How good was Brandon Webb?

Norm Hall

He was really, really, really good. It's easy to focus on just 2006 through 2008, because a) he finished first or second in the Cy Young balloting in each of those seasons, and b) before 2006, Webb went just 31-37 in his first three seasons.

But he was really good in those first three seasons, too, with a 136 ERA+.

Those are the only six seasons, 2003-2008, in which Webb actually won a baseball game. He pitched in just one game in 2009, and got a no-decision. I suspect that Webb might be the only pitcher in modern major-league history who was really good in every season in which he got a decision.

Because it looks like he's never going to win again:

Brandon Webb, the 2006 National League Cy Young Award winner and one of the most dominant starters in the game during a five-year stretch with the Arizona Diamondbacks, is officially retiring from baseball, according to his agents at Millennium Sports.

Webb, 33, hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 because of shoulder problems. He had been pursuing another comeback attempt but announced his retirement Monday in a statement released by agents Jonathan Maurer and Mike Montana.

How good was Brandon Webb? Over those six seasons, he ranks second in Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference.com's version, or rWins+) in the majors. Only Johan Santana fares better. He's third in innings, and third in ERA+. You can make an excellent case that he was third-best pitcher in the majors over that span, behind only Santana and Roy Halladay.

But of course what made Webb so interesting wasn't what he did, statistically; it was how he did it: throwing one of the most devastating sinking fastballs that anyone has ever seen. In those six seasons, Webb led all major-league starters with a 64-percent ground-ball rate. That was essentially the same rate as Derek Lowe, the difference being that Lowe never matched Webb's brilliant performance.

In this book, I ranked the top 10 sinkers of all time ...

1. Dan Quisenberry
2. Frank Linzy
3. Randy Jones
4. Kevin Brown
5. Tommy John
6. Bucky Walters
7. Kent Tekulve
8. Derek Lowe
9. Hal Schumacher
10. Mel Stottlemyre

When you make lists like that, you struggle with how to weigh longevity, and starters vs. relievers. Looking at that now, I wish I'd ranked Randy Jones lower, and Mel Stottlemyre higher. Based on Webb's six seasons, though, I wouldn't hesitate to place him on this list, and quite possibly in the top five. But maybe that's a discussion for another day ...

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