With just under two weeks of baseball in the 2015 record books, it’s far too early to make any definitive statements about any player. The amount of media attention a two-week slump receives at the outset of a new season dwarfs anything a player will experience in mid-June. While reaching conclusions based off just two weeks of gameplay would be premature, it isn’t too soon to identify certain trends that are continuing from the past.
For a few seasons now, Jered Weaver’s declining fastball velocity has been a point of focus for talk shows and beat reporters. While he never possessed a blazing fastball, he did average above 90 as recently as 2010. Since that season, Weaver has turned in four consecutive years of a sub-90 fastball. While many pitchers have succeeded with a fastball that sits at 89 mph, Weaver doesn’t even come close to approaching that figure.
During 2013 and 2014, Weaver was stable at a vFA of 86.8, but throughout spring training and early on in 2015, his velocity has again fallen significantly. It’s possible that as the season progresses, Weaver will regain some velocity, but the early returns are not good. If this were an isolated case, and the first year that Weaver’s fastball had been lackluster, then this simply could be an aberration, but that is not a conclusion that can be reached based off the data. His vFT, vFC, vSL, vCU, and vCH have all been in decline since 2010.
Weaver’s declining velocity would be a footnote if his performance remained unchanged, but that unfortunately hasn’t been the case.
In 2011 and 2012, Weaver was extraordinarily valuable to the Angels, posting fWARs of 6.1 and 5.9, respectively. While his average fastball velocity over those seasons was 89.7, it hardly seemed like an issue because of the results. His peripherals were all better than average, and life was good for the Halos’ ace. Over the next two seasons however, his peripherals declined. While his FIP remained below four, both his xFIP and SIERA were above that mark. Three starts in to the 2015 campaign, Weaver’s ugly trends are only worsening. His fastball rolls into the strike zone at a leisurely 84.3mph. His FIP, xFIP, and SIERA have inflated to 5.79, 4.70, and 4.66, respectively. While his fWAR values largely covered up and excused his declining velocity, that is no longer the case, as his value has dipped into the red; -0.1.
Something to keep an eye on with Weaver is his BABIP. From 2010-2014, he posted remarkably low values. In 2015 that value has jumped to .309. If Weaver has any hope of recapturing his lost value, he must make major adjustments. Magically discovering an extra six miles per hour of velocity is out of the question, and only those who believe in miracles can expect that to happen. What can be done however, that is both realistic and prudent, is to change his pitch selection.
What immediately jumps off the table is how Weaver’s fastball usage has changed as his velocity decreased. As he lost velocity, use of his four seam dropped dramatically, replaced by a two seam. Logically this makes sense; as a pitch that depends principally on velocity slowed and became less effective, Weaver turned to a variation of a fastball whose effectiveness depends more on horizontal break. While initially successful, that idea is now failing Weaver.
In 2012, the year in which Weaver’s two-seam usage crossed the 20% threshold, the pitch was fantastically effective. He almost doubled its value from the previous season, validating the decision to use it more frequently. But this affirmation was unfortunately short-lived. In 2013, he lost 5.2 points of value on that pitch, and in 2014 was in the red with it for the first time since 2010. Continuing to use this pitch would be irresponsible. Just two starts into 2015, Weaver is incredibly almost half way to his career worst wFT of -6.
Most perplexing about Weaver’s plan of attack is that the pitches he uses most frequently, his two-seam, curveball, and changeup (67.3% overall), all have negative values. More time needs to go by so that there’s more data, but Weaver’s curveball value is extremely worrying. Just last season, the worst of his career, his wCU value was 12, which ranked him 5th overall in MLB; a bright spot in an otherwise unmemorable year. However three starts into 2015, his curveball value is -3.0, a stark contrast to his success of 2014. His less frequently used pitches, FA and SL, are both positively valued pitches. With a putrid velocity on his four seam, that doesn't seem like a viable option to replace his declining two seam. For Weaver to succeed, his secondary pitches must have value as they did in 2014, but unfortunately in 2015 that hasn't been the case.
If Weaver wants to extend his career, he and Mike Butcher (the Angels pitching coach) must focus on retooling his off-speed pitches and potentially his pitch selection. If it’s a viable way to transform a largely unknown pitcher into a legitimate staff ace, there’s no reason to think that it can’t resurrect a former ace. At just 32 years of age, with the right tools, Weaver could pitch at a high level for several more years. His track record, talent level, and age all say that this should be possible. But if these trends continue, and his secondary pitches hold no value, he may find himself out of baseball sooner than he ever thought possible.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.