Why the Giants’ Logan Webb is a modern master of efficient dominance (2024)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Logan Webb sat in the dugout here last spring and mentioned two goals for the coming season. Webb, the ace of the San Francisco Giants, hoped to work 200 innings, which he did, and to pitch a Maddux, which he just missed.

A Maddux is shorthand for the ultimate display of efficient dominance: a shutout in fewer than 100 pitches. Its namesake, the Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, did it 13 times. Last season it happened only twice, in Domingo Germán’s perfect game for the Yankees and Framber Valdez’s no-hitter for Houston.

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Webb was poised to do it at home against Colorado on July 9. He started the ninth inning with 90 pitches, and for a master of inducing ground balls, how hard could it be to get three quick outs?

Instead, Webb struck out the side on 13 pitches — a shutout, yes, but in 103 pitches

“The crowd went crazy and all of a sudden I got a lot of adrenaline, so I just went into straight strikeout mode,” Webb said here last week, by his locker at Scottsdale Stadium. “I wish I could do that all the time.”

He does and he doesn’t. According to Fangraphs, Webb’s four-seam fastball averaged 92.6 miles per hour last season, ranking 33rd out of 44 qualified pitchers. Everyone wants a big fastball, but when you don’t have it, you change your priorities.

“I want every pitch to look the same,” Webb said, “and move at the last second so it’s a ground ball.”

While the Giants pursue Blake Snell in his protracted free agency, they essentially have his opposite in Webb. Snell won the National League Cy Young Award for San Diego last season with a 2.25 earned run average, a run better than Webb’s. But Webb, the runner-up, worked 36 more innings — the equivalent of four complete games — and issued 68 fewer walks.

Webb, who has four years of service time, is starting a five-year, $90 million contract this season. His 216 innings led the majors last year, and only four others reached 200: Arizona’s Zac Gallen, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas and Toronto’s Chris Bassitt.

In 1996, the year Webb was born, 49 pitchers worked at least 200 innings. Ten years before that, Giants Manager Bob Melvin caught the 4,000th career strikeout for Steve Carlton, the last pitcher to work 300 innings, in 1980. Webb is a modern workhorse, but why is the species almost extinct?

“I could go on and on about that,” Melvin said. “Whether it’s the strike zone being raised; now guys are trying to miss bats at the top; command’s not as important; second-time around, third-time around numbers — there are a lot of things that put us in the position that we’re in right now. But the more guys that show up like him, the more that maybe we could go in a little different direction.”

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It’s a nice thought, but finding more pitchers like Webb would require an upheaval in today’s philosophy of pitching development.

“The new-age thought for pitchers, a lot of it, is getting strikeouts and throwing really hard and kind of unloading all your bullets early and passing it off to the bullpen,” said the Giants’ Alex Cobb, 36. “And Webby’s kind of held that tradition of the past of working deep in the games and giving your bullpen a breather, because he believes — as we all do — that that is a recipe for sustained winning. And it’s really refreshing to see, because he’s still young and he came up with a generation that wasn’t like that.”

Webb, 27, is four years younger than Snell. But Snell is a power pitcher engineered to overpower hitters, which means strikeouts — but also foul balls, high pitch counts, and very few outings of more than six innings. (Snell had just three last season, and Webb had 20.)

Webb got one first-place Cy Young Award vote to Snell’s 28 — Gallen had the other — and said he did not expect to finish in the top three. Snell’s season, he said, was “unbelievable,” adding that various styles make pitching more interesting.

“I have a different mentality than Blake does, and Blake has a different mentality than I do,” Webb said. “I don’t think either of us wants to throw like the other guy. It’s just, are we going out there and getting outs and doing our best for the team?”

Few pitchers could throw like Webb if they tried. The story of his transformation is well known: After struggling as a rookie while throwing four-seamers from a high arm slot in 2019, Webb learned from a coach, Brian Bannister, to throw two-seam sinkers from a lower angle.

He’s improved ever since, with a sinker/changeup/slider mix that produced a major-league-best 62.1 percent ground-ball rate last season. Bannister, now the senior pitching advisor for the White Sox, said Webb’s stuff “moves as late as anybody in the world right now,” and comes from a right hand that stays supinated — turned slightly inward, toward the plate – instead of pronated.

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Every pitcher pronates his wrist, Bannister said, but very few do so after releasing the pitch, like Webb. The seams hook the air and pull his sinkers down and away, the way the rudder of a boat leaves a wake.

“It’s one of those things that sounds backwards, but it’s actually like a genetic advantage,” Bannister said. “So when you’re trying to teach other guys, their wrist might be normal and therefore they can’t do what Logan can do.”

Some renowned masters of movement, like Maddux, Tom Glavine and Kyle Hendricks, have the same kind of wrist construction, Bannister said. High-speed cameras help identify such traits, allowing pitchers to discover what will be most effective.

“The more we can fit grips and pitch types to how guys already want to move,” said J.P. Martinez, the Giants’ assistant pitching coach, “the more success we’ve seen.”

Beyond Webb, though, the Giants have major rotation questions. Cobb (hip) and Robbie Ray (elbow) are coming off surgery, Jordan Hicks is converting from the bullpen, Keaton Winn has elbow soreness and Kyle Harrison has made only seven starts in the majors.

Whether or not they get a boost from a late-arriving free agent, the Giants know what they’ll get from the majors’ most durable pitcher.

“For me, 200 innings every year is something I really want to do,” Webb said. “Guys call it posting, just making sure I can be there every five days for my team.”

As the industry cultivates more and more pitchers who work less and less, it ought to use Webb as a model, too.

(Top photo of Logan Webb: Andy Kuno / San Francisco Giants / Getty Images)

Why the Giants’ Logan Webb is a modern master of efficient dominance (1)Why the Giants’ Logan Webb is a modern master of efficient dominance (2)

Tyler Kepner is a Senior Writer for The Athletic covering MLB. He previously worked for The New York Times, covering the Mets (2000-2001) and Yankees (2002-2009) and serving as national baseball columnist from 2010 to 2023. A Vanderbilt University graduate, he has covered the Angels for the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise and Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and began his career with a homemade baseball magazine in his native Philadelphia in the early 1990s. Tyler is the author of the best-selling “K: A History of Baseball In Ten Pitches” (2019) and “The Grandest Stage: A History of The World Series” (2022). Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerKepner

Why the Giants’ Logan Webb is a modern master of efficient dominance (2024)
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