Over the next several weeks, members of the Camden Chat staff will be reviewing one 2023 Orioles player each day to see how the season went for each of them.
For righty reliever Jacob Webb, and for the Baltimore Orioles as a whole, it was a bad ending to a great season. A middle-innings fixture down the stretch for a bullpen considered one of the best in the game, Webb got put into two ALDS games against the Texas Rangers… and laid an egg in both. In Game 1, with the O’s down just a run, he allowed a home run to rookie Josh Jung that ended up being the winning run. (The loss wasn’t all on Webb, of course, but he certainly didn’t help.) In Game 2, Webb was asked to clean up a big mess made by Bryan Baker, who’d walked the bases loaded. No clean-up was forthcoming: Webb allowed a grand slam, and the Orioles—despite scratching back eight runs—wouldn’t recover.
Based on those two outings, you may wonder why this team would ever put a critical game in this guy’s hands. You’re certainly entitled to keep wondering that, but it’s true that Webb looked much better in the regular season. I guess this postseason has taught us that momentum matters, and for Webb, he didn’t have much left down the stretch.
A 30-year-old who’d spent 2022 in the minors and been released by three teams, Webb appeared to be another of these dark horse additions that the Elias regime claims to be good at polishing when they picked him up off waivers in August. The Braves had cut the righty in spring 2022. The Diamondbacks picked him up that April but DFA’d him before the end of June. The Angels signed him to a minor-league deal and gave him 29 MLB appearances in 2023, but they, too, DFA’d him August.
On the other hand, Webb’s career numbers aren’t bad—a 2.97 ERA in 130 innings with 128 strikeouts. Plus he won a World Series ring with Atlanta in 2021. (He wasn’t great that year, with a 4.19 ERA and 1.515 WHIP in 34 games. But experience has to count for something, right?)
And the Orioles really needed middle relief help at this point in the season. An ineffective Austin Voth had just been sent on a rehab assignment to Triple-A Norfolk, Mychal Givens and Keegan Akin were still rehabbing from injury, and Bryan Baker, also ineffective in July, was optioned to Norfolk. He was activated by the team on August 9, and the rest, as they say, is history (at least if you’re a follower of players on the fringes of the Orioles roster).
Almost immediately, Webb became this team’s sixth- or seventh-inning specialist, tasked with building a bridge between the starters and Félix Bautista or Yennier Cano at the back end. Webb fit right in, and the results were good. He gave the Orioles a good month of August, albeit a not-so-good September. Here are Webb’s August numbers:
3.29 ERA, 14 G, 13.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 HR, 10 BB, 19 SO, 1.317 WHIP, 12.5 SO/9
And in September/October:
4.76 ERA, 13 G, 11.1 IP, 12 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 9 SO, 1.412 WHIP, 7.1 SO/9
It seems like a clear case of running out of gas—and also batters adjusting to his changeup. The Orioles have a habit of signing new pitchers to their bullpen and then messing with their arsenal. Between July, when Webb was an Angel, to August as an Oriole, Webb’s pitch mix went from 51.6% fastball, 35.2% sweeper, and 13.2% changeup in July to 50.6% fastball, 29.2% changeup and 20% sweeper. Essentially, the Orioles asked Webb to replace the sweeper with his changeup as his No. 2 pitch.
Did it work? For a time. The Webb changeup certainly played in August: batters hit .000 against the pitch with an .099 wOBA. But it got walloped in September: a .364 opposing average and .545 slugging.
The pitch didn’t change significantly in velocity or spin from month to month, so it seems either the law of small numbers was at work, or batters just adjusted to him.
Whether that makes him worth keeping next year is a question for Mike Elias. But overall, Jacob Webb has to be counted as a good signing for this team. In 54 games this season, he was worth a 0.9 WAR, 0.4 WAR if you count just the 25 games with Baltimore. That puts Webb in Danny Coulombe territory (1.2 WAR, 61 games), less valuable than Cano (2.5, 72) or Bautista (3.0, 56), but better than Mike Baumann (0.6, 60), Bryan Baker (0.5, 46), Austin Voth (-0.4, 25), Cionel Pérez (-0.3, 65) and Shintaro Fujinami (-0.1, 30)). WAR is by no means a perfect measure of value, but it gives you a rough idea.
Yes, like the Orioles, Webb had an ugly end to his 2023 season—having allowed zero home runs for this team in 25 games, he proceeded to allow two in two games in the postseason. But overall, Webb was a nice pickup and a good addition to one of the best bullpens in the sport.
Will he be on the 2024 Orioles? It was an unfortunate end to the season, and his stats were trending down in September. The bullpen revolving door can be swift and merciless, especially for right-handers, and I could see the Orioles moving on.
2023 player reviews: Ryan McKenna
Tomorrow: Keegan Akin/Austin Voth