On the one holiday weekend where thousands (or hundreds of thousands?) receive lottery tickets as gifts, the Rangers have acquired a sort of major league lottery ticket -- a supremely talented paragon of durability sabotaged by shoulder problems that now force him to take a guaranteed sum at least $100 million less than what he would have been due had he remained healthy going into this off-season. In this case, Brandon Webb's loss is the Rangers' possible gain. Possible, but certainly not probable.
As was first reported by FanHouse.com's Ed Price, Texas reportedly agreed to terms with Webb on a one-year deal worth an undisclosed amount of money on Sunday (pending physical, although this is not expected to be an issue); little is known about the agreement beyond that, although the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro confirms that the deal is "incentive-laden" -- as per the norm with pitchers coming off serious injuries -- and further indicates that the Rangers have "long coveted" Webb, with sources stating that Texas attempted to acquire Webb multiple times during his superb 2003-2009 run in Arizona.
Momentarily setting aside the distinct possibility of pre-surgery Webb and post-surgery Webb being nothing alike, I think the historical significance of pre-surgery Webb's numbers is worth noting: in the post-integration era (1947-present), Webb ranks 21st in total wins above replacement amassed in his age 24-29 seasons (29.5 wins, per Baseball Reference's version of the metric) and an astonishing 10th in ERA+ (144), above the likes of Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer and Juan Marichal. He's the sort of pitcher that traditionalists and sabermetricians alike can appreciate, in the sense that he's very good at preventing runs and collecting wins, and does so through sustainable means (middling strikeout rates, better-than-average walk rates, and homer-smothering grounder-inducing tendencies) while chewing up tons of innings. He's not only a workhorse, he's a No. 1-caliber workhorse.
Or perhaps "was" is the more appropriate grammatical tense. I'm inclined to think the chances of Webb, a legitimate pre-injury ace in every sense of the word, coming back and posting a respectable 2011 campaign are better than what the term "lottery ticket" connotes, and there is some cause for encouragement if you look at a few of the other great hurlers who enjoyed immediate success after missing at least one season due to shoulder ailments (the aforementioned Jimmy Key, Orel Hershiser, and Bret Saberhagen, as well as Chris Carpenter, and probably another name or two that I'm forgetting), but such success is the exception more so than it is the norm. Once you acknowledge this, and realize that Webb very well could give Texas nothing next season, you can move forward in generating a realistic 2011 forecast.
Beyond the Box Score produced an informative look at how a decline in post-surgery Webb's fastball velocity relative to his pre-surgery velocity could have deleterious effects on his ground-to-fly ball ratio, and I found the key takeaway to be that his ground ball percentage could dip 5-10 percent, given an average decline between 2-5 miles per hour. Using David Brown's old research on ground-to-fly ball ratios as a template (which indicates that a 50-point drop in the ground-to-fly ball ratio -- say, 2.00 to 1.50 -- usually corresponds with a 20-25 point increase in ERA), one finds that Webb's ERA, given a five mile per hour loss in velocity, could suffer by a magnitude of 60-70 points -- and that's before accounting for the strikeout hit, or any rehab-related control/command problems. This is rather extreme, but you get the general idea.
As I wrote before, signing Webb is not a bad idea per se. There are ways that this can benefit the Rangers beyond him returning to ace-caliber form -- he could, for example, churn out 150 innings of average quality and, in the process, prevent Texas from being forced to run Omar Beltre or any other pitcher in need of additional minor league seasoning out there in the rotation spot he's occupying. In that sense, Webb is a safety net, albeit one who may very well need his own safety net, and even though this signing may be adequate when viewed in isolation (I'm withholding final judgment until I see the dollar amounts), I know I'm not the only one hoping that another starting pitching acquisition is forthcoming. This is a decent start, but it can't end here.