At this point it’s safe to call it a spring tradition: Eyebrows get raised in response to Jered Weaver‘s underwhelming velocity, and Weaver tells the media he doesn’t care. There’s nothing wrong with Weaver’s reaction, because he is more of a command pitcher, and he knows he’ll be fine if he locates. I’m sure he’s beyond tired of this repeating conversation. But from the outside, it’s significant that Weaver’s fastball continues to surprise, because it just keeps getting slower, more quickly than it probably ought to. The public is velocity-obsessed, yeah. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t warrant attention:
The league-average fastball has gotten harder over time. You know that. But while we expect velocity to decline for pitchers as they age, Weaver’s curve has gotten weird. He lost more than a mile between 2011 and 2012. He lost more than a mile again between 2012 and 2013. And then last year, he lost three miles. He lost even more after returning from a DL stint. This isn’t the kind of thing people just shrug off. This is kind of a big deal, whether Weaver wants to admit it or not.
Now there’s another season coming. Weaver is a healthy member of the Angels rotation. The league will probably continue to throw harder, and based on recent historical trends, we might expect its average at about 91.9 mph. As for Weaver? Weaver isn’t going to average that.
Pedro Moura was watching Weaver in a spring game a week ago:
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) March 4, 2016
Then Weaver pitched again Wednesday. I understand it’s still spring training. But:
One scout in attendance has Jered Weaver topping out at 80 mph in two innings today. He threw a 78-mph fastball Austin Barnes hit for a HR.
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) March 9, 2016
In his last inning, Weaver worked all the way up to 81. If we were to take this as his ability now, we’re looking at yet another velocity drop, and a fairly big one, for a pitcher who seemingly didn’t have much left to lose. This is what happened with the first batter of Weaver’s afternoon:
And here’s that pitch that was clocked at 78:
What we had last year was a Jered Weaver whose fastball averaged 83.3. It was down from that in the second half. What we might have now is a Jered Weaver whose fastball averages 80 or 81. Maybe he’ll work up from this a little bit, who knows, but it would kind of fit the trend. And as you recognize, this has gotten extreme. I’ve prepared a table below, after looking at starting pitchers since 2002. I didn’t establish an innings minimum — I wanted to capture everybody. I did take the step of eliminating knuckleballers, but what you see here are the 10 slowest fastballs, relative to the league-average fastball for a starter.
|Pitcher||Season||FB (mph)||League FB (mph)||%League||Hand|
Last year’s Weaver shows up in ninth, basically tied with 2006 Jamie Moyer. Last year’s Weaver threw a fastball that was just under 91% as fast as the league-average fastball for a starter. You’ll notice that Weaver is the only righty in the group. Not that you needed to be told he has an unusual profile, but, anyway. Think now about his potential new average, compared to the estimated 2016 league average of 91.9. If Weaver averages 83, that would put him at 90.3%. If Weaver averages 82, that would put him at 89.2%. And if Weaver averages 81, that would put him at 88.1%.
In short: there’s a real, legitimate chance 2016 Weaver ends up in second place on this list. First place is occupied by a 49-year-old who was coming off Tommy John surgery. Jered Weaver’s velocity loss is seemingly unstoppable, and it’s carried him into a most unfamiliar place.
Yet as Weaver would be delighted to remind you, velocity isn’t the endgame. He’s not out there to try to throw as hard as he can. He’s out there to try to prevent runs from scoring. Granted, a season ago, he had problems in that department, and it’s not difficult to speculate why. The spring outing on Wednesday was a disaster. But Weaver now is something of an experimental pitcher, and we get to watch him and try to track just how slow you can throw and still succeed. It might not be fun and relaxing for the Angels and their fans, but it’s good for our collective curiosity. Moyer, obviously, exceeded expectations for something like two decades. He can be kind of a template, but now we have a righty, who’s a shell of what he once was.
There were plenty of negative signs from Weaver’s 2015. He had a career-low strikeout rate, and a career-high ERA. Batters pulled the ball almost half the time they hit it. By run value, Weaver nearly had the least-valuable fastball in the game, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet it wasn’t all bad. Weaver’s other pitches were all in positive territory. Down the stretch, he tried to phase the fastball out, throwing it barely 40% of the time. Weaver, overall, still allowed weaker contact than average. He threw more than enough strikes. And perhaps importantly, Weaver managed to allow about the same rate of contact as he did in 2012, when he finished third in Cy Young voting. Weaver didn’t become super hittable, by that measure, and he’d already lost several ticks. What might happen if he loses some more?
I genuinely don’t know the answer. I think I know the answer — my brain is trying to tell me Weaver is going to suck. Because he most recently sucked, and now he appears to be worse. But I want to make sure I’m not selling Weaver short, because he’s smart enough to adapt, and he has a full repertoire. He can still change looks and speeds, and I don’t want to pretend like I know where the lower threshold is for big-league velocity. That’s what kept getting Moyer skeptics in trouble, and this is why Weaver is so interesting. It seems like he’s doomed, but he’s not necessarily doomed, and the Angels are going to give him ample chances to show he can still pitch. This is going to be a learning experience. We don’t get these opportunities often at all, with every team in baseball searching for heat. The Angels aren’t here because they want to be, but their reality is our reality.
Jered Weaver is about to be one of the slowest-throwing starters in recent memory. He doesn’t have a knuckleball, and his favored arm is the right one. Weaver would tell you this stuff isn’t important, as long as he has his command. I don’t even know if he knows whether he’s to be trusted.
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