The idea of a pitching “ace” is probably more deceptive than it is helpful. What does an “ace” or the “ace of the staff” really mean other than singling out the best pitcher amongst the five starters on a baseball team? The only other suggestion is that the term “ace” is used by baseball analyst now to determine the best pitchers in the MLB and not necessarily just the staff of a team.
The term “ace” is often used to describe Angels right-hander Jered Weaver. Since 2010, Weaver has posted a 135 ERA+ , a stellar 1.05 WHIP and three all-star selections. Without a doubt, Jered Weaver has been the best starting pitcher on the Los Angeles Angels in each of the past four years. He’s been their “ace” if you will.
But there are slight cracks in the facade. He’s spent time on the disabled list the past two seasons and as a result has failed to log over 200 innings in either year. While in 2013, Weaver pitched the least amount of innings he has since his rookie season in 2006. His strikeout rate has fallen from it’s peak of 9.3 per 9 innings in 2010 to 6.8 per nine innings in 2012 and 2013. And last season, Weaver allowed 8.1 hits per nine innings, which is more than he has since 2009.
And then there’s the dip in velocity. Oh the velocity dip! It seems to be on the tip of every Angels blogger and beat writer’s keyboard, ready to be pulled out (like an ace in a deck maybe) the very moment Weaver starts to decline. And they may be right. Weaver’s average fastball velocity was just 86.8mph this year, down from 88mph in 2012 and from 90.1mph in 2010. That’s not comforting. Not for a fan, not for the Angels front-office, not for the ace of the staff. Couple that with the fact that Weaver has seemingly made a career in outperforming his peripheries; constantly posting a lower ERA than his xFIP and inducing impressively low BaBIP numbers for his career, and it seems like Weaver is an excellent candidate for a steep decline.
And yet despite outperforming his peripheries, injuries and his declining fastball velocity, Weaver still proved to be a reliable starting pitcher in 2013. He maintained career rates in walks and home runs allowed and roughly pitched to his career averages for fly-balls and ground-balls induced all while being good for about two and half wins above replacement according to Fangraphs.
In the end, 2013 proved to not be Jered Weaver’s best season. That may be behind him. Let’s be real: there’s nothing about Jered Weaver’s numbers in the past two years that suggest a return to the dominance of 2010 or 2011. But despite the injuries, Weaver still posted a season very similar to his good (but not great) 2012 season and when he was healthy, Weaver was almost as consistent as he’s been the past four years, if not quite as dominating.
The years of a 5+ WAR Jered Weaver may be gone and the Los Angeles Angels should not overlook this decline. However, expecting a 2-3 WAR Weaver in 2014 (and beyond) is a reasonable expectation that may not make him a top-ten “ace” anymore in the MLB but still a reliable and consistent arm in the Angels rotation.