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How Logan Webb emerged as San Francisco’s ace

© D. Ross Cameron | 2021 Aug 22


The scouts, just about one from every MLB team, radar guns and binoculars and all, lined up along the fence. They were there, in the suburbs of Sacramento, to see Granite Bay’s 6-foot-3 righty Mitch Hart. 

But the scouts packed up their cars and headed home that May 2014 day impressed with the starter opposite Hart: Rocklin High’s Logan Webb. 

Webb, who was committed to Cal Poly at the time, said a couple college scouts were there for him, watching him get loose pregame.

“San Jose State, Sac State were there,” Webb told KNBR.com. “They were watching my bullpen before, and I remember my first warmup pitch. I threw a pitch and the next warmup pitch, all 30 teams that were there, the guns were up.”

Their guns flashed 96 mph, then-Rocklin assistant coach Steven Moller said. Webb outdueled Hart to lead Rocklin to a 1-0 victory, and by the next morning, “I got a call from pretty much every single team,” Webb said. 

Webb signed an agent three days later. Less than a month later, on his graduation day, the pitcher who spent his sophomore year on Rocklin’s junior varsity was drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco Giants. 

That unpredictable rhythm of career trajectory has persisted through Webb’s rise. The 17-year-old spent an up-and-down, stop-and-start 5.5 years in SF’s farm system. Yet shortly after he broke into the big leagues, he excelled — less than 100 innings into his MLB career, Webb has emerged in 2021 as the Giants’ best home grown pitcher since Madison Bumgarner. 

Non-linear player development is normal, but this type of emergence is not. 

“I had a lot of growing up to do,” Webb said. “Had a lot of other things to kind of get through as a pitcher. You had to learn the mental things, the physical things, how to attack guys. I had to grow as a pitcher and as a guy before I made that step.” 

After his seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance in the series finale against the Brewers, Webb has posted a 2.56 ERA in 2021 — ninth in MLB among pitchers with at least 100 IP. Over his last 14 starts, he’s allowed 13 earned runs in 80.1 innings — a 1.46 ERA. The 24-year-old hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of those games, the second-longest streak since 1901, and the Giants have lost just one contest in that stretch. 

The persistence and growth it took for Webb to get to this point is on display every time he takes the mound. The winding road he took to arrive at this moment can be instructive, but for the Giants, the destination is what matters. No matter how long it took, or the bumps along the way, Webb has developed into an ace for the top team in baseball. 

***

When Webb pitched for Rocklin, nobody could touch his 95 mph fastball. But each game, like clockwork, he’d return to the dugout after a few 1-2-3 innings and ask Moller why he wasn’t calling any offspeed pitches. 

The teenager was still learning the game of baseball, Moller said. 

“I would tell him, ‘Logan, you’re throwing 95 mph. Nobody can hit your fastball. Just keep pounding the zone. When we get to the second time around the lineup, we’ll start throwing some off speed.’ But it was kind of like an inside joke between him and I. And he was dead serious — ‘Coach, I don’t understand why you’re not calling anything else.’ Well, you’ve got nine strikeouts in three innings, I don’t think there’s anything we need to change right now.” 

The broken-record complaint was childish, but harmless. It was the same way off the field with Webb. He’d hand in assignments late here and there, hang out with his buddies instead of focusing on schoolwork — typical high school stuff — and Webb’s head coach Roc Murray said he always took responsibility for his mistakes. 

But most typical high schoolers don’t ink $600,000 signing bonuses — well above his fourth round slot value. Webb had to mature both as a pitcher and a person. 

He started rookie ball in the Arizona League as the youngest player at 17-years-old. Austin Slater, then 21, also briefly played on the team — it was so long ago he doesn’t really remember much about it — as did Ángel Pagán, 32, and Marco Scutaro, 38. 

“He always had great arm potential,” 2014 AZL Giants manager Nestor Rojas said. “And he was a gamer. He was not afraid of the game. He was a competitor. He’d always go out there and give his best effort.” 

His best effort wasn’t always enough against older, more talented competition. He also suddenly didn’t feel as healthy as he did in high school. When Rojas managed Webb again, two years later at Class-A Augusta in 2016, Webb posted a 6.21 ERA. 

Rojas recalls Webb becoming frustrated with his performance. There were moments where he didn’t think he’d make it to The Show, Webb admits today. He second-guessed skipping college. 

Then Webb got Tommy John surgery.

“When you’re having a surgery or when you’re hurt playing the game, everything changes on you,” Rojas said. “Your work ethic all the way to the culture or your routine. The routine you do every day you go to the ballpark and stuff like that. Everything changes.” 

Being sidelined from his teammates for a year was tough mentally, but a “blessing in disguise,” Webb said. Before the surgery, Webb hardly had a routine. He’d get a stretch in and occasionally use a heat pack for his arm, plus dynamic stretching in the outfield the day of games, but that was it. While recovering, he learned that starting pitchers need to take care of their body every day.

When he returned, Webb dominated the minors. Low-A Salem-Keizer, High-A San Jose, Double-A Richmond, and Triple-A Sacramento: all sub-3.00 ERAs. 

But it still wasn’t smooth sailing. Not much about Webb’s rise through the minors was. 

In 2019, after three straight excellent minor league seasons, Webb was on the cusp of a Giants call-up. Then MLB suspended him 80 games for testing positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), an anabolic steroid better known as Oral Turinabol. 

Over 20 players since 2015 have tested positive for the oral steroid, which was used by the German government in an illegal doping program with Olympic athletes in the 1970s and 1980s. It can show up in trace amounts and can be triggered by some high-risk GNC supplement products. The UFC and NASCAR raised its threshold for the specific drug because small amounts don’t translate to enhanced performance, but MLB has not. 

Several suspended players are still fighting to clear their names. Webb, even in the midst of a superstar season, keeps in touch with them. 

“I’m not going to name who, but I heard from someone that the Giants, when they drafted him, thought they had a premium athlete and a marginal character guy,” Murray said. “And what they were finding is they had a premium character guy and a marginal athlete. And I started smiling when the guy told me that. He said why are you smiling? I said because they have no idea what they have there.” 

***

Webb’s ascendance fits into the larger picture of organizational talent identification and development and buy-in that Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler have cultivated. While Webb arrived in the Giants farm system well before both joined the franchise, it’s hard to believe his performance this year, under the new regime, is a coincidence. 

Like Kevin Gausman, whom the coaching staff instructed to throw his fastball and splitter even more, Webb has leaned more on his slider-sinker combination. He’s more than doubled the rate of sinker frequency from last year — up from 14.9% in 2020 to 36% this season — and also mixes in his slider about 10% more often, per Baseball Savant. 

The result: more ground ball outs. Webb’s 60.8% ground ball rate is second in MLB among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings.

Webb also throws his changeup the exact same way as his sinker — its action is almost identical, but comes at hitters about 7 mph slower to fool them.  

The fastball Webb almost exclusively threw in high school? He only unleashes it 11.1% of the time. 

But Webb isn’t just a pitch-to-contact specialist. His chase rate is in the 87th percentile, per Baseball Savant, and his slider in particular has 46.5% whiff rate. He, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zach Wheeler are the only three pitchers to record a ground ball rate over 50% and a strikeout rate over 25%. 

Webb struck out 10 Brewers in his most recent start, six Braves before that, seven in a 2-1 win over Oakland, and eight both in brilliant starts against the Mets and Rockies. 

In the sixth inning in Atlanta on Aug. 28, Wilmer Flores’ throwing error put runners on the corners with no outs. Webb had dealt five scoreless innings at the time, but faced the heart of Atlanta’s order. 

It took him three pitches to get out of the jam, forcing a pop fly to second and an inning-ending double play.

“I think the way Logan picked up his teammates, and in particular the way he picked up (Wilmer) Flores, represented probably the most important moment of his development thus far,” manager Gabe Kapler said after that game.

Earlier in his career, Webb may have let Flores’ error get to his head and affect his performance. But it’s not earlier in his career anymore. That change didn’t happen overnight. 

“I think that the story that you’re telling is far more important than just Logan Webb,” Murray said. “And I don’t want to make it bigger than it is, but there are a lot of kids that can really benefit from understanding the full story. And understanding about immediate gratification versus hard work, hanging in there and continuing to do what you do, and believing in your final outcome.” 

 

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