Barring injury, the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen is already taking shape. Corey Knebel will be the closer; Josh Hader, the swingman; and Jacob Barnes, Matt Albers, Boone Logan, Oliver Drake, and Jeremy Jeffress will likely have roles. That makes seven. If the Brewers decide to go with eight relievers as reported, things get interesting.
Tyler Webb’s Quiet Upside
Twenty-seven-year-old Tyler Webb is trying to get that eighth and final bullpen spot.
Webb was the trade return from the New York Yankees in the Garrett Cooper deal last July 13th. In 33 Class-AAA innings prior to the trade, Webb had the best stretch of his young career. Over that stretch, he struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings while walking just three batters total. His groundball rate also crept above 50 percent for the first time in his minor league career. His opponents’ BABIP (.366) was his only real blemish.
Webb’s fortunes changed upon arrival in Colorado Springs. The lefty’s strikeouts per nine dipped below ten (9.2) and his walks per nine shot up to 3.8. Batters continued to hit for a high BABIP (.362). After his success in the Yankees system during the first half, he second half of 2017 ended up being the worst stretch of his minor league career. Webb posted a 6.06 FIP along with a 6.48 ERA.
Last season’s debut stretch with the Brewers will hold Webb back, but it should be noted he was pitching his home games in Colorado Springs, which is notoriously one of the most hitter-friendly parks in professional baseball. Additionally, it’s only 16.7 innings of bad pitching being considered here.
Webb isn’t coming out of nowhere, either. From 2014 to 2016, he posted a FIP at or below 3.74 for the Yankees Class-AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He posted a K/9 above 9.7 in each season while never walking more than 3.1 per nine innings. There’s evidence that shows Webb’s troubling second half of 2017 was a blip on an otherwise stellar track record.
A lack of velocity on his fastball makes scouts wary about his future prospects. In 2017, Webb’s average fastball velocity was under 92 MPH, which is down from the 93 MPH+ fastball he flashed in 2015. Webb’s two other pitches, his slider, and changeup hover around 80 MPH. It’s hard for scouts and analysts to be convinced of a pitcher with Webb’s velocity in 2018. At the same time, his strikeout rate shows he can still dominate without the velocity.
Webb would provide another southpaw arm out of a bullpen that will employ just two left-handers, Hader and Logan. Hader won’t be employed in matchup situations, he’s going to the Brewers’ long-man. Logan, although a successful lefty specialist throughout his career, pitched in just 21 innings last season. There will come a point this bullpen will need another lefty to face the Anthony Rizzo’s and Joey Votto’s of the National League Central.
With all the hoopla surrounding the Brewers outfield and the confusion about how the rotation and second base will shake out, the bullpen is being overlooked. Webb is one of many interesting arms getting a look this Spring Training. If he pitches anything like he did prior to July of last season, his name should be penciled into a roster spot later this month.
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