Is Brandon Webb the most underrated player of all time?
By Christopher Gaine
Brandon Webb will always be remembered by Diamondbacks fans as a “what could have been” player. He won the Cy Young in 2006 and finished second the next two seasons before disastrous shoulder injuries derailed and ultimately ended his career.
Webb was a great talent in his day. But is he the most underrated player in baseball history?
At first glance, you would say there is no way that Brandon Webb is the most underrated player in the history of baseball. That sentence alone just sounds ridiculous. Webb only had a few good seasons, and posted an ERA under 3.00 just once.
But according to one statistic, Webb just might be the most underrated pitcher to ever play. Webb has the 12th-best ERA+ in the history of baseball of all pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched at 142.
Once this list is narrowed down to starting pitchers in the modern era, Webb is in even more elite company. The only starting pitchers in the modern era to have a better ERA+ than Webb are Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Smokey Joe Wood, Ed Walsh and Roger Clemens. All of those players—except for Kershaw and Clemens—are currently in the Hall of Fame.
Webb is ineligible for the Hall because he played just seven seasons—ten are needed for eligibility. But it is quite impressive that Webb is on a list with names like Martinez and Johnson.
ERA+ is a sabermetric stat that adjusts a pitcher’s ERA for park factors and the ERA of other pitchers in the league. The league average is automatically 100, so anything above that indicates how above-average the pitcher was. Since Webb played most of his career in hitter-friendly Chase Field in the offensive-happy mid-2000’s, his career ERA of 3.27 looks more impressive than a 3.27 ERA would at Marlins Park today. Hence, his spectacular ERA+.
It’s really a shame that Webb’s career was cut short. He was 56-25 with a 3.13 ERA and a 150 ERA+ in the three seasons prior to his shoulder injury, making him arguably the National League’s best pitcher during that stretch. He was just beginning to hit his peak when he was forced off the field, so who knows what a healthy Webb could have accomplished. At just 36 years old, Webb is still younger than a lot of players playing today.
Mariano Rivera has the highest ERA+ of all time at 205. The next closest is Clayton Kershaw, who finishes with a distant 154.