The Westbrook Report

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That's a really, really young Jake Westbrook right there. 
  • That's a really, really young Jake Westbrook right there. 
Hey, you know who's been really good lately -- actually, he's been pretty damned good for most of the season -- and I haven't given nearly enough credit to? Jake Westbrook, that's who. 

The reason I haven't given him much credit is simple: I still kind of don't believe in him. I know, I know; it's nearly September. He's done more than enough this season to convince me of his merits. But last year, oy. Last year still weights heavy on my mind. And pitchers with shaky peripherals -- specifically strikeout rates in the below six range -- always put me on edge. 

Actually, there's another reason I haven't bucked up and given Westy the credit he so richly deserves for this outstanding season he's currently enjoying. I just can't stand watching the guy pitch. I have no idea why. He's the Jeff Suppan of 2012, a pitcher who even when he's good just bugs me to watch. (Kyle Lohse has been this guy in the past, just for the record.) I think it's something about the way Westbrook periodically just loses the strike zone, throwing these funny frisbee sinkers that end up a foot outside to a lefty, seemingly with no warning whatsoever. 

All that being said, the guy has been really good lately. And he's starting today, in fact. And just received a new contract extension, come to think of it. 

Let's talk about all that stuff, shall we? 

First, today's game: the Cardinals need Westbrook to come out and be good again. They're facing the moribund Astros, so it isn't as if he'll be facing down a high-powered offense, but that hasn't stopped plenty of other frustrating afternoons from happening, now has it? 

Pitching for Houston will be 24 year old Dallas Keuchel. If you aren't aware of why this is bad news for the Cards, let me enlighten you: Dallas Keuchel throws with his left hand. Also, the Cardinals have never seen him before. Stick those two factors together, and you have a recipe for a very long, very painful afternoon for the Redbird hitters. So, Jake Westbrook needs to be good and limit the Astros to very little offense. Or no offense, actually. That would be better. 

Did you hear that, Jake? I want a shutout. Okay? No big deal, right?Okay, now as to how good Jake Westbrook has been lately, well, he's been really good. Since the All-Star break, Westy has gone 5-2, with a 2.96 ERA. His K/BB ratio in that time is better than 2:1, which is really about as good as you can hope for from a pitcher with such a low strikeout rate. He's been even better in the month of August; though his ERA is exactly the same at 2.96, that includes one five run start in the pitcher's nightmare of Coors Field. His ERA in his other three August starts is 1.69.

His season on the whole has been a success as well; his ERA is 3.50, his FIP is 3.60, and his xFIP is 3.74. Not much luck in those numbers; just rock solid pitching. He leads all of baseball in groundball percentage, which may be the best number of all for Westbrook himself.

Now, as for the contract extension...that, I'm not so hot on. The extension itself isn't much of a monetary risk; it simply replaces the mutual option the Cards had on him for 2013 with a guaranteed year and another mutual option for the 2014 season. In that sense it's a fairly low-wish move; it isn't as if the Redbirds just tied themselves to a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 for years to come, or pay him some enormous sum of money. The problem is just that the Cardinals didn't need to do it.

Westbrook was already on option for next season, and there's every indication he would have picked up his portion of the option with the club. It wasn't as if the Cards were seriously facing having Jake walk away. If they didn't want to wait until after the season to figure things out, just pick up the club half of the option now and let Westbrook decide if he wanted to do the same.

As for the argument that the Cardinals needed to get him locked up one way or the other, because they can't afford to have him walk after the season, I disagree. Kyle Lohse is almost assuredly gone (and the move to resign Westbrook only makes that even more likely), but even if both he and Jake walk the Cards have a huge stable of pitching to potentially select from going into next season. Locking Westbrook in for next season doesn't do any harm; still having him on the team in 2014 could have a huge opportunity cost for the Redbirds.

I just don't understand the logic. There seems to be very little upside for the Cardinals in this deal, while the potential downside is pretty significant. After all, this is a pitcher in the twilight of his career, who, oh yeah, just happened to be pretty awful last year. Yes, 2012 has been very good to Jake Westbrook, but it isn't as if he's been particularly solid the past couple seasons.

So far as I can tell, the Cardinals just locked themselves in to a pitcher for 2013, as well as giving him an option with a buyout for 2014, because... And that's as far as I get. Because, you see, the because is a mystery to me.

But as for the other things? Jake, good job this year. Now go be good again today. Prove me wrong about there being absolutely no value in the Cards handing you a new contract. Hell, everybody else in the game seems to discredit me regularly; you should be able to do the same, right?

The bottom line is this: Jake Westbrook has been a very, very good pitcher this season for the Cardinals. But handing him a contract extension when you didn't have to, no matter how well he's pitched this year makes absolutely no sense to me.

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