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Profiling Jeff Weaver

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I told Marc that I'd write something for today, and we decided that it would be good to write about Jeff Weaver, the best free agent pitcher on the market with fewer than 300 wins.

I initially thought about just writing a basic statistical summary, but I figured that I should try a new format. So I'm going to describe a few things, based on random sources from the Internet.

What does Jeff Weaver throw?

Weaver throws five different pitches, and ESPN pegs them as a four-seam, a two-seam, a curve, slider, and change-up. The two-seam fastball is his best pitch, with good movement in on righthanded batters. One report calls his stuff "naturally great," but I would dispute that.

What are Weaver's strengths?

For most of his career, Weaver has had pretty good control. He's also given 3 straight pretty-healthy seasons, two of which were close to league average.

What are Weaver's weaknesses?

Weaver was victimized by the longball last year for the first time in his career. It's interesting b/c he's been in pitcher's parks for a while, and Dodger Stadium was no different. He's also hitting a lot of guys with pitches and always has; he's led the league in hit batsmen 3 times in his career.

Any statistical trends worth noting?

Weaver managed to only post a 96 ERA+ even in a year where he had some help from his defense or luck on his side; his BABIP of .277 is better than league average. This is not a long-running theme with Weaver; with the Yankees, his .355 BABIP in 2003 was one of the major reasons why he pitched so poorly; his ratios were good enough to keep him in the mid-4s in ERA rather than at an absurd 5.99.

Weaver's strikeout rate has climbed in back-to-back seasons, and at around 17%, it's right at the National League average.

The biggest trend, though, is in Weaver's transition from a groundball pitcher to a flyball pitcher. When he first came up to the bigs, he posted G/F ratios of 1.20 and 1.51. This dropped off substantially when he got to New York; with Detroit that year, he posted a 1.42 G/F ratio, but his NY one was at 1.08. Last year, he posted a career-low 1.00, giving up 286 groundballs and 286 flyballs (according to ESPN.com). This was a major reason for the increase in home runs.

What's his outlook for 2006?

PECOTA projects a 4.07 ERA, but that's with respect to a heavy pitchers' park on the Left Coast, and in the Senior Circuit. If he winds up with the other Los Angeles team, that will be substantially worse. More importantly, though, PECOTA projects a drop-off in the home run rate. Weaver's at a point where he's giving up home runs at a rate which will bring great pain to his owner. If Weaver doesn't get back to inducing groundballs (I don't know how he would do that), this could continue to get ugly.

Weaver has been touted as an up and coming potential pitching star for a few years, and the Yankees jumped all over that in 2002. The deal made an appearance in Moneyball as the A's seemingly robbed the Yankees of great talent. The A's eventually turned a couple of those prospects into Durazo, but the real winner is the Tigers, who got Jeremy Bonderman as the PTBNL in this deal, in addition to Carlos Pena, who consistently shows flashes of being a talented player and one whom I think could probably hit a little across a full season. At least one of these years.

Bottom line on Weaver: it might be time to let go of illusions that Weaver will ever be a great pitcher. He's 29 now, he's never had dominated strikeout rates, his best ERA was 3.52, with a lot of that coming in a heavy pitchers' park, and he never really lived up to his first round pedigree. Better luck for his brother, no?