Allen Webster needs a real chance in 2015


Mike Trout is an anomaly.

That is the mindset that I hope each and every fan is either adopting, or receptive to adopting by the end of 2014.

Prospects do not arrive at the Major League level as stars. Mike Trout arrives at the Major League level as a star. If Mike Trout is in fact human, we have to accept the fact that he is the exception to the rule, not the first of a new breed of super prospects. Sure there have been other names who have achieved success in a relatively short time but for every Bryce Harper or Yasiel Puig, there is a Michael Brantley carrying a .318 Batting AVG, 18 HR, 80 RBI, and 15 SB in his breakout campaign as a 27 year-old.

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Even Harper and Puig hit roadblocks before they achieved stardom, as is the case with every Major League player not named Mike Trout. But despite an occasional slump, these two young outfielders showed fans a lot to get excited about from their debuts. Whether it was just a flash of brilliance or a streak of sustained success, they earned the confidence of their fans. Allen Webster has yet to do that as a member of the Boston Red Sox over the past two seasons.

Through his five starts in 2014, Webster owns a 4.73 ERA, 1.463 WHIP, 4.4 K/9 and a downright hideous 6.1 BB/9. Webster has shown a deadly sinker that to date, has been too unwieldy for him to use effectively. But despite his problematic advanced stats, Allen Webster has pitched well enough for the Red Sox to earn wins in three of his five starts. His last three starts have all been quality starts, and dropped his ERA from the ghastly 6.75 he bore after an ill fated afternoon at Fenway against the Yankees, in which he walked six in just 2.2 Innings, to the slightly bloated 4.73 that he carried out of Tuesday night’s game in LA where he held a high-flying Angels offense led by Trout to just three earned runs and seven hits over six strong innings.

But the most encouraging element of Tuesday night’s outing was the fact that he walked just two batters, matching his season best in that metric. Webster also appeared more in control than I have ever seen him on the mound for the Sox. For the first time Webster came in looking confident, and then kept his composure throughout the game. Whether it really was the mental aspect or he has made some physical adjustments, something clicked for Allen Webster Tuesday night because he threw 60% of his pitches for strikes.

Still not entirely sold on Allen Webster? Fair enough, but let me give you an example of another player who didn’t light up the Majors when he debuted. In fact, Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays did very much the opposite. Odorizzi turned in a Jackie Bradley Jr. esque performance through the seasons first two months. But the Rays stuck behind him, because that is what they do. At the end of April, Odorizzi, who was acquired alongside Wil Myers in the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals, had pitched his way to a 6.85 ERA. May saw him drag it up to a slightly less miserable 5.13. But it was in June that Odorizzi took off.

“For the first time Webster came in looking confident, and then kept his composure throughout the game.”

Many were so caught up in David Price‘s historic run of games in June with 10+ K’s that they didn’t notice that Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and yes, Jake Odorizzi were all improving behind him. In his first June start, Odorizzi allowed four earned runs to the red hot Marlins, but pitched 7.1 dominant innings of one run ball against St. Louis in his next outing, the sole blemish a Matt Holliday home run. Odorizzi didn’t falter in any of his next nine outings, powering through an impressive stretch of not allowing more than three earned runs which included his best game as a big leaguer, a gem against the Astros comprised of 7.1 shutout innings and 10 K’s.

If you don’t wanna buy into Webster’s recent string of efficacy, at least buy into the notion that it is too early to worry about him. Every prospect is different and while some concern is warranted, people have been very critical of the young members of the 2014 Red Sox. The difference between us and the Ray’s is that they accept that they will have down years. I think  Red Sox fans had themselves convinced that our young players would immediately contribute and we could skip a bridge year, but part of the process of being a player-development driven organization is giving those players time to develop.

The one player I legitimately believe has cause for concern is Jackie Bradley Jr. Even Brantley was hitting .240 before he started to experience major growth and Bradley continues to look lost. With him it goes beyond struggle, there are some very fundamental issues. Allen Webster, and even Anthony Ranaudo on the other hand, are both far too early into their major league careers to cause concern. Xander Bogaerts is still 21, young for Double A, let alone the bigs, so even he should be given patience and faith at this point; there is still no reason to believe he won’t be everything we thought he would – he just may not reach that point as early as expected.

I hope that fans will give a similar level of patience to Mookie Betts and Henry Owens as they debut in 2015. My prediction is that Bogaerts, Webster, and Ranaudo will all be contributing to different extents next year and will hopefully ease some of the burden on next year’s rookies. Because that was the underlying problem this year. We planned to be successful, a plan that was based on the emergence of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, and to put that much weight on the shoulders of rookies is asking too much. Fortunately next year, our team looks to have much more of a veteran presence to carry the early load so the rookies won’t have to, and while I believe Xander Bogaerts (and hope Jackie Bradley) will be a part of this veteran contingent, I know that guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig will be. Because they are established big leaguers, not prospects.

It’s time to go back to the days of letting prospects be just that.