Blue Jays free agent bullpen targets: Ryan Webb


With the Blue Jays bargain hunting for bullpen arms in free agency, Ryan Webb offers ground ball potential with a recent tie to Mark Shapiro & Ross Atkins

Toronto continues to exercise patience with free agent relievers, as Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini has been their only direct bullpen move. Current market values and links between the Blue Jays and bounce-back candidates like Craig Stammen continue towards point to bargain shopping, so throughout this week we’ll spend some time profiling arms from the bottom shelf.

While we should expect several targets over the coming month to be primarily power arms with the potential of peaking for one season, it’s also worth considering pitchers with recent ties to the Cleveland Indians. New general manager Ross Atkins is now all moved in alongside Tony LaCava, and with Mark Shapiro’s hand very much involved with player personnel, it’s conceivable that they value a little familiarity. It’s a rare trait to find when shopping for free agent fliers, and if they liked them once…

Right-hander Ryan Webb is a standout name in this sense from the 2015 Indians who should be easily had for a low cost this offseason. Standing a towering 6’6″ and 245 pounds, the 29-year old Webb is a ground ball specialist (59.2% in 2015).

Webb signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal with the Orioles entering 2014, but would be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in early April of this past season. He’d be released a few days later, then chose to sign with Shapiro’s Indians. In 50.2 innings over 40 appearances in Cleveland, Webb posted a 3.20 ERA.

With seven Major League seasons under his belt averaging 50+ appearances per year and a cumulative 3.35 ERA, it’s been a fairly steady ride for Webb. Unspectacular and lacking encouraging peripheral statistics, sure. But steady.

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We’re discussing this with a very narrowed scope of Ryan Webb, but if we zoom out a bit, perhaps Webb represents a different type of depth signing than the Stammen/upside types. With stabs at upside elsewhere in free agency, would Shapiro and Atkins not be interested in raising the potential floor of the 5th righty spot along with the potential ceiling?

Webb hammers away with a power sinker as his primary pitch, working a slider and changeup off of that. While his slider used to be a higher-usage offering, the gap between his slider usage (22.1%) and changeup usage (15.2%) shrunk in 2015. His sinker has not been as effective as it should be in recent seasons, but when it’s on, you’ll see a lot of balls pounded into the dirt. Given Toronto’s infield defense, ground ball pitchers immediately have a spiked value in the ‘Dome.

This could also be an opportunity to catch the pendulum swinging back in the right direction. Webb’s WAR by season since 2001 has gone: -0.1, 0.8, 0.2, 0.7, 0.3, 0.7, 0.1. Notice a trend? Using that logic to project a strong season it a little too pixie-dust, but this does suggest that he is capable of the 0.6-0.9 WAR season. If there were only one of those, then we’re just looking at an outlier.

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The issue holding Webb back from being truly impactful is his strikeout ability, which reached a career low in 2015 at 5.5 K/9. For his career, that K/9 sits at 6.2 with a 2.9 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9. Again, that’s why arms like Webb would be brought in as low-cost competition for the 5th righty job, not the 3rd.

Webb represents the exact type of signing that fans would groan at, but there’s no such thing as sexy when you’re shopping at these prices. With only one ERA north of 3.90 in seven seasons, his arm, or arms like his, could keep a spot competently warm and feed the infielders while the Jays work to catch lightning in a bottle elsewhere.