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Pitcher Analysis: Jeff Weaver

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Over the next week or so, I'll be posting a different analysis for some of the "top" free agent pitchers in the market this season (I use the word top very loosely). If you haven't noticed, there is a serious lack of quality arms in the free agent market this season. Because of this, the majority of these "top" free agents will get a multiyear contract, averaging more than $8 million a year. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's a great year to be a free agent pitcher.

To start, I picked Jeff Weaver. I'm not sure why I elected to go with him first, so don't read to much into it. Maybe it was curiousity or maybe I'm just tired of seeing Burnett's name pop up in discussion's every 5 minutes.

Jeff Weaver - 29 years old - Right Handed Starting Pitcher

Performance:

2005 Totals:
ERA - 4.22
W-L - 14-11
IP - 224.0
H - 220
BB - 43
K - 157
HR - 35

Jeff Weaver had a pretty interesting season. Most of his peripherals stayed pretty consistent with the rest of his career (IP, H, BB, K) but his HR allowed took a pretty significant leap. Prior to 2005, he had allowed .94 HR per 9 innings. In 2005, that number jumped to 1.41 HR per 9.

To expand this a bit further, the average pitcher allows 11-12% of the outfield flies allowed to clear the fence. In 2005, 15% of the outfield flies Weaver allowed turned into four baggers. A lot of this is luck, (similar to what we witnessed with Moyer last season) but it does raise a red flag. Anytime when you see a pitcher give up 35 HR's, you grimace. When see a pitcher give up 35 HR's while pitching half his games in pitching friendly Dodger Stadium, you cringe. The general assumption is that his homerun total should return back to somewhere near his career norms, but what if they don't? And what caused the spike?

Weaver's GB/FB ratio was the lowest of his career, exactly 1. Over the past six years, his GB/FB has fallen (1.51, 1.21, 1.27, 1.11, 1.06, 1.0). This might indicate the increase in longballs, but his HR rate has stayed pretty consistent during his career, despite the falling GB/FB ratio. Which leads me to believe, from the numbers I've seen, that his HR spike has a lot to do with luck, but then again, it's a lot like Jack's relunctance to push the 'Execute' button in the bunker, despite Locke's insistance that he does. You know he wants to believe that nothing will happen if he doesn't push the button, but he pushes it anyway just to be safe. Same goes for Weaver. I want to say his spike was an abberation, but I'm not confident enough to say his numbers will revert back to his career norms. Probably somewhere in between is a safe assumption.

Weaver got off to an ugly start in 2005, posting horrendous numbers over the first two months of the season. He flat out sucked. He allowed 82 hits in 66.1 innings. 26% of his homeruns were coughed up in May alone.

April-May:

ERA - 5.72
H/9 - 11.16
K/9 - 5.58
BB/9 - 2.17
K/BB - 2.56
HR/9 - 1.50
BAA - .291
QS% - 45%

He wasn't fooling anyone. His velocity was down. He was complaining about weakness in his shoulder. Opponents were hitting him hard and it looked like he was well on his way to the worst season of his career, including that horrific Yankee stint. Insert reason for optimism. Following another poor outing on May 24th, Weaver finally took the advice of pitching coach Jim Colborn who believed that Weaver was dropping his arm slot, creating not only a strain on the shoulder joint but also allowing opponents to pick up the ball better. A couple bullpen sessions seemed to rectify the problem. Over the remainder of the 2005 season, Weaver posted a very different stat line:

ERA - 3.61
H/9 - 7.9
K/9 - 6.64
BB/9 - 1.55
K/BB - 4.30
HR/9 - 1.37
BAA - .234
QS% - 70%

He lowered his ERA two full points plus some change. He cut hits per 9 by three. He struck out an extra batter per 9 and lowered his walk rate. His batting average allowed dropped. He turned in a quality start 70% of the time. But that home run rate. There was a slight drop in the number of home runs he allowed, but not enough to cause for any real earth shattering optimism.

To dig a little bit more into his 2005 season:

FIP - 4.45
xFIP - 4.28
DER - .727
G/F - 1.06
IF/F - .13

So what does this say? Essentially, for a third of the season Jeff Weaver was crap and for two-thirds of the season he was pretty good. He rebounded from a disastrous start and was able to put together a respectable season. He struck out 17% of the batters he faced, while walking only 5%, (his career numbers 16% & 6% respectively). His G/F ratio, which hovers around 1, leaves some to be desired. In the grand scheme of things, you'd like a higher ratio, since the more FB you allow the greater the probability that some of them find the seats, especially when only 13% of your FB are the infield variety. And the fact his rate has been falling is a little concerning. But as long as he gets the job done, so be it.

Health:

One of Weaver's most marketable qualities is his health record over his career. He has not missed any significant playing time due to an arm injury and has averaged 30 starts and 199 IP over his seven year career. While I hate to use a cliché that Franklin was tagged with, Weaver is pretty good example of a rubber arm and it is safe to pencil him in for an average of about 30 starts and at least 200 IP for the next couple years.  

Conclusion:

Is Jeff Weaver the answer? I guess it depends on whether Jeff Weaver can build off the last four months of last season. He isn't a front of the rotation starter, but he is a solid middle of the rotation guy, possibly a good #2 for a couple years if he continues to post numbers like he did June through September. He would reap the benefits of Safeco and the infield defense (but so would the others). Is he an option? Yes. Is he the answer? Not THE answer, but he could turn out to be a good pickup, just as long as people don't expect him to carry the pitching staff. Because he won't.