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Rays sign RHP Ryan Webb to major league deal

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Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays announced today the signing of reliever Ryan Webb to a one-year, $1 million major league deal. He pitched in 40 games for Cleveland with a 3.20 ERA (50.2-IP, 18-ER) after spending most of April in the minors.

According to the team press release, Webb recorded a 3.65 groundball-to-flyball ratio, fifth highest among American League relievers.

One of the most important things the Rays lost when they traded away Jake McGee was the experience he brought with him in the bullpen. By the time he was traded, he had pitched in 297 games and 259.2 innings, including the finishing of 68 games. Well, the Rays just replaced that experience and then some as they added the 30-year-old Ryan Webb, a reliever with 357 games and 376 innings pitched, including the finishing of 98 games.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rays placed right-handed pitcher Chase Whitley on the 60-day disabled list. Whitley is recovering from Tommy John surgery performed in May 2015.

We noted Webb as an option for the Rays on Feb 1st, in this article. Here's a thorough rundown of what he has to offer.

RHP Ryan Webb | 6'6" 245 lbs

Drafted in the 4th round of the 2004 MLB amateur draft by the Oakland A's out of Clearwater Central Catholic HS. After working his way through the A's minors system, reaching AAA in 2009, he was traded to the San Diego Padres along with Craig Italiano and Sean Gallagher in return for Scott Hairston.

He made his debut with the Padres that year and did enough between 2009 and 2010 to be intriguing to the Florida Marlins (still called that then), who traded Cameron Maybin for him and Edward Mujica in November of 2010.

The next three seasons were spent with the Marlins, where he was a slightly above-average RP, earning a 0.2 WAR in 2011, a 0.7 WAR in 2012, and a 0.3 WAR in 2013. Despite this, the Marlins let him walk in 2013 as a free agent, at which point he signed with the Baltimore Orioles for a bargain $1.75 million.

It's that recent experience - and a positive one - in the A.L. East that must of intrigued the Rays most, as his season with the Orioles showed a lot of poise. It all added up to matching his best overall valued performance with a 0.7 WAR rating.

In April of 2015, he was traded to the Dodgers, along with Brian Ward and 2015 competitive balance round B pick, in return for Chris O'Brien and Ben Rowen. It was an odd move, as he was released by the Dodgers just 4 days after being acquired, and signed with the Cleveland Indians the very next day (14th April, 2015).

With Cleveland, and still in the A.L., he provided about league average performances and wound up with a 0.1 WAR rating. Steamer projects him to perform up to a 0.3 WAR rating in 2016.

He's a Florida native who is coming home and is ready to work hard to bring a championship to his home State.

Ryan Webb Repertoire

According to Brooks Baseball:

In 2015, he relied primarily on his Sinker (93mph) and Slider (84mph), also mixing in a Change (85mph). He also rarely threw a Fourseam Fastball (92mph).

That's the broad view. But in order to get a better sense of how his stuff has progressed over time, let's take a look at what he's used at what velocity from 2007 through 2015.

Velocity per pitch type

To take a close look at what Webb uses, we'll kick things off with his velocity per pitch type used:

Ryan Webb Pitch Type

You can clearly see that the separation he manages between his sinker and his secondary pitches is approximately 10 MPH, something that helps him keep hitters off balance. We'll get to his improved performance in 2013 and 2014 later on, but you can see how he's added some MPH on both his slider (82 MPH avg to 84 MPH) and his change up (83 MPH avg to 85 MPH) from 2013 through 2015. It seems to have helped lead him to improved effectiveness.

Pitch Usage

In terms of pitch usage, as previously described above, he's worked with the following:

Ryan Webb

The most curious thing to note here is the complete dismissal of his four seam fastball. I'll be interested to see if the Rays bring it back some, not much, and if it helps make him more effective overall. What I do like most, however, is the increased confidence in his change up, something that can really help him tie up hitters.

While it's great to know what he uses overall, here's a break down of what he uses vs LHB and vs RHB:

Ryan Webb

Ryan Webb

You can see how much more he's used his slider against RHB than he has against LHB. While he tends to use the change up a lot against LHB instead of his slider, he is definitely most reliant on his sinker which he throws almost three quarters of the time. Interestingly, while with the Indians in 2015 he used his change up more than ever against RHB at the cost of his slider.

Webb's Role in Rays Pen

Now that we know what Webb's been through and what his repertoire looks like, what kind of role could be have with the Rays?

Over his 50.2 innings with the Indians in 2015, Webb threw in 42.2 low leverage innings, 6 medium leverage innings, and only 2 high leverage innings. In 2014, while with the Orioles, he threw in 27.2 low leverage innings, 13.1 medium leverage innings, and 10 high leverage innings. So we already know that over the last two seasons, both the Indians and Orioles used him sparingly in medium-to-high leverage situations. But what about the results in those situations?

The good result would include his performance each season in low leverage situations, where he held opponents to a .212/.250/.323 line in 2014, but this changed in 2015 when he allowed a worrisome .268/.316/.423 line against and .317 wOBA. On the flip side, he only allowed 2 hits and 1 walk while facing 29 batters in medium and high leverage situations in 2015, which likely indicates he was used in ideal situations.

What most Rays fans likely want to know as well is how well he fared with runners on base and with runners in scoring position. Here are his performances over the last 2 seasons (courtesy Fangraphs):

  • Men on Base: 2014 - .299/.333/.395 over 21.2 IP with a .315 wOBA (only 1 HR allowed)
  • Men on Based: 2015 - .258/.309/.448 over 25 IP with a .318 wOBA (3 HR allowed)
  • Men in Scoring Position: 2014 - .196/.241/.216 over 13.2 IP with a .192 wOBA (no HR allowed)
  • Men is Scoring Position: 2015 - .273/.339/.509 over 14.2 IP with a .351 wOBA (3 HR allowed)

The first thought that comes to mind when looking at these is this: why the drop off in performance from 2014 to 2015 when runners are in scoring position vice when they're on base? And why did he allow more HR in 2015 in those situations?

Oddly enough, all 4 HR he gave up in 2015 were in low leverage situations, something that hurt his team less than it otherwise would have, and may indicate a more aggressive approach than he would have used in medium or high leverage situations. And it's still very few mistakes overall, all things considered.

The Groundball Rates

One of the things noted about Webb which helps make him an effective reliever is his high groundball rate. It's one of the reasons he's been considered as a possibility in the closing role, although it never did come to fruition.

If there's one thing the Rays can look forward to from Webb, it's a good groundball rate, as he managed a 59.2% rate in 2015 to go along with a close to career low 19.7% fly ball rate. When you consider where the Rays play the majority of their games, in the HR friendly ball parks of the AL East teams, having Webb available to limit the damage. The problem in 2015 was that more of the fly balls than ever (12.8%) wound up being HR, but that seems to be an anomaly in his case based on his career stats.

Overall, you have to like the fact that Webb is an above-average pitcher at induced ground balls which should give the Rays fielders a good chance to make plays and get out of innings without much damage. You get a really good sense of how effective his sinker is in this video:

Middle-Relief

Let's not kid ourselves here and expect too much from Ryan Webb. He's a middle relief option that will likely be used to help the pen out in low an medium leverage situations. He's not going to challenge for a setup role, and he's not going to aim for the closing job. If he ever does get there, which is always an outside possibility, and does so well for the Rays, all of the power to him and we'll cheer him on. But it's not what we expect to happen.

Instead, his role it more likely to be a steadying force in the middle of the pen. A 6th or 7th inning reliever who can get the Rays through an inning and pass it over to the setup guys without losing control of the situation or allowing much damage to take place. While it's not a role that many people see as being vital, it is actually crucial in that it lessens the chances the Rays will lose games they're supposed to win because of a late inning meltdown.

Health and Usage

With his experience, both in innings pitched and in the American League, he's going to be able to become a steadying presence in the pen as well. There's a chance that the Rays coaches will lean more heavily on Webb than other teams have done in the past.

Webb has dealt with some knee issues (2015) and dealt with some shoulder issues in 2010 and 2011, but aside from a 15-day DL stint, he's been very healthy overall.

It will be interesting to see how much the Rays and Kevin Cash use him in 2016. One of his biggest highlights for 2015 was a 3-inning stint in a 16 inning win over the Yankees, one that saw him face 9 batters with none getting on base. No hits, no walks, just two strikeouts and three shutout innings. That's the versatility he'll provide the Rays with.

In the past, he's been used for as many as 80 innings and as few as 49.1, so expect something in between for the Rays in 2016, in the 55 to 65 appearance range.

Roster Spot

For those of you that were wondering about the 40-man roster spot being available for Webb, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times noted that with this Tweet:

Today happens to be the first day players can be moved to the 60-day DL, which allows the Rays to make a few moves. Whitley is the corresponding move today, Cobb likely soon to follow.

With that out of the way, it also allows for the question of who may take the second available spot to become prominent in the minds of Rays fans. In case you were wondering, that's Chase Whitley, not Garrett. It caused some confusion on twitter, which Topkin sorted out.


Why Ryan Webb over Tommy Hunter?

The Indians recently added Tommy Hunter to their pen for a mere $2 million with another $1 million in possible incentives. With more experience in the AL East, minimal costs, and a good track record to go on, it would seem that either Hunter or Webb would have been a great option for the Rays.

First, we can't confirm who made the decision and/or offers. All we can do is speculate that the Rays were interested and that Hunter decided to sign with the Indians instead, but neither may be the case. It's possible that Hunter liked the chances the Indians had of winning more than the Rays situation, and that he wanted to be closer to home, being from Indianapolis.

Second, it seems Hunter wanted a one year deal to regain his value and get a better deal for 2017 and beyond. If that's the case, doing it in the AL Central may be easier to accomplish than doing it in the AL East. I use "may" because it depends on how you see the hitters capabilities in each division.

In comparison, Webb hails from Florida and may cost less than Hunter did, both of which worked in his favour to join the Rays. He may not have the back end of the pen experience Hunter has, but it's also something the Rays likely favoured, as they already have options to use both at closer and in the setup role.

It's possible that Hunter sought a chance to prove himself in the setup role and wanted assurances that he'd get them, and that the Indians assured them more so than the Rays.

In any case, we're glad to have more experience in the Rays pen and believe Webb brings strength in the middle of it, which is what the Rays may have been looking for on the free agent market once they dealt McGee.

Welcome to the Rays, Ryan

It's always nice to be home, and we'd like to welcome Ryan home to Florida and to the Rays organization for the first time. If you want to follow him on twitter, you can do so by adding @RyanWebb58 where he is fairly active. His twitter handle states:

It's always a good insight into a player's interests and views when you can sift through their twitter accounts, particularly if they're as active as Ryan is.

We look forward to seeing the abilities he adds to the Rays and anticipate he'll be an important part of the tools Cash has to work with in 2016.