The Giants needed an ace and Logan Webb delivered one of the best starts in their postseason history (2024)

In the first game of the National League Division Series, a young pitcher made his first postseason start in front of a raucous home crowd. No matter what kind of momentum a pitcher has, no matter how well he’s throwing, there’s always the chance that the butterflies in his stomach will turn into scorpions. When the first batter of the ballgame got a hit, you could feel the extra anxiety ripple through the ballpark.

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The next three outs came fast, though, and the pitcher got even stronger as the game went on. His command made hitters feel like they had to expand their zone, but when they started looking for the corners, the pitcher would bury balls in the dirt or spin them way off the plate.

That intro was about Logan Webb in 2021. Unless it was about Tim Lincecum in 2010.

“It felt a little bit like Lincecum’s against the Braves in 2010,” Posey said after the game, and even though he didn’t steal a base to really hammer the comparison home, the parallels were obvious to anyone who saw (or caught) the two starts. The first game of a postseason series, at home, with an untested, young pitcher. It started with nerves and uncertainty, and it ended with one of the best Game 1 wins in franchise history. Webb’s start absolutely belongs in the all-time pantheon of Giants postseason starts, and they’ve had a few of them since 2010.

Here’s where the parallels break down, though: Lincecum was a first-round pick and a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He was one of the faces of the franchise, and if you were given advance knowledge that the Giants were going to win it all in 2010, he would have been one of your first guesses as to why.

Webb wasn’t a lock for the 2021 rotation after the Giants signed Aaron Sanchez. Webb finished the 2020 season with a 5.47 ERA, which barely raised his career ERA. His walk rate was below average; his strikeout rate was way below the league average.

Just because we’ve gotten used to the idea of Logan Webb as a Game 1 starter, as a pitcher who has been responsible for a lot of Giants victories in a short time, that doesn’t mean we can’t step back and ask the obvious question: “How?” How did we get to a point where it’s not only possible to compare him to vintage Lincecum, but that it’s obvious enough for Posey to make the comparison unprompted?

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If you take the question literally, the answers make sense. The how is that Logan Webb threw more changeups than he had all season and the second-most he’d thrown in his career, and the Dodgers kept swinging at them and missing. He tied a career-high with 21 whiffs, and he tied a career-high with 10 strikeouts (both of those previous career highs came against a Brewers team the Giants would be happy to play again this season). The 21 whiffs were tied for the most any single pitcher had gotten against the Dodgers since the start of 2020.

The command was just as important as the raw stuff, too. Dodgers hitters got to a three-ball count just once, and it was just the eighth time in 164 games this season that they didn’t draw a single walk. Webb’s command was superlative, and he forced the Dodgers to look at the corners and edges. And right when they started looking there, the pitches started diving farther and farther away.

Also, wait a second, we’re talking about the Dodgers here. This is where the fun facts become truly fun, because the Dodgers aren’t a team that’s usually in the habit of swinging and missing at pitches out of the strike zone. They had the lowest chase rate in baseball this season. They had the lowest chase rate in 2020. They had the lowest chase rate in the National League in 2019, and they had the lowest chase rate in baseball in 2018. Plate discipline is the Dodgers’ identity, and it’s worked.

Webb’s stuff and command had to be good enough to overcome that, and not only was he getting swings-and-misses, but he was getting ground balls and broken bats and dribblers in front of the plate. He was also doing it efficiently, and Webb, Tyler Rogers (two pitches, one out) and Camilo Doval (nine pitches, three outs) only threw 103 pitches to the Dodgers on Friday night, which is the fewest pitches they’ve seen in a nine-inning game since 2015.

And if you’re wondering how the Dodgers fare against changeups in general, they usually crush them. They also crush fastballs and sinkers. They struggle a bit against curveballs, but Webb doesn’t feature one of those, so it’s not as if the front office and coaching staff handed a dossier to Posey with the secrets to getting the Dodgers out. Teams have been looking for that dossier for years, but it doesn’t exist yet.

Instead, when the changeup looked like it was Webb’s most effective weapon, Posey started calling for it more. Webb threw 38 changeups on Friday night, which is tied for second-most in a start in his career. The most changeups Webb has ever thrown in a game came in September 2020. The second-most he had ever thrown before Friday night also came in a game in September 2020. Then his changeup was the talk of this season’s spring training, with manager Gabe Kapler raving about it in the Cactus League. The third-most changeups he had thrown before Friday night came in April 2021. It was the changeup, changeup, changeup that was going to establish him as a starting pitcher.

And then … he stopped throwing it as much. There were a lot of reasons — his two-seamer and slider became absolutely wicked weapons, for one — but he became a different pitcher.

Then, on the fly, he reverted back to the changeup-heavy pitcher he was supposed to be in the first place, because he could and because it was working, and it worked brilliantly.

That’s the longer answer to the question. Webb pitched as well as he’s ever pitched, and he pitched as well as any pitcher the Dodgers have seen this season. That’s how.

But that’s not also the original question, exactly. How did Webb get so good, so fast, after struggling in his first two major-league seasons? How did he go from someone with a 5.00-something ERA who needed a strong spring (and a March injury to Alex Wood) to win a rotation spot to someone being mentioned in the same breath as Tim Lincecum at the peak of his powers?

If you know exactly when and how Webb turned into this kind of pitcher, there’s probably a book deal waiting for you. Or a spot in a front office somewhere. Because while the Giants have been bullish on Webb for a long time — they often wondered why he didn’t get more attention as a prospect — I’m not sure anyone saw this kind of development in the middle of a season. After his first start in May, his ERA was 5.34. Then it was 4.74. Then it was 4.09, and then it was 3.86 right before he went on the injured list. He was trending in the right direction, but the IL stint squashed any sense of momentum.

And when he came back, the Giants took it easy on him. Three innings, 45 pitches. Then four innings, 60 pitches. He was throwing six innings again by the end of June, and then yada yada yada, he had one of the greatest postseason starts in franchise history. The answer is buried somewhere in the yadas.

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The Dodgers are a 106-win team that’s impossible to pitch to. They’re the team that was supposed to hunt the Giants down all season. And they also happen to be the rivals, with a built-in excuse for the crowd to get a little more anxious and a little noisier. All of this should have made it harder for Webb. Instead, he had one of the greatest postseason outings in recent memory, which puts it on the shortlist of greatest postseason outings in franchise history.

If you really want to know the answer to “How?” here you go: Logan Webb spin ball good where he want, Dodgers not hit much.

But the question of how he got to that point is less important than everyone agreeing that he’s certainly there now.

(Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The Giants needed an ace and Logan Webb delivered one of the best starts in their postseason history (1)The Giants needed an ace and Logan Webb delivered one of the best starts in their postseason history (2)

Grant Brisbee is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the San Francisco Giants. Grant has written about the Giants since 2003 and covered Major League Baseball for SB Nation from 2011 to 2019. He is a two-time recipient of the SABR Analytics Research Award. Follow Grant on Twitter @GrantBrisbee

The Giants needed an ace and Logan Webb delivered one of the best starts in their postseason history (2024)
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