Jim Bowden's favorite words, other than "five-tool player", are "reclamation project". Players released or injured that are low-risk, high-reward type people. He had a knack for taking players who were past their prime to try and find lightning in the bottle. To my calculations this worked a grand total of once (See: Dimitri Young). You saw arguably the first of these in yesterday's edition of Former Nats Greats, and you will most certainly see more as that particular series rolls onward. Why do I bring up old wounds? Because, as of right now, we are still taking chances on these projects; First, Chien-Ming Wang and now, Brandon Webb.
Lets review the facts and figures on both of these former Cy Young contenders.
First, Chien-Ming Wang.
Wang debuted for the Yankees in 2005 and did an admirable job jumping into the rotation. In 18 games he put up 8 wins with a 4.02 ERA, to go with many other average statistics. This debut was only a start to a stellar 2 years stretch in his career.
In 2006 he won 19 games with an ERA of 3.63 and a WHIP of 1.31. Relying heavily on his commanding sinker-ball, he was able to get a GB% (Ground Ball Percentage) of 62.8%, an absolutely outstanding number. The other number from '06 that stuck out to me is an equally amazing 0.5 HR/9; that's half a HR per 9 innings. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 4.7. All that domination lead to him finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting to then-Twinkie Johan Santana.
His stellar numbers continued through 2007, though the Cy Young voters didn't take near as much notice despite similar statistics. He had an ERA of 3.70, a WHIP of 1.29, a higher K/9 ratio than 2006, and a 58.4% GB%; all while winning 19 games for the 2nd straight year. His amazing 0.5 HR/9 from 2006 went down to .41 HR/9 in 2007.
2008 started with a bang. Wang was the first pitcher to win 6 games in the AL, getting to that marker by May 2nd. That was the beginning of the end for him, he was never the same for the rest of the year. Only going on to win 2 more games the rest of the year; a year that saw him play his last game of the year on June 15th.
2009 was much more of the same. 9 starts and a 1-6 record with a Marquis-like 9.64 ERA. What's worse is that, a year after winning his 6th game on May 2nd, he didn't win his first game of the '09 until June 28th. Soon it was shoulder ligament surgery and the rest is history.
Wang, when healthy, is a top of the rotation starter. Last year we took a $2 million dollar gamble that did not pay off, and last week we cut our losses when we non-tendered the veteran RHP. Do we take the chance again?
Another sinker-baller, the former Diamondbacks ace has a much more storied history, despite the fact that he has been stuck in the desert for the past 8 years.
Over a three year span from 2006-08 Webb pitched well over 225 innings each year, while putting up, in order, 16, 18, and 22 wins (which we now know is Rizzo's favorite stat...). Hard as it is to believe, his peripheral numbers are even better than this.
ERA - 3.10, 3.01, and 3.30.
WHIP - 1.13, 1.19, and 1.20.
GB% - 66.3, 61.8, and 64.2.
And my favorite WAR - 7.0, 6.9, and 6.0.
In a three-year span Brandon Webb was worth a total of almost 20 wins above an average NL starting pitcher! That stat is absurd! The Baseball Writers Association of America agreed with the numbers when they voted Webb the Cy Young Award winner in 2006. In '07 and '08 he was voted 2nd place for the same award, behind Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum respectively.
Sadly, on Opening Day of 2009, Webb managed to only get through 4 innings vs the Rockies before his season ended with a bad bout of Shoulder Bursitis. He hasn't seen the major leagues since.
His path back has been equally as rocky, and according to some reports his fastball hasn't gotten above the mid-80s. As of right now there seem to be at least 3, and as many as 6 teams interested in the former Cy Young Award winner; per mlbtraderumors.com.
It has been said that the Nats are trying to re-sign Wang after his non-tender, and I think it would be a good idea for the club to do that. I think the best possible scenario would be a base salary of about $1 million with incentives that can increase the total to around $4 million; peanuts. We could cash in with a resurgent pitcher with an enormous Taiwanese following (both in terms of fans and in media) that could expand the Nats' brand to the Far East. Well worth the bargain basement price.
Webb is a far different story. Baseball sources, as reported by mlbtraderumors.com, has said that Webb is going to be seeking a deal similar to the one signed by Ben Sheets last year where the oft-injured pitcher received $10 million after missing the entire 2009 season. The Nats would have to take a large payroll gamble just for the chance to catch lightning in a bottle.
Every now and then there will be a player who, despite extraordinary odds, is able to make a legitimate comeback (See: Rick Ankiel). But for every Meat Hook, there are 10 Ben Sheets; who went 4-9 before missing the last 2 months of the season with a torn flexor muscle in his pitching elbow.
Is it worth it?