By Kyle Johansen
Prior to 2010, Jered Weaver’s career featured a slow but steady progression by a talented pitcher who could not yet be called a top of the rotation starter. Weaver’s innings pitched have patiently increased at a pace Mark Prior would have died for, alleviating any injury concerns due to usage. Meanwhile, his WHIP has steadily plummeted, settling in comfortably at 1.24 in 2009. Not many people could have predicted what Jered Weaver had in store for 2010:
Regardless of the gaudy numbers above, Weaver ended the year with just 13 Wins. However, despite the low win total he was ranked 6th among starting pitchers in standard 5×5 leagues. Without the bad luck in the Wins department, Weaver would have challenged for the top spot among all starting pitchers. The question is, can Weaver replicate his breakout season or is a regression in order for 2011?
A four-year low in H/9 of 7.5 does not look to be driven by luck, as Weaver’s BABIP last year was .291, right in line with a career mark of .294. Similarly, his strand rate is steady and sustainable at 76% while his HR/FB dipped to 7.8% compared to 8.3% the previous two seasons. Weaver’s 2010 season appears legitimate from a luck standpoint and this is cemented by a FIP of 3.06.
So what changed to make Weaver so dominant in 2010? The first stats that jump off the back of his baseball card are a career low BB/9 of 2.17 and an improvement in K/9 by close to two strikeouts (7.42 to 9.35). Weaver achieved this by inducing more swings on balls outside of the strike zone than ever before: 33% in 2010 compared to 28% for his career. Additionally, when balls were in the strike zone batters made contact with pitches just 80% of the time compared to 83% for Weaver’s career.
It seems clear that Weaver matured as a pitcher last year, evidenced in the way he approached opposing batters. One change to Weaver’s pitch selection that led to this breakout was an increased use of his curveball. Weaver threw it 13% of the time in 2010, up from 6.6% in 2008 and 8.6% in 2009. By increasing the use and effectiveness of his curve, Weaver relied less on his changeup and fastball. This change of pitch selection likely contributed to Weaver’s ability to keep hitters off balance.
When projecting a pitcher, what the numbers fail to show is the mental aspect of the game in addition to factors such as change in pitch usage. What this means is that the large strides Weaver made last year can be repeated more easily in 2011 due to the advances Weaver made in his approach as a pitcher. Opposing batters were simply overmatched by a smart pitcher with good control and multiple put-away pitches. There is nothing in Jered Weaver’s stats that says 2010 was anything less than a brilliantly pitched season.
The question remaining is can Weaver sustain his extreme gain in strikeouts? A look at Weaver’s minor league numbers reveals an encouraging line of 164 IP, 2.85 ERA, 200 K and 1.07 WHIP. A K/9 of 11.0 in the minors says that Weaver’s gain in strikeouts was to be expected. As far as hitters adjusting to Weaver’s new approach on the mound, if Weaver’s splits last year are any indication, hitters were just as confused by him September (5.50 K/BB) as they were in April (5.67 K/BB). For the year Weaver had a 3.20 ERA in the first half and 2.79 ERA to close the year.
With every indicator pointing in the right direction, Jered Weaver looks like an absolute steal at his current ADP of 90 (according to Mock Draft Central). Weaver should have a much better season than the pitchers who are currently being taken around his pick; John Danks (91), Javier Vazquez (97) and Matt Garza (99). Even as his ADP lowers, I believe Weaver will still be a bargain and he has a good chance to repeat as a Top 10 SP in 2011. It would not surprise me to see him emerge as a Top 5 option by the end of the year.
What are your thoughts of Weaver? Can he replicate his 2010 success? How good do you think he will be?
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Make sure to check out some of our 2011 projections: