Allen Webster has only made two starts for the Boston Red Sox this season but it is already clear that he has made no progress from his miserable seven-start showing last season.
Throughout his career, Webster has displayed the common combination of electric stuff but poor control. And while some starters are able to make that combination work for them, they are few and far between and Webster has not been one of them. In eight games (seven starts) last season, Webster coughed up a 8.60 ERA and 5.3 BB/9 and in a brief two-game sample this season, has not been any better as he has a 6.75 ERA and almost impressively bad 12.4 BB/9. The Red Sox will likely give Webster the rest of the season to attempt to prove he can fit in Boston’s rotation but, at this point, the odds don’t look great for Webster.
However, while bad control is never a positive for a starting pitcher, that combination of great stuff and questionable command frequently plays well in the bullpen. For a similar example, just look at recently-traded reliever Andrew Miller.
A highly-touted prospect out of North Carolina, the Detroit Tigers selected Miller with the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft and while his dominant stuff played well in the minor leagues, his questionable control surfaced at the Major League level. Given Miller’s higher prospect status as well as being a left-hander, he received a multitude of chances (chances that Webster should not receive as he is not as well-regarded a prospect and is already 24), but never cemented himself as a starter.
In fact, Miller was terrible as a starter. Between the Tigers, Marlins, and Red Sox, Miller posted a 5.70 ERA and 5.1 BB/9 in 66 career starts. In the 2012 season, however, the Red Sox gave Miller one last chance to prove himself — this time in the bullpen, and he excelled.
In the bullpen, Miller’s dominant stuff played up in shorter stints and his command was not as much of a problem. In his first season as a full-time reliever, he had a 3.35 ERA (11.4 K/9, 4.5 BB/9), in 2013 he had a 2.64 ERA (14.1 K/9, 5.0 BB/9), and before the trade in 2014 a 2.34 ERA (14.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9).
It’s not crazy to imagine that Webster’s career could follow a similar path. I do expect that the Red Sox will keep Webster in the rotation for the duration of the 2014 season, and that is the right move as his failures in 2014 could be a result of nerves and a small sample size. However, if he continues to struggle in the rotation, then the Red Sox should consider moving him to the bullpen. It’s always disappointing to give up on a young starter, but there’s nothing wrong with finding the setup man of the next great Red Sox team.