What’s Behind Allen Webster’s Struggles?

Allen Webster had a rough final three starts for the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2011. Some attributed it to fatigue because of a career-high in innings pitched (145), but when the 2012 season began, things were supposed to be back to normal.

Not so fast.

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Webster has struggled mightily this season — and it’s both concerning and perplexing.

Mike Newman of Scouting The Sally watched Webster’s April 26th start against Diamondbacks top prospect Trevor Bauer, and he had good things to say about him, at least early on in the start (questions courtesy of prospect whore and “Dugout Bluespodcast co-host, Jared Massey).

Good.

Also good (great, actually).

But then this happened:

He still managed to make it through five innings, but he didn’t have a good ending to his outing: 6 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.

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So, what the hell is wrong with the Dodgers second or third best prospect? It appears his mechanics are too clean.

John Manuel of Baseball America had this to say in a May 2nd chat when asked by a reader about Webster’s struggles:

“Thanks for the baton here Nathan. I just happened to talk to a scout about Webster this week who saw one of the outings you’re referencing, in the “got hit around” department. If I recall correctly, he thought the arm action almost was too clean, no deception, and hitters were getting great looks at Webster’s fastball. He was concerned because he’d seen Webster better in the past; doesn’t sound like it’s a matter of his pure stuff being down. David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press just wrote about pitching coach Chuck Crim wanting to speed up his tempo and improve his mound presence. I know the Dodgers think highly of Crim, so I’d trust Chuck to pull him out of it.”

Since that time though, Webster hasn’t fared any better:

3 G (2 GS), 0-1, 9 1/3 IP, 16 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 11.57 ERA

That is UGLY. So ugly that Webster actually relieved Ethan Martin on Tuesday night. I’d say that move could be to limit innings, but Webster hasn’t thrown more than six in any game this season (twice), and has thrown as few as 3 1/3 innings (twice).

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Looking at his peripherals, his walk, strikeout, and home run numbers are on par with his career averages:

2012: 7.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 2.14 K/BB, 0.3 HR/9
Career: 8.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 2.32 K/BB, 0.4 HR/9

Webster’s FIP is actually better this season than it was in 2011 at Chattanooga (3.65 to 4.05). His groundout-to-flyout ratio is a little lower than last season with the Lookouts (1.84 to 2.10), but it’s still a good rate.

These numbers would lead you to believe he’s been a lot better than his 7.27 ERA and 1.93 WHIP, but here we are on May 18th and Webster is still getting consistently rocked (at least he’s keeping the ball in the yard).

So besides the clean mechanics speculation, what gives?

Webster’s hits per nine innings is where things get scary. He’s allowing 13.8 H/9, which isn’t going to get the job done. When a guy gives up that many hits, it’s hard to say he’s been unlucky, but that’s what his .425 BABIP says.

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So overall, it’s been a number of things for Webster. His velocity and stuff seem to be just fine, which is a positive. However, he basically needs to work on being more deceptive, less hittable, and less unlucky. If he’s more deceptive, he becomes harder to hit, so those two should take care of each other, and his luck should regress to the mean eventually.

There’s still reason to have a lot of hope for the 22-year-old. With teammate Nate Eovaldi ahead of him in the pecking order, and guys like Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly signed through the 2013 season, there isn’t much pressure on Webster to be rushed to the majors. As such, he has time to develop and make adjustments, but the key with any prospect is to show progress, and he hasn’t adjusted to advanced ball yet.

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