Jered Weaver has been decidedly un-Jered Weaver-like this season. The supposed ace of the Angels’ staff is currently bringing up the rear for the rotation right now. While some have been predicting doom for Weaver for a few years now, this rough start has been even worse than anyone could imagine.
So what gives?
While there has been much hand-wringing over Jered’s declining velocity, that may not necessarily be the cause of his struggles. The fact of the matter is that Jered Weaver just isn’t fooling anyone right now.
One of the reasons Jered has been able to have so much success in his career is because of his deception and pitching smarts. He can’t blow anyone away, so he has had to beat hitters by getting batters to swing at his pitches. Through three starts this season, that hasn’t been happening.
What you see above is the percentage of swings that Jered has been generating this year. As a whole, batters are swinging at 39.8% of Weaver’s offerings, down from his career rate of 45.2%. As the blue line indicates, a lot of those lost swings come from his changeup, his best pitch. Hitters just aren’t going after his change as much as they used to and that’s bad news for Jered. For whatever reason, the changeup isn’t generating all those whiffs and bad swings that it used to, taking away one of Jered’s most effective weapons and putting more pressure on his meager fastball to get batters out. Hitters have jumped all over his very lukewarm heater so far.
While it might be that Weaver’s changeup, and to a lesser extent his slider and sinker, have lost their effectiveness, it appears the problem is more about their location. Take a look below at the swing percentage Weaver had last season.
There is a lot of chasing pitches off the outer half of the plate and above the strike zone. Weaver is known for having sterling command, but sometimes that means getting hitters to chase balls just out of the zone where they would whiff or make poor contact. On his career, he has generated swings on 29.6% of pitches out of the zone.
Now take a look at 2014:
It is obviously a small sample size, but batters aren’t chasing anything outside (for righties) or high. In general, hitters are only chasing 17.1% of pitches out of the zone, nearly half the rate he had in 2013. That means Jered is falling behind in counts more, which, again, usually means having to serve up the fastball.
The good news is that his pitches still have their same general effectiveness when he does manage to coax a swing out of hitters. In fact, almost all of his pitches are generating more whiffs per swing compared to 2013, 2012 and 2011. That makes a lot of sense when you consider that his strikeout rate of 22.7% is his best mark since his stellar 2010 season when it was 25.8%.
So what does Jered need to do? It is pretty simple, he needs to throw more strikes.
Compared to past seasons, Jered is throwing more pitches than ever out of the strike zone. In particular, he is also throwing fewer first strikes than ever at just 46.7%, which is down sharply from his career average of 61.5%. When you are constantly behind in the count, it makes it harder to lure hitters into chasing those pitcher’s pitches just off the plate or preventing them from sitting on the fastball.
This is no great revelation, I realize. Anyone who has watched Weaver this season can see that Weaver isn’t hitting his spots and Jered readily admits that himself. What it all speaks to though is what I’ve been saying for months as Weaver has tried to brush off concerns over his flagging velocity. While the root cause to this problem is that Weaver can’t locate, the issue is exacerbated by the fact that he can’t rely on raw velocity to cover up his flaws the way someone like Yu Darvish can. Weaver has a very thin margin for error and, right now, he has exceeded that margin.
It is now up to Weaver to get back within that margin by taking a look at his mechanics and addressing whatever flaw is causing him to miss his spots with such regularity. Until he does, it will probably be more of the same badness, if not worse since the Angels are about to start facing teams with actual potent lineups.