The Jered Weaver Problem
By Christoph Ludwig
The Angels drafted Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver 12th overall in the 2004 draft. He made his debut in 2006 and won his first nine decisions, tying the AL record set by Yankee legend and Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
Jered Weaver made three straight All-Star teams and was one of the best pitchers in the AL from 2010-2012. He finished in the top five in Cy Young voting all three years, and received MVP votes in 2012, when he also threw a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins.
Part one of the problem: He isn’t a very effective pitcher anymore. Weaver’s fastball velocity has declined steadily throughout his career, and reached an all-time low last season, sitting somewhere around 83-84 mph. The decline in velocity has led to more hitter success against Weaver, as evidenced by his career-worst season in 2015. He went 7-12 with an ERA of 4.64, and gave up 1.4 home runs per nine innings. He only struck out 90 batters in 159 innings.
Part two of the problem: He makes a lot more money than he is worth. The Angels gave Jered Weaver a five-year, $85 million extension in 2011. He’ll make $20 million this season, and his huge contract is part of the reason the Angels, usually in the race for the biggest names each offseason, failed to sign any players of note, with owner Arte Moreno citing a desire to stay beneath the luxury tax threshold (although if there was a year to go above the threshold, it would be this year, because both Weaver’s and C.J. Wilson’s giant contracts expire at the end of the season, but that’s another story).
As a result of his decline, the Angels are now paying Jered Weaver ace money to be a no.4 or no. 5 starter.
Part three of the problem: He’s going to take up a rotation spot regardless of his effectiveness. The Angels have eight pitchers fighting for five spots in the rotation, but because Weaver makes so much money, they’re going to be forced to give him a spot in the rotation. Putting him in the bullpen would be a giant waste of money, and the Angels aren’t likely to find a trade partner for an aging righthander with a giant contract. Younger talent like Tyler Skaggs and Nick Tropeano will be forced into the bullpen or traded.
FanGraph’s Steamer projections predict that Weaver will be about as bad as he was last season. They project him to go 9-11 with a 4.32 ERA, and be worth just 0.2 WAR. He needs to learn to adjust his pitching style to his diminished skill set.
Injuries did play a part in Weaver’s poor 2015 season, but the question becomes even if he’s healthy how effective will he be. With the decline in Weaver’s velocity he will have to figure out a way to compensate for this in order for him to be effective. Weaver is one of the most fiercest competitors you will ever meet so I wouldn’t put it past him to find a way to be successful. However, it will not be easy.
Should he rebound and be better than projected, I think the Angels should trade him before the deadline. The Angels have plenty of arms to fill in at the back of the rotation. As mentioned before, it would be tough, maybe near impossible, to find a team to take on his contract, but any prospects the Angels might get in return would breathe some life into their abysmal farm system, ranked last in the majors by ESPN’s Keith Law, who called it “the worst farm system I’ve ever seen.”
A trade would also be tough emotionally, because Weaver has become a fan favorite in Anaheim, he has been loyal to his hometown ballclub, and he’s one of the best pitchers in franchise history. Regardless of whether or not he is traded, he also seems unlikely to sign a new deal at the end of the season, so it appears this will be his last season in an Angel uniform. Hopefully it’s a good one.