One of the biggest statistical oddities of 2009 was the horrific failure of Ryan Webb’s 96-mph moving fastball in the majors.
You’d think a 96-mph fastball with movement would be tough to hit, but major league hitters killed it consistently. Only Webb’s slider, which got superb results, kept his numbers decent.
Webb realized the fastball was getting hit hard, so he used the slider actually more than the fastball last year.
This year, Webb has a 1.15 ERA in the majors, albeit a 3.62 xFIP, a big improvement over 2009 in any case.
However, his slider has regressed. He’s throwing it 1.2 mph slower than last year, and it’s rated a bit below average after rating plus-plus last year (Small sample alert!).
The fastball has done a complete 180, improving by a whopping 4.56 runs per 100 pitches, from 3.05 below average to 1.51 above.
Again, small sample is at play here, but Webb is also using the pitch 65% of the time now, so he’s clearly regained confidence in it. What’s changed?
A glance at Webb’s pitch f/x data shows that he’s lost some velocity (.9 mph from last year), but gained a ton of movement, with three extra inches of run and three extra inches of sink. It appears that he’s essentially switched from a four-seamer to a two-seamer.
This is huge for Webb, as that movement has led to a whopping 74.5% groundball rate, which is a huge part of his success. With this approach, there’s no reason he can’t be an extremely effective reliever going forward.