Jered Weaver had his moment in the sun from 2010 to 2012, when he made three all-star teams and finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three consecutive years. It’s hard to believe that the year before last, Weaver won 20 games and finished the season with a 2.81 ERA….fantasy ace-dom, right? While he did lead the league in Ks in 2010 with 233, and was two strikeouts shy of 200 in 2011, it is clear his stuff (proxied via strikeouts) and durability (proxied via innings pitched) has suffered. As fantasy owners, what are we working with now? What do the peripheral numbers say about Weaver, and what can we project of his future performance?
Weaver is 90% owned in Yahoo! leagues and 100% owned in ESPN leagues; it is abundantly obvious this he is a rosterable pitcher. So far this year, he has won 7 games, is sitting at a 3.67 ERA (right around league average), a respectable 1.16 WHIP, and has 75 Ks through 95 innings. Not bad for a likely (and hopefully for your sake) number three starter. Whether the league average ERA and decent WHIP are sustainable are another question.
Diving into his peripheral numbers, we can already see a pattern of what I would describe as ‘danger zone’. First and foremost, Weaver is a fly ball pitcher; his fly ball percentage has never been below 42.8%, and it generally hovers around 48%. Even in a park that depresses home runs (Angel Stadium has averaged 23rd in home runs the past five years), Weaver has given up at least 20 HRs in 6 of the last 7 years…even when his innings have decreased. This season, his 1.32 HR rate is significantly higher .99 career rate, which is contributing to his 4.46 FIP (field independent pitching). Weaver has outperformed his FIP (meaning his FIP was higher than his ERA) since 2009, but the 30% increase in HR rate is troubling because he has lost velocity and movement on his pitches.
Weaver came up as a rookie in 2007, and in 2007/2008, he relied primarily on his fourseam fastball, which was sitting at approximately 90+ MPH. Both the speed and frequency of his fourseamer have declined, and he has relied more on his sinker. In 2008/2009, Weaver used his fourseam fastball approximately 56% of the time, throwing it on average, a tad more than 90 MPH. In 2012/2013 he used the same pitch only 28% of the time, and his velocity continued to drop over that period from 88 MPH to 87 MPH. So far in 2014, he is throwing that pitch less than 20% of the time, and is just a smidgen over 87. His usage of pitches is changing in 2014: 32% sinker, 21 % change, 19% curve and 19% fastball, and as you can see below, he’s getting less vertical movement from his pitches; not a good sign.
Weaver’s batting average on balls in play against (BABIP) currently is .250. That number is likely be .290-.310 from this point forward, so his batting average against will likely increase from it’s current .227 to somewhere around .240-.250…a big difference. Interestingly enough, his BABIP on his fastball so far this year is .115, which is completely unsustainable. Looking back at his past numbers, hitters have always hit his offspeed pitches harder and consequently for more line drives and falling for more hits. The trouble with his diminished fastball and subsequent usage adjustment, is that Weaver is now forced to rely more on pitches that were never nearly as effective as a fastball which no longer exists.
So if you own Weaver, what do you do? If you have the pitching depth to trade him for some roster depth and you can throw in a waiver wire young gun in his stead (Nathan Eovaldi / Collin McHugh) or perhaps you can put him in a package deal for a guy who has solid upside like a Shelby Miller. If you are committed to the cause, and either cannot unload him for decent value, or want to keep him, there are a couple strategies to employ. I certainly would not start him in every game going forward —– a mistake made by unseasoned and seasoned managers alike. Pay attention to the matchups. Just because the White Sox have a terrible record, don’t assume they have a terrible offense, because they don’t. With Weaver (and any other struggling or mid-lower tier pitcher) I would avoid teams that score a ton of runs (A’s / Blue Jays / Indians / White Sox) and hitters’ parks. It’s a simple way to keep your ERA and WHIP in check. You may get burned every so often, but overall, you’re best bet is to sit someone when the matchup is not favorable unless they are a well above average pitcher. Additionally, lefty-laden lineups are likely to give more trouble than righty-centric ones (.176/.240/.319 v. RHB & .254/.318/.415 v. LHB). He’s a league-average pitcher per the standard stats now, but don’t expect that to last all year. I wanted nothing to do with Weaver during my draft, and he had a stretch where he’s pitched well…get off the ship before it hits the iceberg that is clearly in the path.