Is It Fair To Blame Westbrook?
Cardinal fans always seem to need a chew toy. When the team traded away Brendan Ryan, the fans went after Colby Rasmus and Ryan Theriot. When those were gone, they attacked Tyler Greene. This year’s favorite targets of derision have included perennial favorite Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran (?), Marc Rzepczynski, and Ty Wigginton.
Now fans want the head of Jake Westbrook on a platter.
It’s true — Westbrook has had four terrible starts in a row. He is 0-4 with a ghastly 10.13 ERA over those four games. He’s surrendered more walks (15) than strikeouts (10), and his WHIP of 2.085 is bad enough to induce whiplash. In short, Westbrook has been having a breakdown at the worst possible time, as the Cardinals are already struggling to keep their heads above water in a rapidly-rising pennant race.
Based on these four games, fans want Westbrook drawn-and-quartered on Clark Street, and his blood painted into a cross on the Busch Stadium mound to ward off the evil spirits he brought to this team. Based on these four games, these tireless fanatics stay up all night on message boards ranting about Westbrook while effigies of the scorned starter burn in their backyards. Based on these four games, the Lunatic Fringe wants Westbrook traded to the Yomiuri Giants for a bowl of egg drop soup.
It’s just four games, people.
Fans conveniently forget that Westbrook gave up just four earned runs in April, and began May with the best ERA on the team (0.98). On June 1st, Westbrook was 3-3 with a team-best ERA of 1.62. By July 1st, Westbrook’s ERA had risen to 2.95, thanks in large part to his final start of the month – still very good. So, for the first three months of the season, Westbrook was the second-best starter on the staff and greatly contributed to the team’s fast start.
However, Westbrook is NOT this rotation’s #2 starter. He’s not even #3 or #4. When the season started, Westbrook was the #5 starter behind Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Jaime Garcia, and Lance Lynn. He’s paid like a veteran #5 starter, too, making just $8.75M this season. Necessity placed more pressure on Westbrook once Garcia was lost to shoulder surgery, and the fans (incorrectly) expected Westbrook to fill that void.
Had Westbrook continued his April performance throughout the entire season, he would’ve eclipsed all of the accomplishments of his solid career and probably wrestled the Cy Young Award away from Wainwright. We all knew that Westbrook’s season would eventually level out. Westbrook is not Cliff Lee. He’s Jason Marquis, or Joel Pineiro — a decent, unspectacular innings-eater who can, more often than not, give your team a chance to win. I understand that the fans want a rotation consisting of five clones of Wainwright, but that staff is difficult to assemble and even more difficult to afford.
Winning teams need starters like Westbrook. He’s a good clubhouse guy who gives his best in every start and battles selflessly to the end. Fans were wailing over Westbrook’s calamitous relief appearance on August 7th (5 innings, 9 earned runs), but I assure you that his teammates were inspired by his willingness to sacrifice himself that day. Other times this season, we’ve seen Westbrook successfully battle his own control problems and still earn a win. Westbrook is, in baseball terms, a gamer.
Fans are demanding that Michael Wacha replace Westbrook in the rotation. That might happen next year, but it would be highly unlikely to see Westbrook moved into the bullpen this year given his salary and seniority. It’s also important to note that the Cardinals have yet to see great, plan-altering performances from any of their prized “young guns” like Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, or John Gast. Of the bunch, Wacha has been the most impressive (while Martinez has been a disappointment so far). However, none of these pitchers have the pennant race experience of Westbrook, and none of them have yet shown the intestinal fortitude necessary to overcome adversity as Westbrook has during his time here.
I’m not a Westbrook honk; I’ve certainly made my criticisms of him clear here and elsewhere. However, I’ve reappraised by opinion of Westbrook. The team is paying him to eat innings and keep us in ballgames, and Westbrook has, for most of his three years here, done that very well. He’s paid to be our #5 starter, not our ace. Blaming Westbrook for the team’s recent slide is like blaming the emissions of one factory for the Earth’s ozone hole. He hasn’t pitched well lately, but the offense has been curiously asleep and the rest of the rotation hasn’t been great, either (aside from Joe Kelly). I just can’t figure out why Westbrook is getting so much blame for the failures of the entire team.
As long as he is healthy, the team will continue to put faith in Westbrook to finish this season in the rotation and give everything he has left to help this team reach the postseason. The fans need to look at the whole picture and support this solid, hard-working member of a championship-caliber team.