Game 51, Angels at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Jered Weaver, 7:10pm
I mentioned it in the opening day game thread, but Jered Weaver’s had to make some adjustments in recent years. He’s not throwing 90 anymore – he’s at 85-88. Perhaps due to elbow problems that have put a dent in his workload, he’s using his slider less and a slow curve more. All of these changes can be placed in the “aging” bucket, of course: he’s older, so the aches and pains start to add up, the body takes longer to recover, and he can’t throw as hard as he did at 24-25. What’s interesting is just how well Weaver’s adapted. He’s giving the Angels fewer innings, but he’s yielding fewer runs when he’s out there.
Go by FIP, and you see the skeletal hand of aging at work. From 2010-2014, Weaver’s FIP has inched upwards: 3.06, 3.20, 3.75, 3.82, 4.06. A large part of this is due to his K% falling back down after spiking in 2010 – it’s gone from nearly 26% to around 19% in recent years. Lower velo, fewer strikeouts, a walk rate that’s fairly stable but higher than it was in 2010, etc. – it all shows a pitcher in decline. But look at his RA! From 2011-2014, over 645 innings, Weaver’s giving up 2.90 runs (earned and unearned) per 9. For that same time period, Justin Verlander’s RA is 3.31…and he won two Cy Young awards in those years. Let’s be clear about this: I’m not advocating ditching FIP for ERA, or that Weaver is waaaay better than Verlander.* I’m saying that Weaver’s been sneaky good if all you look at is FIP. On a *rate* basis, though, Weaver’s been excellent despite the drop in apparent skill. So is he just the luckiest guy in the American League?
Let’s step back a bit. When he broke into the Angels’ rotation in 2006, he posted great results and a poor FIP and saber-friendly fans/blogs ID’d him as a regression candidate. For the next several years, Weaver essentially proved them right. When his strand rate wasn’t off-the-charts great, he was a good-but-not-great pitcher. From 2007-09, his RA was over 4, pretty much dead on his FIP. As a FB/SL guy, the problem centered on platoon splits. As a guy with a whippy, 3/4 delivery, his fastball (which righties describe as deceptive) was easier to pick up. Beginning in 2009, Weaver began using a sinker to lefties, and by 2010, it was his primary pitch to them.** To righties, his delivery and odd movement meant he could throw fastballs in the center of the zone and up in the zone and not pay for it. To lefties, he learned to keep the ball away and use his other pitches to keep lefties from pulling the ball in the air. He’s stopped chasing strikeouts, and instead offers hitters the opportunity to hit the ball to center field. And it’s worked.
Weaver’s made a number of changes, but one thing’s been constant: he’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher. His fastball movement’s the key to his reliably extreme GB rates – his four-seamer now has essentially zero horizontal movement and much more vertical “rise” than most. As a result, the pitch is hit in the air (for a fly ball or pop-up) over half the time batters make contact. Righties in particular basically can’t hit ground balls even if they wanted to. Since the introduction of his sinker, the story with lefties is a bit more complicated. They still hit plenty of fly balls, but he’s clearly not as extreme. The blizzard of fly balls and the existence of Mike Trout (and Peter Bourjos before him) help keep his BABIP very low, which in turn has boosted his strand rate. In the past several seasons, his average strand rate’s about 80%. Essentially, Jered Weaver has become Chris Young. Neither one LOOKS like an ace, and both post lackluster fielding independent stats, but both routinely post much better ERAs thanks in part to low BABIPs and high strand rates. And they do it despite fly-ball velocities that wouldn’t look out of place in a good high school league.
All of that said, he’s struggled in Safeco. His magical BABIP-suppression works wonders at home (career ave. of .264), less so in Safeco (.314). He’s not bad by any stretch, but think of how poorly the M’s have hit in Safeco during Weaver’s career. The fact that they’re hitting .283 against anyone is kind of miraculous. That it’s against Weaver is kind of shocking.
1: Jones, CF
2: Saunders, RF
3: Cano, DH
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ackley, LF
7: Franklin, 2B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
Jordan Pries starts for Tacoma today against ex-Rainier Jarrett Grube of Salt Lake tonight at Cheney.
Speaking of Cheney, it looks like Taijuan Walker’s on track for a rehab start with Tacoma tomorrow at 7. May it go better than Paxton’s.
* Weaver pitched 645 innings (so far) from 2011-2014. Verlander’s at 779. ‘
** “OK, but aren’t you the guy that’s always saying pitchers should use four-seamers to OPPOSITE handed hitters and target same-handed bats with sinkers?” Guilty, but again, nothing about Weaver makes a lot of sense from a traditional saber POV. He throws slow FBs at the top of the zone and gives up a ton of fly ball contact, but he thrives. The fact that his pitch usage is out of step with pitch type run values is perhaps the least surprising thing about him.