MLB Spring Training 2011: Can Brandon Webb Take Over for Cliff Lee in Texas?

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MLB Spring Training 2011: Can Brandon Webb Take Over for Cliff Lee in Texas?
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The Rangers made a bold move in 2010, trading away prospects Justin Smoak, Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson to the Seattle Mariners for left-handed starting pitcher Cliff Lee. Texas, looking to capitalize on being in contention for the American League West division title and a return to the playoffs, made the trade to acquire an ace to lead their inexperienced rotation.

Cliff Lee wasn't quite the same pitcher in the Texas heat (4-6, 3.98 ERA) as he was playing in Seattle (8-3, 2.34 ERA), but he did play a major role in leading the Rangers to the division title and eventually to the American League Championship title and World Series runner-up.

We are all aware that Texas was unable to retain Lee's services this past offseason as their highly publicized courtship of Lee fell short to the offer he accepted from the Philadelphia Phillies ($120 million over five years).

The loss of Lee has prompted many observers to claim the Rangers rotation has a taken drastic step backwards. The Rangers did not waste much time in addressing the hole in their rotation however, signing former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to a one-year, incentive-laden contract in late December.

While the Webb signing did not attract nearly the attention the Lee signing generated, it was the smarter decision for the cost-conscious Rangers. Webb will earn a base salary in 2011 of $3 million with incentives that could make the deal worth up to approximately $10 million. Compared with the roughly $24 million salary that Lee will earn in 2011, Webb should wind up a steal for Texas.

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Comparing the Careers of Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb

Over the course of nine major league seasons, Cliff Lee has compiled a career record of 102-61 with a 3.85 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 ratios. Lee has been named to two All-Star games in 2008 and 2010 and has won one Cy Young award in 2008. Lee has pitched in two postseasons in 2009 with the Phillies and last season with the Rangers. In postseason play, Lee has a 7-2 record with a 2.13 ERA, 0.816 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 ratios. Cliff Lee enters the 2011 season at 32 years of age.

Brandon Webb, in parts of seven major league seasons, has compiled a career record of 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.239 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 ratios during the regular season. Webb has been named to three All-Star games in 2006-2007-2008 and has also won one Cy Young award in 2006 while finishing second in 2007 and 2008. In postseason play, Webb has compiled a record of 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.231 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 ratios. Entering the 2011 season, Brandon Webb is 31 years old, although he turns 32 in May.

During the regular season, Webb has been the better pitcher, although Lee has established himself as one of the most dominant postseason competitors in the game today.

Fully Recovered From Injury and Back on the Mound

Webb missed the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in 2009 after being hit by a line-drive. When healthy, Webb pounds hitters with a nasty sinking fastball that dies upon contact. He ranks first among active starters in home runs allowed per nine innings, perfect for pitching in the Ballpark at Arlington, a hitter-friendly park that allows plenty of home runs each season.

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All indications over the offseason were that Webb was confident that he was 100 percent recovered from his shoulder surgery and rehabilitation. Webb was so confident in his health that he would only consider one-year contracts in an attempt to restore his market value to pre-injury levels and reenter the free-agent market for a better payday after the 2011 season.

So far in the early parts of spring training, Webb is proving his health and continuing to work his way back to live game action. Working off the mound for the first time on Sunday, February 27, Webb was able to throw a 28-pitch bullpen session which he emerged from pain free. He followed up that bullpen session with a second session just two days later on Tuesday March 1. He increased his pitch total by 18 pitches to 46 pitches and once again was pain free.

Webb will throw another bullpen session on Thursday. He is currently scheduled for a few more of these sessions to build more arm strength and work on mechanics before beginning to throw live batting practice.

2011 Outlook for Webb and the Rangers

Before his injury, Webb was one of the most consistent and dominant pitchers in the National League. Webb averaged over 200 innings per season for five consecutive seasons.

While it is highly unlikely that Webb will approach 200 innings in 2011, he has been making progress with each workout during this spring training. When he is able to build his arm strength back to game levels and fix the minor mechanics issues he has from not pitching in almost two years, he should emerge still one of the game's top pitchers.

A full season of a healthy Brandon Webb should wind up providing the Rangers better results than they received from their half season of Cliff Lee.

This signing will likely wind up being the best free-agent signing from a team's perspective of this past offseason.

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