Since 2009, when Jered Weaver began to emerge as one of the top pitchers in the American League, he has been the one pitcher that the Angels could rely upon. With the roller coaster that was Ervin Santana and a back of the rotation that typically changed every season, Weaver was the starter that the Angels knew could go out there every fifth day and give them a chance to win. More often than not, he would do so in dominating fashion, establishing himself as the ace of the rotation.
However, over the past two seasons, some cracks in that armor appeared to develop. While Weaver had an incredible incredible 2012 season, there were peripheral reasons why there regression seemed likely. That regression appeared last season, and certainly left cause for concern going forward. Weaver made less than 30 starts for the first time since 2007, as he missed time due to a fractured elbow. When he came back, Weaver just was not the same pitcher, as his walk rate ticked upward and he became more hittable.
Over the past two seasons, Jered Weaver has seen his line drive rate increase from 18.9% in 2011 to a career high 22.4% last season. That spike likely contributed to Weaver’s .268 batting average against. While that is still far below average, that mark is also the highest that Weaver has allowed since 2010. While his ERA was still a solid 3.27 last season, he far outperformed his xFIP of 4.31.
Perhaps the increase is due to Weaver’s declining velocity. Over the past two seasons, Weaver has lost approximately three miles per hour from his fastball, dropping from an average velocity of 89.30 MPH to 86.77 MPH. Meanwhile, his changeup has remained between 78 and 79 MPH. The decreased difference in velocity between the two pitches could be making it easier for opposing batters to connect against Weaver, since ideally pitchers look for a minimum of 10 MPH difference between the fastball and change. For Weaver, that difference was only 8.68 MPH last year.
Another cause for concern may be the performance of his brother Jeff Weaver. Jeff, while not the same pitcher as Jered Weaver, had moments of being an effective pitcher until he was 29 years old before dropping off a cliff in his age 30 season. Is it possible that Jered could follow the same path as his older brother?
It is far too early to think that Jered Weaver may be approaching the downside of his career, yet there are several warning signs. If Weaver is unable to adjust to his decreased velocity, or if that dropoff was not due to the injury he suffered last season, the Angels may find themselves with a pitcher who is still an ace in name only this coming year. Should that be the case, and with the question marks at the back of the rotation, the 2014 season could well be a long one for the Angels.
Jered Weaver is the most important pitcher on the Angels. They just need to hope that his 2013 season was an aberration due to injury, and not the start of a decline.