Yes, I’m alive, and no, they haven’t beaten my Mariner fandom out of me yet. After taking a much needed hiatus from blogging for a few weeks, I’m back, with many thanks to Derek for putting the good ship USSM on his back during January.
So, Jeff Weaver. The Mariners are reportedly on the verge of signing him to a one year contract to fill out their rotation. In an offseason that saw poor decisions stacked on top of each other like legos, it’s easy to just add this signing to the mix. The guy posted a 5.76 ERA last year, was released by the Angels halfway through the season, and generally pitched about as badly as Joel Pineiro, who we were all happy to see go away. He’s no one’s idea of a savior, and Weaver-Washburn-Ramirez-Batista adds up to a whole lot of expensive mediocrity behind The King.
However, like the Jose Guillen signing, I think there’s some things to like about this move. If you’ll recall last summer, I advocated picking Jeff Weaver up once the Angels dumped him, writing the following:
So, hereâ€™s a crazy suggestion; trade for Jeff Weaver. Heâ€™s been terrible for the Angels this year, sporting a 6.29 ERA and heâ€™s due over $4 million for the rest of the year. The Angels are on the verge of replacing him with his brother Jered, who is simply a better pitcher right now.
However, Jeff Weaver is a great bet to pitch better as the year goes on. His 6.29 ERA isnâ€™t close to his Fielding Independant ERA (5.20) or xFIP (4.61), which adjusts for HR/FB rate. Weaverâ€™s peripherals arenâ€™t much different than what they were previous years – 2.0 walks, 6.0 strikeouts, 39% GB rate. Heâ€™s a flyball pitcher who throws strikes and occassionally misses bats.
This year, heâ€™s been struggling because teams are getting more hits on balls in play than expected, heâ€™s giving up more homers per fly ball than expected, and heâ€™s got worst Left on Base% of any starting pitcher in the American League. Basically, heâ€™s the anti-Jarrod Washburn, who last year had those three things break in his favor and cashed in on non-repeatable skills. Weaverâ€™s not going to keep giving up home runs at this rate, and heâ€™s not going to keep giving up hits with RISP at this rate. Heâ€™s a great bet to pitch better in the second half of the year than he has to date.
Weaver didn’t pitch any better after signing with St. Louis, but thanks to the change of leagues, he did lower his ERA by a run. His unsustainably low LOB% went up, and stranding runners made him appear a little more effective. But, all in all, it was still a bad year, at least until October, when he pitched like an ace and reminded everyone that he was once a highly thought of pitcher.
He essentially had one big problem in 2006 – home runs. he gave them away like Bobby Ayala discount jerseys from the team store, surrendering a ridiculous 1.78 home runs per nine innings. As a flyball pitcher, he’s always had a bit of a home run problem, but in 2006, balls that had previously stayed in the field of play were clearing the wall, taking him from decent innings eater to suckiest suck who ever sucked.
Sometimes, a surge in home run rate can be a sign that a pitcher has lost some of his prior effectiveness. Other times, it’s just random variation that isn’t predictive of any future performance. There are reasons to believe that Jeff Weaver’s problems were the latter. Take a look at his peripherals with his career average in parentheses:
BB/9: 2.46 (2.46)
K/9: 5.60 (5.99)
GB%: 39% (40.8%)
FB%: 38.3% (37.1%)
LD%: 22.7% (21.5%)
His walkrate hit his career average right on the mark. His strikeout rate was down a little bit, but nothing close to dramatic enough to signal an end-of-career dropoff. His ball in play rates were basically steady with his recent production. The massive change was in his HR/F rate, which was a career high 14.9% while playing in a park that suppresses home runs. His park adjusted HR/F rate was 16.8% while playing for the Angels, a mark that was good for fourth worst in the league.
As we’ve talked about extensively around here, HR/F rate is far, far less predictive than all the other pitching markers. It’s wildly inconsistent due to outside factors and should not be evaluated as a part of a pitcher’s core skillset. As a group, pitchers who post HR/F rates outside of the normal range regress heavily back to the mean in future years. If we had 100 Jeff Weavers, 95 of them would post a lower HR/F rate next year.
If you project Jeff Weaver to have a normal home run rate in 2007, even if his other ratios take a small decline (he is a pitcher after all, and they do generally get worse over time), he still comes out as a decent back end starting pitcher. Fangraphs has gotten four notable projection systems to donate their 2007 data and made it available on their player cards, so we can look at Jeff Weaver’s projection through the eyes of one basic projection system (Marcel) and three more advanced formulas (Zips, Chone, and the Bill James Handbook). Here’s what they spit out:
BJH: 188 IP, 4.40 ERA
Chone: 198 IP, 4.59 ERA
Marcel: 168 IP, 4.98 ERA
Zips: 187 IP, 4.28 ERA
And, just for fun, here’s his PECOTA weighted mean projection, which is available to BP subscribers:
164 IP, 4.44 ERA.
The advanced systems that regress individual skills all have him pegged as a guy who would post an ERA around 4.50. Most of these are based on assumptions that he would re-sign in St. Louis, so we need to add half a run or so for the move to the AL, but Safeco then brings part of that back down. A Safeco-centric projection would probably put him around a 4.75 ERA or so.
On a one year deal, a durable guy who has shown an ability to eat innings and avoid the disabled list and projects to post an ERA south of 5.00 is a pretty nice pickup. Jeff Weaver is not the kind of arm you want to be committing to for multiple years, but he’s a decent innings sponge, and since Safeco is rather pitcher friendly, it’s a good spot for him to come attempt to rebuild his image.
If you asked me if I’d rather have Jeff Weaver or Gil Meche for 2007, I’d probably flip a coin. They’re both flyball ptichers with question marks about their mental preparation who have a mixed bag of historical performances. Gil Meche got $55 million for 5 years. In this market, a one year deal for Jeff Weaver looks like a bargain.