Weaver: Better Stuff?

Dave · June 21, 2007 at 8:40 am · Filed Under Mariners 

This morning, everyone’s trying to wrap their heads around what happened last night. The guy who entered the game with an ERA of 10.97 just threw a complete game shutout? It’s one of those things that makes no sense. After giving up a couple of hits per inning in his first eight starts, he gave up four hits in nine innings. What just happened?

Here’s Weaver’s take:

“I felt I was making too many quality pitches to get crushed the way I was,” he said. “The last three starts, I can tell the stuff’s got a lot of life, there’s a lot of sharpness on the off-speed stuff.”

Weaver’s three starts in June, he’s posting a 1.89 ERA and opposing hitters are only putting up a .225/.253/.352 line against him after destroying him in the first two months of the season. Has his stuff actually improved?

Lucky for us, all three of Jeff Weaver’s last three starts have come in ballparks that have MLB Advanced Media’s Pitch F/X system installed – essentially, there are a network of high speed cameras aimed at the plate and the mound, and they track the flight of the ball as it leaves the hand until it crosses the plate. The system measures velocity and break with significant accuracy, theoretically giving us the ability to quantify just how good a guy’s “stuff” was.

So, for comparison’s sake, I’ve pulled in the velocity and movement data for his last three starts, as well as the April 28th debacle against the Kansas City Royals where he gave up 6 runs and got 1 out. I’ve dropped the information into excel for an easy side by side comparison.

Let’s start with early game velocity.

Pitch	6/20	6/14	6/9	4/28
1	86.8	83.6	86.8	89.2
2	88.6	86.7	89	87.3
3	75	86.5	88.4	90.6
4	88	86.7	89.2	77.5
5	89.4	86.6	88.4	89.4
6	75.7	88.2	81.4	89.2
7	73.2	79.6	90.5	88.1
8	78.5	87.3	91.9	80
9	78.2	77.7	92.1	0
10	88.1	83.5	89.9	90.5

In the first 10 pitches of the game, his fastball velocity looks to be pretty much the same – 87 to 90 with a 91 or a 92 here or there. However, there is one clear difference – he threw a lot more breaking stuff early last night than he had in the other three starts. Against KC, SD, and CHN, he was pumping fastballs to start the game (where have we heard this before?). Last night, not so much.

But that’s just 10 pitches. Let’s look at his next 21 pitches, which will run us through the end of his horrible start against the Royals.

Pitch	6/20	6/14	6/9	4/28
10	88.1	83.5	89.9	90.5
11	90.2	85.6	81.3	90.9
12	78.8	76.2	0	89.9
13	74.5	87	0	75.3
14	80.4	77.3	90.6	74.6
15	74.6	78	88.4	85.6
16	90.4	0	90.8	85.8
17	74.3	83.4	88.8	88.2
18	0	83.6	90.7	79.2
19	86.8	83.5	81.8	89.3
20	73.8	87.1	81.7	87.8
21	87.3	86.6	75.1	89
22	86.8	73.5	80.7	77.9
23	87.2	71.8	79.7	77.6
24	88.2	87	89.9	79.1
25	89.8	87.7	86.3	88.2
26	73.1	79.7	90.2	88.4
27	88.3	88.9	77.6	89.9
28	73.9	74.7	90.1	89.7
29	81.1	78.2	90.9	80.1
30	78.9	77.8	89	79.7

As you can tell from the Royals start (4/28), he basically just pumped fastballs, one after another, with only an occassional breaking ball. There’s an awful lot of 88s and 89s in there. Only 8 of the 30 pitches recorded against KC were thrown at 80 MPH or less. Last night, 13 of his first 30 recorded pitches (gameday missed one pitch in each sample) were 80 MPH or less.

Of course, mixing your pitches only matters if you have major league breaking stuff. If Weaver was throwing meatball 78 MPH sliders, well, it doesn’t do him any good to mix those in and watch hitters tee-off on them. So, let’s look at the movement on his pitches in these four starts. Now, this is where the data gets somewhat confusing, because the PFX data in gameday measures things almost exactly backwards of how you’d expect – a higher PFX number means less break, and a lower PFX number means more break. It’s based off expected drop. Anyways, it’s complex, but I’ll interpret this at the end of the next chart.

Pitch	6/20	6/14	6/9	4/28
1	11.12	3.25	11.57	10.85
2	11.10	10.40	11.96	0.90
3	2.30	12.20	10.38	10.07
4	13.29	12.62	11.51	4.95
5	10.94	10.84	4.77	9.56
6	4.32	11.97	8.79	11.85
7	4.75	2.00	10.89	4.44
8	2.82	10.33	13.44	3.87
9	2.24	3.28	9.49	0.00
10	10.63	2.17	11.36	11.07
11	13.17	11.59	8.88	9.09
12	3.08	4.11	0.00	9.70
13	5.11	10.21	0.00	4.29
14	10.09	0.21	11.26	4.05
15	4.19	3.51	6.55	2.54
16	10.44	0.00	11.42	2.67
17	7.58	2.72	2.79	11.24
18	0.00	2.29	9.33	3.37
19	11.93	4.03	9.39	12.34
20	3.42	10.37	2.49	8.33
21	8.50	10.48	5.19	13.51
22	11.29	5.44	3.06	7.26
23	10.66	4.97	3.99	3.36
24	11.69	9.71	9.49	0.03
25	12.70	10.31	9.17	9.23
26	4.31	9.23	9.10	11.50
27	12.05	10.43	5.45	11.72
28	5.00	4.37	6.81	12.58
29	10.54	5.92	11.24	1.88
30	3.60	4.47	7.76	4.40

Okay, so, I know that’s just a bunch of numbers that really don’t mean anything. Here’s a basic guide – anything 9+ is almost certainly a fastball, while something in the 2-4 range is probably a slider. Those 5-7 pitches are probably crappy sliders that didn’t move as much as he wanted or maybe a change-up. The lower the number, the more movement the pitch had.

When you look at this data, combined with the velocity numbers from above, you can see that Weaver was really making an effort to mix his pitches last night. He started the game with fastball-fastball-slider-fastball-fastball, then dropped four straight sliders, then went fastball-fastball-slider-slider-fastball-slider-fastball-slider.

It might not be the most unique pitch sequence of all time, but it beats the heck out of how he started the game against the Cubs – 10 consecutive fastballs, then working in a slider that didn’t move very much.

Beyond the pitch selection, however, it doesn’t appear that his pitches moved much more last night than he did in any of the three starts. The average PFX record for the 13 breaking balls he threw in his first 30 pitches last night was 4.05. The average PFX record for the 9 breaking balls he threw in his start against Kansas City was 4.15. His breaking ball doesn’t appear that it was really diving any more than previously, but he was certainly using it more.

Now, none of this is conclusive evidence. We don’t have an historical record of the pitch f/x data to really understand how to interpret it into good versus bad stuff. This kind of analysis is completely in its infancy, and I’m really just offering this up as an interesting point in the conversation. I’m not blaming Weaver’s previous bad starts on pitch selection, nor am I suggesting that he throw more breaking balls in the future (because, honestly, his slider’s a hit-me pitch).

I just think it’s interesting that he clearly mixed his pitches better last night, after coming out in the other three starts with a heavy fastball pattern early in the game. Combined with the Charting Felix work, and the fact that the Mariners starters have almost all gotten torched in the first inning, I think the M’s may want to consider looking into how their starters begin the games.

As for Weaver, well, I’m thrilled that he helped the M’s win a game and gave the bullpen another night off. But this doesn’t really change my opinion about what he is – a guy who throws the ball over the plate with below average stuff and is at the mercy of the talent of the opposing hitters. I’m still afraid of what Boston is going to do to him in his next trip to the hill.


55 Responses to “Weaver: Better Stuff?”

  1. Jeff Nye on June 21st, 2007 4:12 pm

    Okay, so, that being the case, what can you give us other than “fundamental tenants” to convince us of the fact that the fastball is a unique pitch, which no pitcher can succeed without an effective version of?

    By the way, Jamie Moyer says hello!

  2. Sammy on June 21st, 2007 4:25 pm


    I agree with you that, in the long term, Felix won’t be as dominant as he was in the Boston game until he learns to command his two-seamer. But why is it so important that Felix rely on the fastball in the first inning, especially at this point in his pitching development? Command is something that comes with time and repetition, neither of which are contingent on Felix throwing 20 fastballs to start every game.

  3. gwangung on June 21st, 2007 5:11 pm

    If he doesn’t learn it, mixing up his pitches at the beginning of the game isn’t going to help in the long run.

    A hundred fifty years of pitching belies that.

    You are STILL repeating, over and over, to be dominant, Felix needs command of his fastball. Duh. Tell us something we DON’T know.

    What I am getting from you is “establishing the fastball” is a necesary step to Felix getting that command. What??????? That doesn’t follow (or if it does, nobody else is following)

    You ARE wishcasting a magical solution. Throwing the fastball over and over, at 80% of the time and watching get it over and over does not equate to Felix getting command over his fastball.

    And what the heck is the problem of taking the fastball ratio down from 80% down to anywhere from 60 to 65%??? How is that abandoning the fastball?

  4. Hit and Run on June 21st, 2007 5:42 pm

    “Hernandez seemed to have little downward snap on his two-seam fastball in Houston, leading to the question of whether he is not “finishing” that pitch, either because of discomfort or tentativeness brought on by the forearm strain that sidelined him. . .”

    Why couldn’t the above quote from the Seattle Times be accurate in describing Felix’ problem?

    This is IN CONJUNCTION with Felix being told to establish his fastball at the beginning of games. If your fastball is ineffective it is probably not helpful to not mix your pitches at the beginning of the game.

    I remember Weaver being quoted at a post game interview after being hammered in the 1st inning (sorry forgot which game) that he was trying to “establish his fastball” and the hitters were all over it. It seems pretty clear that this was the team strategy.


    16 June: Before the game, Geoff Baker asked Hargrove about Baek’s poor performance in the 1st inning of games. Hargrove says its sample size.

    16 June – 19 June: Mariner starters give up 8 first inning runs in three games (2-4-2).

    19 June: After game Hargrove has meeting with players and subsequently coaches including Chavez.

    20 June: Weaver mixes his pitches better and has success, including in 1st innning.


    Are we through with the “establish the fastball early” philosophy? Felix’ next start will be interesting to watch.

    has a coaches meeting and the following day Weaver, at least, starts mixing in more off speed pitches in the first few innings.

  5. scraps on June 22nd, 2007 6:14 am

    em, it would be helpful if you could explain why establishing the fastball is a necessary measure for a pitcher. You repeat it, you call it “old school”, you imply that anyone who disagrees lacks “knowledge of the game,” but you never actually give reasons.

    I’m guessing that you will respond with condescension to my ignorance, but if you could include some reasons, I could accept that.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.