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Turning Jered Weaver into Aroldis Chapman

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Some perspective on just how slow the Padres’ newest pitcher throws.

So long, Mike

Jered Weaver wasn’t always the object of low-velocity witticisms in the twittersphere.

In fact, he was once a bonafide stud.

In 2004, he was considered by many to be the top pro-pitching prospect in the country. He finished off an illustrious career at Cal State Long Beach with a stellar season in which he posted a 1.62 ERA, while compiling 213 strikeouts to just 21 walks in 144 innings. He took home some hardware that year:

  • Golden Spikes Award for the top amateur baseball player in America
  • Dick Howser Trophy for the top collegiate baseball player
  • Roger Clemens Award for collegiate baseball’s top pitcher
  • All-American first team by Baseball America

That summer the Angels took him with the 12th overall pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. He then moved quickly through the minors, tallying only 41 starts before getting the call in 2006. From his debut through 2012 he posted major league baseball’s 10th most valuable pitcher by fWAR, and 4th most valuable by RA9WAR. It sounds farcical now, but Jered Weaver led all of major league baseball in strikeouts during the 2010 season.

Of course, time exerts its indomitable will on all of us, and Jered Weaver has not proven himself to be exempt. In fact, time seems to have operated expeditiously on both his spine and his fastball; and though he asserts these issues are unrelated, he’s also made comments about his degenerative spine diagnosis that reflect the fiery indignation he exhibits on the mound:

“Doctor Weaver is the one who’s going to take it from here on out.”

But back to his fastball.

Going back to 2007, the first year of available PITCHf/x data, an examination of pitchers that logged at least 150 innings both in that season and in 2016 upholds the anticipated conclusion that a decade as a professional pitcher zaps a pitcher of his zip. In conjunction with this study, we reveal that no pitcher has experienced a more dramatic drop in velocity on their four seam fastball than Jered Weaver.

Player 2007 Velocity 2016 Velocity Velocity Drop % of Velocity Pitches
Jered Weaver 90.0 84.0 -6.0 -6.7 31009
Felix Hernandez 96.3 90.5 -5.8 -6.0 32741
C.C. Sabathia 93.7 89.4 -4.3 -4.6 32699
Adam Wainwright 90.8 90.1 -0.7 -0.1 25556
Ervin Santana 93.1 92.7 -0.4 0.0 29199
Justin Verlander 94.1 93.7 -0.4 0.0 36549
James Shields 90.6 90.5 -0.1 0.0 34959
Cole Hamels 91.1 91.5 0.4 0.0 22929
John Lackey 91.3 91.8 0.5 0.1 28515
Average 92.3 90.5 -1.8 -2.0 31684

All things considered, it’s not the least bit surprising that it took until the latter half of February for Jered Weaver to procure a contract. Perhaps just as unsurprising is that the team that signed him to pitch professionally currently employs a starting rotation that least resembles a professional starting rotation. If you’re drawing a blank trying to think of who else the Padres’ projected starters are, you’d be forgiven.

Fangraphs’ Depth Charts

The fact is, Jered Weaver has a job because the Padres have roughly 1458 innings they have to account for and not enough pitchers to account for all of them. And Jered Weaver was available because of the reasons we’ve covered. The agreement is for $3 million and includes no incentive clauses. It also makes him the highest paid pitcher on the San Diego Padres.

$3 million isn’t nothing, but in the context of Major League Baseball contracts, it’s not much. Yet at the same time, if we want to toil in semantics, based on how much an open market win costs, it might be a bit of an overpay. After all, Chris Carter just inked a deal for$3.5 million in guaranteed money and he co-led the National League in home runs while posting an 0.9 WAR in 2016. Jered Weaver just registered a 5.62 FIP and cost the Angels -0.2 WAR. I realize that neither Weaver nor the Padres had much leverage in any contract negotiations that may have taken place, but the best case scenario here might actually be that Weaver’s name draws a few extra fans to the park.

To his credit, Weaver still manages to mute batted ball authority fairly well - 88.7 mph in 2016 - so it’s not impossible that he hits his scanty Steamer projection of 0.3 WAR - but unless he gains a couple of MPHs back on his fastball, he’s likely to fall short.

I saw an infographic posted by Daren Willman the other day that gave me an idea on how to put into perspective just how slow Jered Weaver’s fastball is.

To start, I’ve created a laughably inferior pie chart to depict Jered Weaver as the Aroldis Chapman of lower echelon velocity pitchers.

To be clear, that’s Jered Weaver, two knuckle ballers, and everyone else. And some of those “everyone else” fastballs might be change-ups that have been mislabeled (even after I sifted through the data).

So what though, right? Chapman and Weaver represent two extremes; there is a 16.4 MPH difference between average fastballs - you know this - but I want to show you how we could make them equals with regards to velocity perception.

Now, as with any time I perform mathematics I want to apologize for my shortcomings. I’m not a mathematician and I’m aware that I have not accounted for drag and other relevant factors, but this approximation will get the job done.

Chapman’s average fastball last year was 100.4 mph. Converted to feet per second, that’s 147.25 (ft/s). Since the average extension he achieves on his four-seamer is 6.75 feet, Chapman released his fastball, on average, at 53.75 feet, making the time between the ball leaving his fingertips and the ball reaching the plate a ridiculous .365 of a second. Entering Jered Weaver’s data points, we find that it takes his 84 mph fastball an equally astonishing, .44 of a second to travel from his hand to the plate.

To make Jered Weaver’s fastball seem as formidable as Chapman’s conflagration, the rubber would have to be moved forward to 51.25 ft, at which point Weaver is indisputably in more peril than the hitters. Conversely, to make Chapman’s fastball seem as...delicate as Weaver’s, because of Chapman’s superior extension, the mound would have to be moved back 11 ft!

Maybe this is beating a dead horse, but because I’m roughly in between Chapman’s (6’-4”) and Weaver’s (6’-7”) heights (I’m 6’-6”), I thought I could give you a glimpse as to what this might look like. My wife, while standing on home plate, took these pictures of me on the rubber at 60’-6” on the left and at 51’-3” on the right (keep in mind that 51’-3” is closer to the 46’ mound used in little league than it is to the Major League standard 60’-6”).

Truth be told, I’m happy Jered Weaver found a place to pitch. He’s an outlier in MLB and that’s fun! He’s the Potentate of the Plodding (the Potentate of the Plodding!); the Lord of the Leaden (the Lord of the Leaden!); the Idol of Idle (the Idol of Idle!) - and if you didn’t read that like a scene from The Sandlot, then “you’re killing me, smalls”; a phrase Padres fans will mutter time and time again in 2017 - over the duration of just one Jered Weaver fastball.

*****

Mark Davidson is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him and send him bat flip gifs at @NtflxnRichHill