When Jake Westbrook woke up Wednesday morning, I wonder if he smiled to himself.
As he ate his breakfast (likely a combination of egg whites, melon and a bagel because he is in the Best Shape of His Life), I wonder if he sat there still smiling to himself. As he dug into those rubbery eggs, did he consider himself the luckiest man in the world? Did it make him want to fall off the diet wagon and gorge fried chicken and beer like an erstwhile Red Sock?
Jake Westbrook, a svelte sinker extraordinaire with Georgia stubble, is probably going to be YOUR number three starter in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation this season. Chris Carpenter? No amount of rib removal can bring him back now. Jaime Garcia? His shoulder is dangling from the frays. All that's left between Jake Westbrook and 32 guaranteed starts is a surprise signing of Kyle Lohse, which will definitely not happen.
Westbrook has been crapping horseshoes since the moment Cleveland notified him that he had been traded to the Cardinals on July 31, 2010. Westbrook was toiling away on a going-nowhere-fast Indians team. Suddenly, he had been inexplicably shipped to a heated division race in St. Louis. My god, he must have said to himself, I could be pitching in the playoffs! What did I do to deserve this good fortune?
Sadly, it was not to be, since Westbrook went from a non-playoff team in the AL Central to a non-playoff team in the NL Central.
Not to worry, though, because the Cardinals came through for Westbrook again. After throwing 75 perfectly average innings for the Cardinals, Westbrook was handed a two-year extension. He didn't even have to wait long either; the Cardinals allowed him to be a free agent for all of 15 days before they snapped him up, eager to perfect the Veteran Starter model.
Unfortunately, Westbrook's 2011 season was a thud. He made 33 starts, but was worth just one win. His walk rate blew up and he found himself watching most of the magical playoff run from the comfort of a bullpen bench.
But oh! Fortune would again smile on Westbrook. When David Freese solidified Game 6 of the 2011 World Series as one of the greatest postseason games played in any sport, Westbrook somehow found himself in the books as the winning pitcher. He threw a scoreless 11th inning and picked up a Pitching Win after David Freese did that one thing we all remember.
Then 2012 came. Westbrook showed up about 40 pounds lighter after being repeatedly mocked and degraded by Al Hrabosky the previous season for being a wide load who didn't have the stamina to get out of the fifth inning, likely because the chicken grease he was sweating out was weighing down his uniform.
Slimmer doesn't always translate to sexy in the pitching lines and Westbrook didn't do much to endear himself to Cardinals fans last season. Nor did he do much to endear himself to Mike Matheny. He didn't make a start after Sept. 8 and never saw the mound in the postseason.
Despite all that, the Cardinals bestowed on him another contract extension. Despite being a pretty average pitcher, Westbrook was just going about his life, throwing sinkers, getting $8 million checks, a World Series ring and Pitching Wins in the World Series.
Lucky man or luckiest man?
Some might grimace at Westbrook's extension. I've gone back and forth on it several times. At first I liked it, then I remembered I don't like Jake Westbrook. Now the Cardinals will not have Carpenter or (likely) Garcia, so it's not as bad.
The thing people will probably forget when Jake Westbrook throws six ugly innings is that he was actually not a bad pitcher last season! He didn't walk many batters and he didn't give up many home runs. His ground ball rate was a Duncan-approved 58 percent. Sure, he was only good for 2+ wins in 28 starts, but his fielding independent stats didn't differ that much from Kyle Lohse, and there are certain circles of the fanbase who regard him as an ace.
Westbrook probably won't provide the Cardinals with much value. He'll probably throw 190 average or slightly below innings. He'll have a few games where he suddenly walks five batters, which will make Hrabosky skeptical of his diet plan.
Westbrook is not going to kill the Cardinals, and that's about the best he can offer. The rotation will likely hinge on how much Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal or Joe Kelly can develop. Westbrook, like the previously mentioned egg whites, will serve scant value. That may be depressing, but the Cardinals could pluck Randy Keisler out of obscurity. Or they could flip through their 2007 rolodexes and see if Kip Wells's phone number is still...you know, turned on.
So let us salute this lucky man. And let us hope he's equally lucky with the BABIP, right? RIGHT?!