The first two seasons of Farhan Zaidi’s tenure with the SF Giants have been defined by unexpected offensive developments. Acquiring players like Mike Yastrzemski, Darin Ruf, and Donovan Solano alongside breakout performances from Austin Slater and Brandon Belt have left the Giants 2019 and 2020 seasons defined by offensive success. However, as Logan Webb dominated Cleveland in Tuesday’s 7-0 victory, it’s beginning to look like 2021 could be defined by a breakout in the Giants’ rotation.
Fans have been quick to notice the Giants improved offensive depth from the MLB to minor-league level. Without the same success on the pitching side, though, some have wondered how Zaidi and the organization’s front office plan to build a competitive rotation. Many expect San Francisco to dominate the starting pitching market next offseason, but could a key piece of their future rotation already be on the roster?
SF Giants RHP Logan Webb has had a dominant spring training. Could his breakout be the defining development of the team’s 2021 season?
Few players have improved their stock around the league this spring more than Webb. In four appearances, Webb has completed 11 shutout innings, struck out 17, and walked just one opposing hitter. Moreover, he’s done an impeccable job keeping the ball on the ground, recording a 2.60 groundout-to-flyout ratio. While the lion’s share of his dominant numbers are from Tuesday’s 7-0 victory against Cleveland, Webb has been consistent all spring, recording at least a punchout in 10 of his 11 innings.
Most are skeptical of spring training breakouts, but Webb has dominated in a way he rarely has before as a professional. Across Webb’s five minor-league seasons, he struck out more batters than innings pitched and generated at least a 2.00 groundout-to-flyout ratio just twice. One of those years, 2015, was Webb’s return from UCL surgery when he repeated short-season ball at Salem-Keizer. Since he’d already had success at that level, it was far from a surprising performance.
Even in 2019, when Webb earned his first big-league call-up after a dominant stretch at Double-A, strikeouts were not a defining part of his game. In 63.1 minor-league innings, he held opponents to a 1.85 ERA by generating groundballs at an elite rate, walking just 15 batters, and striking out 69 batters. While a strong line, his 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) stills falls short of the 13.9 K/9 he’s generated this spring.
No one expected Webb to be a dominant force this season, but even with his big-league struggles over the past two years, ZIPS projections were quite high on his future. He has struggled to limit runs thus far in his career, but his FIP has been at least a run below his ERA in both 2019 and 2020. Over his career, it estimates his performance more in line with a 4.15 ERA. Given Webb’s solid strikeout and walk rates, if his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped from his career .340, there was reason to believe more success was already ahead.
Yet, Webb is not just benefiting from better luck this spring, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser listed Webb among 25 players who have impressed MLB scouts this spring. Per Glaser’s article, one MLB scout was quite complimentary of Webb’s offseason development:
"“He’s showing me more confidence in the changeup. It feels like he’s using the changeup 50 percent of the time and it’s been plus to plus-plus. He’s getting hitters from both sides of the plate out. He’s got enough action at the bottom of the zone. That’s actually helping open up his fastball a little more. It’s been a really strong spring. He’s competed. He hasn’t shown any issues facing good big league hitters. I know it’s spring training but if you’re able to do that with your changeup, that to me is a very good sign.”"
Heading into spring training, Webb looked on the outside looking in of the Giants starting rotation. After signing Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Aaron Sanchez in free agency, manager Gabe Kapler already had five veteran starters between the team’s offseason additions and Johnny Cueto. However, as Wood works his way back from a back injury, the Giants have an easy avenue to slot Webb into the Opening Day rotation.
Assuming he can carry his spring training success over to the regular season, Webb could be in San Francisco’s rotation for years to come. With Cueto, Gausman, DeSclafani, Wood, and Sanchez all slated for free agency next offseason, Webb proving he’s at least a mid-rotation starter would be a massive development for the franchise’s future. Given the limited number of top pitching prospects in the farm system, finding a legitimate starter with years of team control remaining makes it far easier to see the Giants constructing a roster that can compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in 2022.
The SF Giants have quietly become one of the deepest offensive teams in baseball over Farhan Zaidi’s first two seasons as the president of baseball operations. Just as fans have become accustomed to this offensive success, though, they have become almost as worried about the prospects of the team’s pitching staff. After Logan Webb put an exclamation point on his elite spring training performance on Tuesday, though, there might be a sign that 2021 will be the year Zaidi is credited with developing pitchers in San Francisco too.