After a season of back problems and lost velocity, can Jered Weaver bounce back and show that he is still the Cy Young contender the Angels need?
2012 Stats: 188.2 IP, 20-5, 2.81 ERA. 3.75 FIP, 147 H, 45 BB, 20 HR, 142 SO, 0.84 GB/FB, 3.0 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 203.0 IP, 16-9, 3.01 ERA. 3.35 FIP, 171 H, 49 BB, 20 HR, 176 SO, 4.4 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 220.0 IP, 17-8, 3.07 ERA. 3.44 FIP, 188 H, 52 BB, 23 HR, 187 SO
2013 CAIRO Projections: 202.0 IP, 14-8, 3.24 ERA. 3.57 FIP, 173 H, 50 BB, 21 HR, 157 SO
2013 MWAH Projections*: 220.0 IP, 19-6, 3.23 ERA. 3.69 FIP, 187 H, 55 BB, 23 HR, 178 SO
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA and FIP calculations are approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
2012 was a strong if not bizarre season for Jered Weaver. With 20 wins, a 2.81 ERA and a no-hitter under his belt, Jered was a Cy Young contender, but those numbers masked what was actually something of a concerning year for the Angels' ace.
The most obvious concern was Weaver going to the disabled list with back spasms, only the second time ever the workhorse had been to the DL. The stint only cost him a few starts, but there seemed to be a lingering effect on Weaver's overall performance as Jered suffered an alarming decline in his velocity with his heater clocking in at only 87.8 MPH, down from 89.1 MPH in 2011. That lost velocity at least partly contributed to Weaver seeing his strikeout rate plummet to 19.2%, the second-lowest mark of his career. What seemed to buoy Weaver though was his .241 BABIP, a mark well below the league norm but one that Weaver has at least shown signs of being able to maintain thanks to his deceptive delivery and excellent command.
The back injury wasn't the only malady to affect Weaver though as he once again complained of tendinitis in his biceps down the stretch of the season, another factor that surely contributed to his lost velocity. Despite all this, Weaver posted those great surface numbers but they strongly defied his more predictive stats such as FIP which pegged him at a concerning 3.75, though it wouldn't be the first time that Jered vastly outperformed his FIP.
2012 in Revisionist History:
Not to go all alarmist, but there is a lot to worry about with Weaver after his 2012 season. The reduced velocity was just the canary in the coal mine. Weaver has certainly evolved as a pitcher since he developed his two-seamer, a pitch that he now throws nearly as often as his four-seamer, and a hit cutter which he mixed in more last season. That expanded repertoire has allowed Weaver to become more efficient by pitching to contact, but not good contact. That's the plan at least. That formula fell apart a bit in 2012 as his infield flyball rate, a major part of his past success, crashed down to a career-low. In other words, it sure looks like Jered achieved his 2012 success through a lot of smoke and mirrors or, dare I say... luck.
Now, don't freak out, because it isn't all bad news with Jered. Part of the reason we are all so concerned is because his numbers are being compared to his fantastic 2011 season. That is starting to look more and more like an outlier as opposed to the norm. He never even approached that kind of a strikeout rate before or after in his career and it certainly seems, to me at least, that he is not pursuing strikeouts as much, instead favoring pitching to contact to get a quick out. That is born out in the numbers as Weaver cut his pitchers per plate appearance down to 3.85 (from over 4) as was his foul ball percentage which came in at 25% (down from 27%), so it isn't that he is not getting strikeouts because guys are laying off pitches or fouling off pitches that they formerly would've missed. This is a conscious effort to use his array of fastballs to get hitters off balance and make weak contact. It isn't flashy, but it sure seems to be working even with that falling velocity.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) Is Weaver a medical red flag now?
That is the million dollar question. The back spasms seemed to come out of nowhere, but also never really cropped back up. Still, tall guys with bad backs is never a good thing. The biceps tendinitis is more concerning to me as he revealed this was the second season where he experienced the issue. There is also part of me that is worried that "biceps tendinitis" is just code for some more serious issue.
2) So what's up with the lost velocity?
This is more of a corollary to the first question but one can reasonably assume it was caused by the injuries he suffered. Maybe that means that it could come back though if he fully recovers from those injuries. Weaver can obviously survive throwing in the high-80's but it sure increases the degree of difficulty.
3) How much will Weaver benefit from the elite outfield defense behind him?
Jered has always had a good outfield behind him, but this crew could be special and it makes me wonder if he might not try and induce more flyballs as he has been slowly becoming less of an extreme flyball pitcher.
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) Where can I find splits on how Weaver pitches with and without that scruffy soul patch?
I feel like the sabermetric community has let me down.
2) Should the Angels try and rig their rotation so Weaver never starts on the road in a National League stadium?
I sure hope they do, because he looks so very awkward at the plate. Naturally, Weaver has already been named the Opening Day starter... for a game in Cincinnati. Dammit.
3) If he wins a Cy Young will people finally learn to stop spelling his name "Jared"?
Probably not. If you looked at Twitter after his no-hitter, I think "Jared Weaver" was actually trending more than the properly spelled "Jered Weaver." The lesson, as always, is that people are idiots and spell check has ruined everyone forever.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
The various projection systems are in universal agreement that Weaver is going to regress from Cy Young contender to merely "pretty good" this season. What is scary about that is that none of the systems, as far as I know, factor in his reduced velocity. This is a particular problem given how thin the Angel rotation is. They need Weaver to be his old dominant self not a lanky, right-handed version of Jamie Moyer.
I realize that is the alarmist reaction, but if this trend with Weaver continues, that is what they are looking at. Velocity isn't a thing that comes back easily but I actually do have some confidence that it will return, at least most of the way. The back and biceps problems are not crippling issues since they aren't structural. I'm no trainer, but these seem to be areas that Weaver can address by strengthening them, which he hopefully did now that he is aware of the problems and actually admitting them to the organization (since he apparently hid the biceps tendinitis in 2011).
The reason I still have faith in Weaver has less to do with the physical and more to do with the mental. He has shown over his career that he is always evolving and adapting. He adds new pitches, he changes his arm angle, he changes his approach. He isn't going to be a guy who stubbornly tries to pitch the same way he always has despite reduced velocity. He is aware of it and he will address it.