A National League All-Star for the third straight season, Brandon Webb has clearly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the game. The possessor of what is arguably the best sinker in baseball-Webb’s 3.74 GB/FB-ratio over the past four seasons is tops among all MLB starters-he goes into the midsummer classic with an NL-best 13 wins. Last season, Webb put together a 42 1/3 consecutive scoreless-innings streak, the 12th-longest in big league history, en route to leading the senior circuit in innings pitched. A 29-year-old native of Ashland, Kentucky, Webb captured the National League Cy Young Award in 2006.
David Laurila: How would you describe Brandon Webb’s approach on the mound?
Brandon Webb: I try to pitch to contact. That’s the biggest thing for me, trying to throw quality strikes down in the zone with the sinking action I have. I like to get early contact, and if you can do that, and have good defense behind you, you’re going to pitch a lot of innings and keep yourself in the game with a low pitch count. So I want early contact, a lot of ground balls, and early outs. That’s kind of how I go about it.
DL: A lot of guys talk about pitching to contact, but how do you go about doing that-how can pitchers consistently induce weak contact?
BW: By keeping the ball down in the zone and making quality pitches instead of just throwing it down the middle without any movement. If you do that-if you leave pitches out over the plate-you’re going to get tattooed. So it’s all about throwing good quality pitches down in the zone, and hopefully you’ll get outs more often than not.
DL: When asked why your sinker is so good, your usual response is to say that it’s mostly just a result of your natural arm action. How would you describe your arm action?
BW: When I throw, I try to think about working on top of the ball and creating a two-point movement, instead of just a lateral movement that a lot of people have by working on the side of the ball. I really concentrate on getting my two fingers that I throw the ball with over on top to get that two-point movement.
DL: Can you describe, in specific terms, how you grip your sinker?
BW: It’s just a two-seam fastball. You can basically throw a curveball with any grip; you can throw a slider or a changeup with any grip. It’s the same with a sinker. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the grip; it’s the way you manipulate the ball with your arm action. I do grip the ball the same each time, though; it’s what feels most comfortable to me.
DL: The ability to make adjustments is a big part of pitching. What type of adjustments do you typically make on the mound?
BW: A lot of times I have a tendency to throw across my body, so I have to watch out for that and kind of bring my landing foot back over toward the first-base side; I have to concentrate on working my body toward the plate instead of around it. I also have to make sure that I get my arm up-get my elbow up-so that I’m not rushing. I need to get a good balance point so that my elbow is in the proper spot, at the proper time, to consistently throw quality strikes.
DL: How would you describe your overall pitching mechanics?
BW: I think I’m pretty basic. I have the same arm angle that a lot of guys have. My lower half is pretty identical to most every pitcher; every pitcher has a good balance point and things like that. My mechanics are pretty ordinary.
DL: Do you view your sinker as just one pitch, or as multiple pitches with different velocity and movement to different zones?
BW: Yeah, I do sometimes take a little velocity off and work differently against right-handers and left-handers. I’ll try to bring it off the body to left-handers, and I’ll get a lot of strikeouts with that when it’s going good. I’ll do the same thing to lock up a right-hander, getting it to come back on the outside. Behind on the count, I’ll take a little off to try to get a hitter too far out front so he’ll hopefully roll the ball over. So sure, you can definitely look at them as different pitches.
DL: Last year, left-handed hitters hit more balls in the air against you than did right-handed hitters. Why?
BW: Left-handers, because they’re so used to seeing the ball sink away, sink away-they dive out over the plate and try to shoot the ball to left field. I think it’s probably that as much as anything.
DL: Have you made any adjustments in an attempt to induce more ground balls from left-handed hitters?
BW: Yes, we’ve tried to come inside with a four-seamer and cutters this year to try to get them off of that outside pitch. That way I’m opening up the outside so they won’t be diving after that pitch as much.
DL: Do you buy into the theory that sinkerball pitchers are more effective when their arms aren’t quite as fresh?
BW: It’s probably different for different people, but in my case, if I’m really strong I think the ball does tend to flatten out a little bit. If I’m around 87 to 89, maybe 91, it’s a lot better than in some games where in the first few innings I’ll be 89 to 93. It can be kind of flat then.
DL: You led the National League in innings pitched last year, and are among the league leaders again this season. What are your thoughts on workload?
BW: I take pride in having a lot of innings, because if you’re leading the league, or are even close to leading the league, it means you’re out there doing well and keeping your team in the game. So I take a lot of pride in that. As far as workload, if you do your exercises and keep in shape, you should be fine. I don’t really worry about working too much.
DL: How do you prepare for games?
BW: I actually don’t do a whole lot of preparation. I go over the scouting report with the catcher for about five minutes, but other than that I basically just go out there and do my thing. There’s stretching and all that, but I don’t go too much in depth with the other stuff. I like to keep it simple.
DL: It sounds like you don’t start to really focus until closer to game time?
BW: Exactly. I start stretching my legs and arm with the trainer about an hour before the game, and that’s when I kind of start locking in. Some people take the whole day, but I’d be worn out if I did that. I like to interact with guys and don’t change my routine too much from the everyday, because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I take it like any other day up until the point that I go to the trainer to start getting ready. I’m pretty open to anything before that.
DL: Lenny DiNardo of the A’s has said that there’s a correlation between pitching and playing the guitar, in part because of the pressure he puts on the seams. As someone who also plays the guitar, do you agree with him?
BW: Personally, I don’t correlate that too much, because I don’t put any extra pressure on my index finger to throw the sinker; I keep it pretty equal. I suppose there might be for some guys who do both-pitch and play the guitar-but not for me.