In what has been a year of frustration for the Boston Red Sox, one of the most frustrating pieces of Boston’s 59-75 puzzle has been starting pitcher Allen Webster. Set to make his seventh start of the 2014 season Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, the 24-year-old pitching prospect has been wildly inconstant, posting a 5.81 ERA and 1.581 WHIP despite a 3-2 record through his first six starts.
His numbers that don’t look good to anybody. And as bad as those numbers have looked, Webster has looked even worse at times on the mound. The young right-hander who has very good stuff and has put up great numbers in the minor leagues has looked timid on major league mounds. He’s looked out of place, mostly because it looks like he’s concerned with whether or not he belongs.
And when you have the repertoire and success Webster has, there should be no doubts as to whether or not you belong.
So what has gone wrong for Webster since being called up to the big club on July 27? It’s something that has been pondered by writers, pundits and observers alike. Good chance it’s been pondered a time or two within the walls of the corner office of Red Sox manager John Farrell.
When you look deeper into his six appearances this season with Boston, you can see the root of Webster’s problems — it’s all in how he starts innings.
Of the 33 innings Webster has started over those six starts, he’s put the lead baserunner on in 12 of those frames. The combined numbers of those 12 innings? An aggregate 10 2/3 innings, allowing 16 runs (15 earned) on 17 hits and 15 walks, amounting to an ERA of 12.66 and WHIP of 3.000. Of the 12 times he’s put the lead man on, the second batter has gone onto reach seven times. Three times he’s failed to finish the inning, the latest coming when he failed to finish off the Seattle Mariners in the top of the fifth inning in his most recent start on Sunday, an 8-6 Mariners win.
When Webster puts the first man on, his mechanics get out of whack. He tends to leave pitches up in the zone. It’s a very similar issue to another Red Sox starter — Clay Buchholz — being that he turns into a completely different pitcher when runners get on base, particularly when he’s not in one- or two-out situations. And the numbers show it.
Webster has retired the lead batter 21 times in 2014. The numbers in those innings are as good as any you’ll find. Logging 20 1/3 innings through those respective innings, he’s allowed just five earned runs on 12 hits and five walks, good enough for a 2.21 ERA and WHIP of 0.836. These are numbers that better represent the pitcher who had a 3.10 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 122 innings in 21 appearances (20 starts) with Triple A Pawtucket this season, and was a top-50 prospect prior to the 2014 season.
The numbers in those 21 innings are encouraging. They show what Webster is capable of doing at the major league level, and they show he knows how to use his stuff as a way of getting guys out.
As for the 12 innings of ugly, it shows a mental side that Webster must harness. In these situations, it’s about learning how to gather himself and figure out how to use his stuff to work his way out of jams. It’s something every pitcher goes through, and something every pitcher has to work out of.
Whether or not Webster can learn how to pitch in such situations is to be seen. But he’s going to have to if he wants a long major league career.
Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.