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Jered Weaver vs. Edinson Volquez and Perception vs. Reality

At first, I thought of beginning this with a game of blind resume, but c’mon! You read the title! Not only did you read the title, when you did so you more than likely had one of two reactions. If you are a sabermetrics enthusiast, perhaps your first thought was of two relatively comparable pitchers in terms of effectiveness. If traditional statistics are more of your thing, or if you’re Jack Zduriencik, this comparison would seem highly ridiculous to you. However, are these two players, Weaver and Volquez, really all that different? Well, once you strip away all of the labels, preconceived notions, and flaw-laden statistics, the answer may just be that no, they aren’t.

Let me begin this by acknowledging that Jered Weaver is inarguably more accomplished than Edinson Volquez. His highs have been higher, and his lows not nearly as low. Player evaluation isn’t about the past, however, it’s about the future, and a closer look suggests that the future may in fact be brighter for Volquez than for Weaver. ERA may not be a completely useless statistic, after all, what is more important for a pitcher than avoiding the allowance of runs, but it certainly is no good at predicting future pitching success. So yes, while Weaver’s ERA of 3.27 suggests he is an ace, and Volquez’s mark of 5.71 suggests he shouldn’t even be in the league, xFIP, a stat far superior to ERA when it comes to forecasting what the future holds, tells an entirely different story. Believe it or not, despite the massive disparity in ERA, it was Volquez who possessed the stronger xFIP last season at 4.07 to Weaver’s 4.31. It is interesting that once the variable that is team defense is removed, the two pitchers now appear remarkably similar. Additionally, SIERA paints a similar picture. While Weaver’s number is slightly better in this case, 4.22 to 4.34, that difference is negligible in comparison to the difference in ERA.

Another signal that these two pitchers are not nearly as different as one might think is BABIP. It is worth nothing that Weaver has always sustained BABIP numbers well below average, for his career he sits at .271. Meanwhile, Volquez has consistently been above the league average at .306 for his career. However, one key sign suggests that both of these players could begin to see a reversal of fortune when it comes to balls hit in play. Last season, Edinson Volquez owned a line drive rate of 22.8%. While it is true that higher line drive rates might lead a pitcher to have a higher BABIP, Jered Weaver was less than one half of a percent better, at 22.4%. In all likelihood, Volquez’s BABIP of .325 from last season will not be quite as high this season, while Weaver’s mark of .268 may very well increase a bit.

Perhaps the single most concerning factor for Jered Weaver is his declining velocity. While Edinson Volquez is also experiencing a dip in his velocity, it is occurring at a glacial pace relative to Weaver. Since 2010, Weaver has seen his average fastball go from 89.9 MPH, not all that impressive to begin with, to 86.5 last season. That is a difference of 3.4 MPH, a frightening decline to say the least, especially for a player who is already struggling to strike out batters to begin with(6.82 K/9 last season.) Meanwhile, Volquez has only experienced a 1.1 MPH decline in that same timeframe, and last season threw his average fastball a staggering 6 MPH faster than Weaver did. It’s not as if Weaver is a decade older than Volquez either, as they are separated by less than a year. Edinson Volquez is aging better than Jered Weaver. It’s just that simple.

One final worrisome element of Jered Weaver’s game lies in his extreme fly-ball tendency, an issue that will only become worse given the aforementioned loss in velocity. Last season, he posted a FB% of 46.8, a higher percentage than fly ball artist Aaron Harang, who sat at 44.3%. As a general rule of thumb, when you’re surrendering more fly balls than Aaron Harang, you’re surrendering too many fly balls. By contrast, Edinson Volquez is extremely effective when it comes to keeping the ball out of the air and on the ground. Last season, he ranked 16th among qualified starters in terms of avoiding fly balls, achieving an excellent FB% of 29.6. You don’t need to be a mathematician to know that the difference between 46.8% and 29.6% is a significant one.

By no means was the purpose of this piece to disparage Jered Weaver, nor to pretend that Edinson Volquez is flawless. Simply, to point out an example of two players who have inexplicably gained reputations they do not deserve. Jered Weaver is a good major league pitcher, nothing more, and the numbers prove that to be so. Similarly, while Edinson Volquez may never be described as overly reliable or consistent, he is nowhere near the train wreck some like to make him out to be, regardless of whether his ERA says otherwise. His ERA is surface and his ERA is noise. His peripherals are substance, and they are what truly matter.