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Jered Weaver and Park Effects

Over the next few days, you’re going to read an awful lot about how Jered Weaver left money on the table to re-sign with the Angels and pitch close to home. That is almost certainly true, since he probably could have commanded a significantly larger deal had he stayed healthy through 2013 and hit the free agent market, where prices for pitchers of his quality are significantly higher than the $17 million per year he just agreed to. But in addition to his desire to stay close to home, Weaver also knew that re-signing with the Angels was in his best long-term interests, because he’s pitching in one of the best environments possible for his skillset.

More than anything else, the defining characteristic about Jered Weaver is that he’s a fly ball guy. In fact, he’s one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in all of baseball. Since the start of the 2009 season, the only starter who has generated fewer ground balls than Weaver is Ted Lilly – Weaver is 73rd out of 74 qualified pitchers in ground ball rate.

One of the main reasons Weaver has been able to succeed despite all the fly balls, however, is that he has managed to give up fly balls that don’t go out of the ballpark. Despite being an extreme fly ball guy, his HR/9 since the beginning of 2009 is just 0.88, about the same mark as you’d expect from a guy with a neutral GB/FB split. So, in addition to not walking guys and racking up strikeouts, Weaver has made a living giving up fly balls that his outfielders can run down. It’s a pretty good recipe for success.

That recipe, however, wouldn’t work everywhere, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well in almost any other ballpark besides Angels Stadium. While it doesn’t have the reputation of an extreme pitchers park, the ballpark in Anaheim is one of the toughest places for left-handed batters to hit home runs in all of baseball. And Weaver has taken full advantage of this effect.

For his career, 49.7% of the balls Weaver has allowed to be put in play at home have been fly balls, and only 6.0% of those have left the yard. On the road, 8.8% of his fly balls have carried over the fence. While most players perform slightly better at home, Weaver’s skillset is perfectly tailored to the strengths of his home team’s stadium, and that shows up in the results. His career FIP at home is just 3.22, while his FIP on the road is 3.95.

This isn’t to denigrate Weaver at all. Like Dustin Pedroia, he’s found a park effect that he can exploit to great success, and he’s tailored his style of pitching to take full advantage. That’s just smart pitching, and it was also smart of Weaver to realize that his current home park is the perfect place for him to pitch. Yes, he could have taken his talents to free agency and let teams with small ballparks and short right field porches bid for his services, but by staying in Anaheim, Weaver gave himself the best possible chance to sustain his high quality performances.

If he stays healthy and continues to pitch well in Anaheim for the bulk of the next five years, Weaver will likely be looking at another sizable contract extension before this current deal runs out. If he had gone somewhere like New York and had to put up with 320 foot “home runs” down the right field line, there’s a decent chance some of the shine would have come off his particular skillset.

The bottom line is Weaver probably did leave money on the table on this deal, but the side benefits of being able to pitch in a park that should help him land another big deal down the line – and be close to home – almost certainly outweigh the extra cash he could have gotten by hitting free agency after next season. While this was a good deal for the Angels, it was also a good deal for Jered Weaver.