Despite a terrible outing yesterday against the Tampa Bay Rays it can be still be safely said that he has had an excellent year. He’s still in the race for the CY Young and still very much a top of the league ace. That being said, there have been a few absolutely terrible hiccups in his otherwise sold 2012 campaign.
Last night was one example. Weaver gave up a career-high nine runs in just three innings of work. That included two home runs, eight hits and only two strikeouts. The game was similar to his May 13th start against Texas where Weaver went only 3 1/3 innings and gave up eight runs on ten hits in Arlington. Before that game, you would have to go back all the way to 2009 to find another game where Weaver lasted less than 3 1/3 innings. Now he’s done it twice in one season.
Where are these terrible hiccups coming from?
One possible reason is Weaver’s transition from a strikeout pitcher to a hurler who is willing to let his defense do some of the work. Since his career high 233 strikeouts in 2010, Weaver’s K-rate has dipped and looks to be on track to continue that trend in 2012. However, with that K-rate dipping, Weaver’s ERA, WHIP, and Hits per 9 innings have all dipped too. So despite the decreased strikeouts, he has still found success.
In 2012 the average velocity of Weaver’s fastball has dipped a bit too, showcasing a slow decline in his velocity since 2010. In addition, according to Fangraphs, Weaver’s swing and miss rate is the lowest it has been since 2007 while batter’s contact rate within the strike-zone is the highest it’s been in Weaver’s entire career.
For other pitchers this might be of concern but it clearly isn’t an issue with Weaver judging from his 2012 campaign. Rather it suggests that Weaver’s success continues to rely on excellent placement of his pitches, sequencing, and his superb command and his increased success against lefties (more on this later). It also suggest that Weaver is increasingly pitching to contact and throwing more pitches within the strike zone. While most of the season Weaver has found great success in this, it also might explain the terrible outings he has had as well.
Think about it. Decreased velocity, increased hitter’s contact and more pitches within the strike zone means more balls are going to be put in play. The positive result is that the ball in play can be converted into an out. The negative result is that it find a hole or a gap and results in a hit.
This was largely the case last night, where Weaver at one point gave up three singles in a row, none particularly hit hard, before giving up a double to Desmond Jennings and getting knocked out of the game. According to Brooks Baseball, all of the hits last night by the Rays off Weaver except for two were pitches thrown in the strike zone. The other two hits were borderline pitches.
One other possible reason for Weaver’s hiccup last night was that all but one of the Rays hitters was hitting from the right-side. As Sam Miller also pointed out last week over at Baseball Prospectus, a large contributor to Weaver’s success has been his increased success against lefties. As he noted, in 2008 lefties had a .812 OPS against Weaver. In 2012, their OPS is currently .479. Miller also noted that Weaver’s success against righties has almost remained almost exactly the same throughout his career. (Right-handed hitters who are putting up a .713 OPS against Weaver)
Angels fans probably need not to be worried about these ugly starts. Weaver has proven to be a pitcher who is consistent and able to pitch well after a terrible outing. Still it should be interesting watching from here on out how Weaver fairs against right-handed-heavy hitting teams and if he continues to find success despite decreased strike-out rates and greater contact rates.