Jake Westbrook Likes St. Louis

by Eno Sarris //

Reports of a $17.5 million, two-year contract between Jake Westbrook
mean that the right-hander must like pitching in St. Louis, or at least
enjoy taking their money. If he can continue to put up his late-2010
numbers, the Cardinals and fantasy owners will like him right back.

In twelve post-trade starts, Westbrook bettered his strikeout rate (from
5.15 K/9 to 6.60 K/9), walk rate (from 3.10 BB/9 to 2.88 BB/9),
groundball rate (from 53.3% to 62%), and home run rate (from 1.06
HR/9 to .60 HR/9). His ERA (3.48) and WHIP (1.25) matched his
peripherals, and if it weren’t for the small sample size, the magic
eightball would read “signs point to yes” when asked about Westbrook’s 2011.

But the small sample size is a fact, and it makes for some doubt. Was
the improved performance more Dave Duncan magic? Or was it simply a move
to the weaker, and DH-less, league? Or did Westbrook finally recover
from the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss much of 2008 and all
of 2009? Finally, was it just a short, fun, 12-start run?

Let’s use the largest sample size possible and compare Westbrook’s NL
work to his career numbers. The first thing that leaps out is that his
post-trade control (career 2.80 BB/9) and groundball work (career 59%) look legit.
He can repeat those aspects of his game, and they will help to limit the
damage when batters make contact. Fewer ducks on the pond and fewer
home runs make for fewer five-run innings.

We are left to wonder about the strikeout rate. Westbrook’s contract and groundball rates look like erstwhile Cardinal Joel Piniero‘s
numbers in those categories, so it’s no surprise that the two pitchers share similar career strikeout rates as well (Westbrook: 5.03 K/9; Piniero: 5.57 K/9). Piniero’s 2009 probably provides us a definition of new Cardinal’s upside. Moving
from the AL to the NL might make for a little boost for Westbrook, but his
best season-long strikeout rate as a starter was 5.51 in 2007, and he’s
now three years older. It would be folly to predict many more strikeouts
than five-and-a-half per nine in 2011.

Still, as he puts more distance between his current self and his
surgery, the likelihood that Westbrook finds his old control increases (from 2004-2006, his walks per nine ranged from 2.34 to 2.55). Paired with a slight uptick in strikeouts, and his always-excellent
groundball rates, Westbrook is a fairly safe bet for fantasy relevance
in most leagues – even if he probably won’t repeat his excellent
late-season numbers from last year.

For more on Jake Westbrook and other late-draft pitching options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.

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