On the surface, Jered Weaver had another excellent season. He posted a 2.81 ERA and pitched his first no-hitter. He won 20 games despite missing a month with back issues. The problem was, he wasn’t the same after he came back despite a 14-4 record and a 2.93 earned run average. So what can be expected from Weaver in 2013?
The first third of Jered Weaver’s 2012 season was going swimmingly. 10 games in, he had a 2.61 ERA, and his solid peripherals led to a fielding-independent pitching of 3.04. He was striking out 21.6% of batters, and walking just 5.7%–both rates were similar to his 2011 numbers. His average four-seamer velocity was sitting around 89.5 percent, in line with his 2011, and he was allowing home runs at a rate not too out of line with his career mark. He was getting (marginally) more ground balls then at any point in his career as well. He was actually on his way to a career season.
On May 28, it all went up in smoke as Weaver lasted just three batters, ten pitches and didn’t record an out. After the start, he was diagnosed with a lower back strain with inflammation near the disc. It caused him to miss three starts before returning on June 20 and although his traditional numbers continued to reflect excellence in his craft, a deeper look reveals something sinister.
From June 20 on, Weaver pitched competently though not at the elite level he had been pitching at. He posted a 4.15 FIP which far underplayed his 2.93 ERA. While his walk-rate rose only slightly from 5.7% to 6.4%, his strikeout-rate dropped from 21.6% to 18.0%, his lowest mark since 2007. There was some impact on his velocity too as he lost a mile-per-hour on his sinker, which he used 11% less than he had prior to the injury. On the flip-side, he used his four-seam fastball 11% more, but also had lost velocity off of it.
In 2012, Jered Weaver’s poor mechanics not only affected his back, but in September he actually missed a start due to a shoulder issue. There is belief among some that his funky mechanics had helped keep his shoulder from getting into awkward shapes that can ruin an arm. For Weaver, shoulder issues aren’t surprising given his mechanics and it isn’t the first time he’s had issues. In 2009 he missed 19 days of spring training with shoulder issues and dealt with shoulder fatigue later that year. Going even further back, between 2006 and 2007 he dealt with shoulder issues four separate times, for a total of 73 days missed between regular season and spring training. In 2007 and 2008 Weaver dealt with more back issues as well, though it didn’t cost him any time.
Along with the shoulder issues in September, Weaver saw his velocity drop to an all-time low. While most pitchers do lose some velocity towards the end of the year, Weaver saw his velocity in September drop from nearly 91 MPH in 2010 to 87.6 MPH in 2012. The deceptive delivery Weaver uses helps him make up for some velocity issues, but there has to be a point where the loss in velocity is too much to overcome. With Weaver’s tendency to pitch up in the zone, at what point does his velocity diminish to the point where his home park can’t help him prevent home runs.
It hasn’t been just 2012 in which Jered Weaver has declined either. In Weaver’s incredible 2010 season his average fastball was sitting at 90.8 MPH, in 2011 it sat 90 flat and in 2012 it dropped to 88.8 MPH. Not only velocity was affected during these years, there has been some marginal loss of movement in his curveball and slider as well. In 2010 when Weaver struck out 233 batters, his swinging-strike-rate was well above average at 11.2%, since then its dropped to 9.1% in ’11 and to an all-time low of 8.5% last season.
If the swinging strikes continue to dwindle for Weaver, he will need to throw more pitches in the strike zone. Since his career high strike-rate of 51.1% in 2008, there has been a steady decline leading to a 42% rate last season. If this continues and hitters start laying off pitches outside of the zone rather than fouling them off, Weaver will see an increase in his walk-rate. To combat this, he could attempt to work more like Joe Blanton, one of the biggest strike throwers in baseball and his numbers could fluctuate with it.
So what can be expected from Weaver in 2013? That depends on his health. If he regains velocity and movement on his breaking pitches he could regain his from 2011. Unfortunately, there is a better chance that Weaver could have more back and shoulder issues in 2013 and if the velocity drops even more, he could suffer from an increased home run rate and a loss of swinging strikes. Overall, a return to 2007-2009 production seems the most likely outcome for Weaver in 2013 with all things considered. Which isn’t bad–it’s just not the ace-level we’ve come to expect.