Jacob Webb was a bit of a surprise for Braves fans in 2019. In a year where the bullpen was more a source of angst than anything, one of the better developments was the emergence of Jacob Webb as a promising, young arm out of the bullpen. While his season was cut short due to injury, the hope is that he can build on the positives that he has shown during the last couple of seasons and turn into a sorely needed bullpen piece in the big leagues.
What went right in 2019?
After being an 18th round pick for the Braves out of Tabor College back in 2014, Webb missed the entire 2015 season due to injury before returning for the 2016 season and striking out batters at a prodigious rate. That trend continued over the next couple of seasons culminating in his 2018 season which saw him strike out 69 batters in 54.1 innings.
2019 was not as dominant of a campaign in the minors, but his .225 BAA combined with good strikeout rate to start his minor league season was enough to get Webb recalled from Gwinnett in mid-April.
His time in the majors was a productive one as he limited opposing batters to a .205 average against him and he struck out 28 batters in 32.1 innings on his way to a 1.39 ERA in 36 appearances (I was as surprised as anyone to see that he had that many appearances, too).
What went wrong in 2019?
We will talk about peripherals first as Webb’s did take a bit of a step back in 2019. While his time in the major leagues was successful, he did see his strikeout dip last season. After posting K/9 rates north of nine every season in the minors with the exception of his pro debut, Webb’s strikeout rate dipped to 7.79 per nine innings in the majors. He also was the recipient of a .233 BABIP which, combined with the decreased strikeout rate, implies that he had his fair share of luck in 2019. There was also the matter that he does have some history of issuing free passes in the minor leagues including a startling 7.84 BB/9 in Gwinnett in 2019 although that was in a really small sample (it is also worth mentioning that his walk rate in the major leagues was a very reasonable 3.34 BB/9 in 2019 in a much larger sample).
The bigger issue for Webb in 2019 was that the injury bug bit him. After showing all of that promise, Webb went on the injured list in mid-July with an elbow impingement and while he did get sent out on rehab assignment, he would end up not making another appearance in the majors in 2019 due to the impingement. In August, the Braves made the move to put Webb on the 60 day injured list which effectively ended his season.
What to expect in 2020?
While his health is a bit of an X-factor here, Webb should absolutely be a favorite to get a spot in the Braves’ bullpen in 2020. Webb will not be arbitration eligible until 2022 which makes him an incredibly cheap and promising option for the Braves for at least the next couple of seasons.
Elbow impingements (really, impingements in general) are tricky because sometimes rehab and minor treatments can fix them and sometimes they are indicative of a different, more serious problem, but thus far there are reasons to think that Webb should be able to at least start the 2020 season healthy and with the team. One thing to watch is to see if his strikeout rate jumps back closer to his levels in the minor leagues. If he can get back there, he should be able to survive some regression in his BABIP against and make his issues with walks less detrimental to him.