The Numbers Game: Jake Westbrook


The St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason has been ripe with rumors surrounding the starting staff. While Jake Westbrook is protected by a full no-trade clause, his name was often mentioned as a possible man on the move. The rumors died down and picked back up with the pursuit or dance with Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals began to dangle Kyle McClellan as trade bait and Westbrook’s name soon was an afterthought. Now, spring training is three days away and he is still very much a part of this team. He signed a two-year extension in the 2010 offseason for $16.5 million with a mutual option for 2013. What does Westbrook need to accomplish in 2012 to financially fulfill his contract with the Cardinals from a performance/value perspective?

When Westbrook was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Cardinals in 2010 he was very effective for the remainder of the season. He went 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA (3.52 FIP) in 75 IP. It was enough to secure the deal for the next two years. Westbrook’s win/loss record for 2011 was 12-9, which is respectable, however each of his peripheral numbers pales in comparison to the record. He had a 4.66 ERA (4.25 FIP), his K/9 rate was 5.11 and his walk rate was awful at 3.58 per 9. His WAR for 2011 was 1.1 which FanGraphs equates to $5 million in performance value. Below is a break even analysis for the contract.

I divided the performance value of $5 million for 1.1 WAR in accordance with FanGraphs’ calculation. This makes 1 WAR equal $4.55 million. Adding on 5% interest for 2012 gives us 1 WAR equaling $4.77 million. Westbrook’s salary of $16.5 million divided by 9.32 equals 1.77 WAR per season. That number times 2 gives us 3.54 WAR required to meet the contract performance value. Westbrook checked in with a 1.1 WAR in 2011, which leaves 2.44 WAR for 2012. Can he meet this number? What does he need to do to reach this value?

A 2.4 WAR is not a daunting measure. In the 75 innings Westbrook pitched for the Cardinals in 2010 he recorded 1.3 WAR. That type of performance over a full-season would easily put Westbrook over the hump and aid the Cardinals in receiving some return on their investment. For the entire 2010 season Westbrook had a 2.3 WAR. He has had seasons with WAR ranging from 2.3 up to 4.5 during his years with the Indians. After missing most of 2008 and 2009 following Tommy John surgery, he has not quite come back the same pitcher.

There is a chance that 2011 was a blip. Considering 2010 was his first year after returning, it was nice to see him be effective. It is possible that the 202 2/3 regular season innings were too much for him. That is a pretty large load for someone just returning from the surgery. This could explain part of his fall back last season.

Westbrook has never been an overpowering pitcher. His career K/9 is 5.04. He is also an extreme ground ball pitcher (2.64 career GB/FB ratio). His biggest issue is with free passes. In his most successful seasons with the Indians, his walk rate was in the 2.3 – 2.5 range per nine innings, which is solid. He has not been able to keep his BB/9 below 3 since 2007 and last season it ballooned out of control. Walks have become a deficiency. The old adage of walks lead to runs is especially true for pitchers who do not have the ability to blow batters away. Westbrook falls into this category.

In order for Westbrook to get into the 2.4 WAR range for 2012, he will have to get the walk rate back down to the 2.5 per nine area at the least. This should in turn help lower his ERA which is a big component of WAR calculations (respective to the league). The break even mark is certainly attainable for the Cardinals. Hopefully pitching coach Derek Lilliquist can aid Westbrook in diminishing the walks and everything else should fall back in line.

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