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Whither the Younger Weaver?

As the season draws to a close, keeper decisions come to the forefront. After a terrible July (6.88 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) and a mediocre August (4.58 ERA, 1.31 WHIP), owners are probably wondering which way Jered Weaver‘s career is going. Is he still on his way up? Is there un-tapped potential here, or is he what he is – a pretty good pitcher with established flaws?

Unfortunately for Weaver, the numbers seem to say that we’ve already seen his best. Though he’s only turning 27 this year, the statistics have been remarkably steady. With over a hundred major league starts under his belt, we’ve also gathered enough information to render a decently-informed decision, too.

Weaver did strike out close to ten per nine in many of his minor league stops, but he’s settled in at around 7.7 K/9 in the major leagues. In fact, in three of his four years, he’s been within .05 K/9 of that number, so consistency actually seems to be a part of the package, too. That strikeout rate is decent and surprisingly puts him at 26th in the major leagues in that category. It’s not a flashy strikeout-leader kind of rate, but it can work for him like it’s worked for Adam Wainwright, who is a good comp in terms of walks and strikeouts (albeit in the weaker league).

Weaver’s low walk rate makes his above-average strikeout rate play better. His first two years, he had a 2.5 BB/9 that would rank in the top 30 of qualified starters. Unfortunately, his control has slid a little and is inching up on three walks per nine over the last two seasons. That has to qualify as a slight concern, because as the strikeouts and walk rates start converging, his effectiveness will decline.

The established flaw in his game may not sound so terrible at first. Weaver is a fly-ball pitcher and is could become more of one as he ages (it’s also the main reason that he doesn’t comp well with Wainwright overall). He debuted with a fly-ball rate over 50%, then improved that number for two years, and is back over 50% again this year. Of course all fly balls are not created equally. Weaver is fourth in the league in infield fly balls, and steadily coaxes between 11 and 14% of his batted balls into the air on the infield.

Those infield fly balls help his home run per fly ball rate (around 8% year-in and year-out) stay under the major league average (10%), and they help mitigate the fact that batters like to put his pitches in the air. Being a fly-ball pitcher is fundamentally weaker than being a ground-ball pitcher, if only because less than 1% of all ground balls end up being home runs. Weaver’s home run rate (1.10 this year) is creeping up, and that stat will only get worse as he ages.

The whole package is obviously effective (he’s been worth over $50 million to the Angels in his four seasons), but the fly ball rate, home run rate, and medium-paced fastball (89 MPH) all stand on the wrong side of the ledger. The four positive pitches (by linear weights), good strikeout and walk rates stand on the positive side and give reason for consistently rosy projections and hope for better work in the future.

However, Weaver seems to have found his particular balance between his strengths and faults. This is who he is, and though he may have an outlier season in him, this is who will be until age gets to him. Age, of course, is always a finger on the negative side of the scale.