After three years of Cy Young caliber performance, Jered Weaver began to show some very real and very scary signs that his days as an ace might soon be coming to an end. Like, as soon as tomorrow. Are Weaver's best days really behind him or is everyone just being paranoid about the radar gun?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
The most notable event of 2013 for Weaver was the freak incident in which he broke his non-throwing elbow trying to avoid a comebacker. That injury left the Angels in a lurch, but it might also have been a bit of a blessing in disguise. The thing that we Angels fans aren't really allowed to talk about it that Weaver looked pretty lousy before he got hurt and how he took a few weeks longer than expected to recover from the injury. It is almost like he was secretly rehabbing an injury to his troublesome throwing shoulder
, which he totally was.
When Weaver came back, he was throwing harder, by his standards, and was able to use smoke and mirrors to do a very good impersonation of the Weaver of old. He finished the year with the highest ERA, BABIP, FIP, WHIP and any other acronym ending in IP (except for Innings Pitched, ironically) since 2009. That would normally be discouraging, but all of his peripherals were still within striking distance of the numbers he posted in his prime.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
These projections have something for everyone. Steamer seems to be pretty well convinced that Weaver is destined for certain doom, with his ERA skyrocketing to be above 4.00 as he develops a sudden case of gopherballitis. Whereas Oliver has him basically replicating his stellar 2012 campaign. Meanwhile ZiPS thinks he'll potentially regain some zip (pun fully intended) on his fastball, see his strikeout rate spike but otherwise replicate his 2013 season.
This lack of consensus tells us nothing. Actually, that's not true. It tells us that just about anything is on the table for Weaver. He could squeeze out another ace-type season, he could continue his steady decline or he could completely crater. In other words, there is not need to panic, but you should probably at least skim the panic button's instruction manual.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
I'll be honest, I'm terrified for Weaver. One of the primary reasons, as is so often mentioned with Jered, is his velocity. I don't want to be a velocity alarmist, but there is some merit to those arguments. They only got more merit once Jered started talking openly about how his shoulder has been bothering him for years.
The fact of the matter is that his velocity was down over one mile per hour from 2012 and two and a half miles per hour 2011. Pinpoint command and a deceptive motion are great, but they are only effective to a point. We don't know exactly where that point is for Weaver, but as one of the slowest throwers in the league already, we have to assume that he is pretty damn close to said point.
To be fair though, his velocity might be recovering at least a little bit. As the chart above shows, his velocity before the injury was well down. After he took several weeks off to recover, his velocity was back. He even touched 89 and 90 a few times per game for the first few weeks before things started to tail off once more. A steady decline over the course of the season is to be expected, so that isn't so much of an issue. If anything, it is encouraging that he never dropped back down to his pre-injury level.
Even more encouraging than that is that Weaver helped initiate that change by altering his delivery. Weaver mentioned before 2013 that one of the reasons he lost some heat was that he was throwing from a different arm slot to put less stress on his shoulder. He made a conscientious effort to correct that in 2013, especially after his injury. That kind of adjustment is one that can be sustained and buy Weaver a few more quality years… assuming his shoulder doesn't start barking again.
As such, I'm going to take up camp with the folks who think that while Weaver's best days are behind him, he still has at least one more good year in the tank. That's a camp I'm glad to be in so long as everyone is cool with me pretending not to notice that Weaver is getting battered like a pinata in Spring Training. We're all cool with that, right? Awesome. I'm glad we had this talk.
What are the known unknowns?
Oh, did you think we were done with velocity charts? Silly rabbit. I've still got some concerns.
Weaver has insisted that he isn't worried about his velocity because he has a deception, command and a great changeup. He's totally right, except there is one little thing he forgot. Great changeups become only OK changeups when the speed difference between the change and the fastball diminishes. Good thing that isn't happening to Weaver, right?
There have been some monthly fluctuations, but the summary of that chart there is that when Jered was throwing 90 MPH in 2010, his changeup was coming in at 78.5 MPH. Now that his fastball is down to just below 87 MPH, his changeup is… 78.3 MPH. So, yeah. The fact that Weaver's changeup is holding steady while his fastball continues to slow down hasn't bitten him yet, but it is getting closer and closer to that breaking point we were talking about earlier.
Like his diminishing fastball, the changeup is still working for him. Part of me wants to just believe it will keep working until proven otherwise, but the skepticism is strong with me, so strong that it keeps overriding my willful ignorance. Something just has to give this year. Either his fastball needs to start ticking back up or his offspeed pitches need to start ticking down.