficult decision is a good “problem” to have. That’s a testimony to Webb’s fantastic campaign, one which makes him the long-term anchor of a Giants’ rotation that could see plenty of upheaval elsewhere a few months from now.