The fourteenth in a non-alphabetical and irregularly updated series of review pieces for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the left-hand sidebar, below the Rotoworld stuff and the interviews.)
LL/USSM Community: 187.1 IP, 5.14 RA, 4.89 FIP (n=76)
Actual Line: 146.2 IP, 6.44 RA, 5.03 FIP
Closest Projection: Devin Reilly, 6.02 RA, 5.17 FIP
Well, we were half right.
Let's get one thing out of the way right now - while Weaver did get paid more than $8m for his 6.20 ERA, he was not a bad investment. You all already know this, but the money the front office gave Weaver last January was leftover money they weren't going to spend otherwise. So, while ignorant future generations will look back on this contract and laugh like the stupid bastards they are, the truth of the matter is that Weaver's salary didn't make a difference. We might as well have been paying him the minimum. His cost to the team was in terms of performance, not money.
But oh, what a cost. Weaver was brought in to be a competent #4 who fed off the ballpark, but he couldn't have had an uglier start. His season debut in Fenway was laughable, and things hardly got better from there, getting to the point where, in his fourth start, he was yanked in the top of the first against the Royals after facing nine batters and only recording one out. Safeco hadn't booed a player that vociferously in a long, long time, and Weaver deserved it, as he seemingly couldn't do anything right. Following subsequent six-run outings in New York and Detroit, Weaver was 0-6, and his ERA+ of 29 was the worst in franchise history among pitchers with at least 20 innings, six points ahead of Paul Abbott's 2002. So, yeah, we were all ready to see him go. Fans tend to have little patience for a pitcher when they've seen their team get outscored 54-13 in his six appearances.
That's when Weaver hit the DL with an "injury," and we could've sworn that was the end of the line. The team, we thought, was just buying some time to figure out his replacement. They wouldn't dare bring back a guy with a 1.208 OPS against, would they? No, not on purpose. No one could be that stupid.
So Weaver came back in early June for an interleague contest in San Diego. I remember this game pretty well because, while I bought tickets to the Friday and Sunday games, I passed on Saturday, because I knew who was starting and I was in no mood to pay upwards of $20 to let Jeff Weaver stomp on my nuts. I'll pay to see the Mariners when they're bad, but not when they're guaranteed to lose. A man's gotta draw the line somewhere.
They won. I know they won, because I was watching on TV, and it took place before my very eyes. Weaver was on a low pitch count and only went four innings, but they were four solid innings, and I wasn't quite sure what to think, other than "God damn I should've bought tickets after all." For six starts Weaver had been so unconscionably bad that people were ill-equipped to make heads or tails out of even the slightest bit of success. We looked forward to his appearances in anticipation of the unthinkable brutality and carnage. What the hell happened?
Weaver earned himself another chance, and came back a few days later with six innings of three-run ball in Wrigley. The ten hits and eventual loss tempered our enthusiasm, but this Weaver seemed somewhat useful. We couldn't believe that the team might've figured out a way to salvage what looked like a sure disaster. This was Jeff Weaver. The Worst Pitcher In Mariners History. How was he suddenly surviving?
While we were still on the fence after the Chicago game, what Weaver did to the Pirates in Seattle on June 20th sure as hell won me over. On his 109th pitch of the evening, Weaver got Jason Bay to line out to short, capping off the most bewildering complete game shutout I've seen in my life. The Safeco PA blared the Dream Weaver track it'd been saving for the better part of three months, the Mariners won a game started by a 10.97 ERA, and Jeff Weaver got to smile for the first time since the start of the season. For me, it was one of the most heartwarming and throughly satisfying nights of the year, and the blend of vicarious redemption and unparalleled WTFitude is going to stick with me for a while.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, Weaver was only getting started. Out of completely fucking nowhere, the guy who couldn't retire two Royals took a gigantic leap forward and became a horse for two months. Over a span of 14 starts between his return from the DL and August 28th, Weaver allowed more than three runs just three times and put up a 6-4 record. Twice he gave up but a single run to Toronto in eight innings. He beat Boston. He shut out the White Sox. Weaver wasn't blowing anyone away, but he was getting the job done when the team needed him to, something which, considering how the season started, has to be considered a nominee for the biggest surprise of the year.
Like nearly everyone else on the team, Weaver struggled over the final month, winning just one of his final seven starts and dropping a critical game against the Angels. The miracle run had come to a sudden, unceremonious end, and once the offseason rolled around the front office didn't even entertain the thought of bringing Weaver back. But as bad as Weaver was, I have to give him this - he was never dull, and he was easy to root for. I guess there's just something about a pitcher totally bottoming out before scratching his way back to usefulness that I find endearing. (Note to future Mariner pitchers: please don't try this.)
So, with Weaver no longer a Mariner, now it's up to him to try and find a job somewhere else. And it's not going to be easy; even as thin as the pitching market is right now, he had enough trouble getting a contract before he put up a 6.20 ERA in a friendly park. Unless someone gets desperate, he may have to settle for a minor league deal or even a Spring Training NRI. Even if it's not that bad, he clearly isn't going to get the kind of contract he thought he'd be able to get after spending a year in Seattle.
But me, I don't think he's necessarily finished. In the American League? Yeah, he is, but fortunately for players like Weaver, there's this whole other league for people just like him. Weaver was bad in 2007, but he was also unlucky. He didn't deserve a .334 BABIP to go with his 17.4% line drive rate, and his 5.35 xFIP was actually better than that of Livan Hernandez, who's about to cash in. He just got killed by an awful start to the year that may or may not have been caused by a legitimate physical problem.
There's something to be said for Weaver being the kind of guy who can't deal with failure or stress very well - he's historically been burned with men on base, and he does seem to lose his cool pretty easily. That makes him vulnerable to snowballing meltdowns like the one he had against Kansas City, and a pitcher to whom you have to pay a lot of attention to make sure he's not on the verge of coming apart. But I think if you stick him in an NL ballpark with a decent outfield defense, he could cut it in the back of the rotation. And I think he deserves that last chance.
But, alas, it won't be in Seattle, nor should it be. Jeff, thank you for all the drop-down frisbee sliders, and best of luck with whatever it is you end up doing next season. As far as really really bad Mariners are concerned, you'll always be my favorite.