|This is a Guest Post by Bryan Curley. Bryan is the founder of BaseballProf.com. Clave was a guest poster on Baseball Professor last week, and this week Bryan returns the favor. For links to his work feel free to visit Baseball Professor at baseballprof.com or check them out on Facebook.|
Saber-skeptics (as well as fans who don the Angels “A”) might not like what I’m about to say – let someone else draft Jered Weaver this year.
Last season Weaver spun 220 spectacular innings, fooling opponents to the tune of a 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and .213 opponents’ batting average all while racking up 17 wins for the Angels. It was his second straight sub-3.00 ERA season and his third straight year with a WHIP of 1.07 or better. While those superficial stats are undoubtedly impressive, the more enlightened among us see troublesome trends that could signal Weaver’s impending fall from the ranks of the elite.
In 2010 Weaver struck out 25.8% of the batters he faced. In 2011 that rate fell to 21.4%. Last year it fell again to 19.2%. That rate — 19.2% — was his lowest since 2007 but not much lower than his 2009 rate of 19.7%. That year his ERA was 3.75.
Of course, Weaver’s walk rate has slightly improved since that 2009 season, down to 6.1% from 7.5%, so his command rate (K:BB ratio) in 2012 was actually better than that 2009 season. Still, his 3.16 K:BB ratio from last year represents a second straight year of decline.
But that’s OK, right? I mean, Weaver has consistently posted BABIPs well below the league average because he has an uncanny ability to generate weak contact. Even if his strikeout rate is in decline, he can make up for it by inducing soft grounders and lazy fly balls. It’s not easy quantifying how much “weak contact” a pitcher actually induces, but there are two measures readily available for us: infield fly rate and line drive rate.
From a pitcher’s perspective, infield flies are good and line drives are bad. Last season Weaver induced infield flies 9.4% of the time. For comparison, the league average was 10.0%. Weaver’s previous career low was 11.5% (2007), and he’d been north of 14.0% in three of the last four years. Also last season, Weaver allowed line drives 21.1% of the time. For comparison, the league average was 20.9%, and in only one other season did Weaver’s line drive rate exceed 19.0% (2008).
And I haven’t even mentioned Weaver’s FIP last year. FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, is essentially a measure of how well a pitcher pitched regardless of how well his fielders fielded. One could make a very strong argument that Weaver’s two best seasons were 2010 and 2011, and not coincidentally Weaver posted his two best FIPs in those seasons, 3.06 and 3.20, respectively. Last season Weaver’s FIP was 3.75, so despite pitching to a 2.81 ERA in 2012, Weaver’s peripheral stats indicate he pitched more like Homer Bailey (3.68 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 3.23 K:BB ratio) than Johnny Cueto (2.78 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.47 ERA). (And no, I did not intentionally pick two Cincinnati Reds. I just liked the comparisons.)
Last year there were 99 pitchers who tossed at least 150 innings, and 10 of them had peripherals similar to Weaver (line drive rate of 20.0% or higher, infield fly rate of 10.0% or lower, and a K:BB ratio of at least 3.00). Those players are listed below.
Among this group of analogous players (as far as peripherals are concerned), Weaver had the best season. He had the lowest ERA with only Kyle Lohse and Jordan Zimmermann also checking in under 3.15, and his 1.02 WHIP was really only rivaled by Lohse’s 1.09. These players averaged a 3.43 ERA (very close to their 3.41 FIP) and a 1.15 WHIP. If Weaver were to post numbers even remotely close to those marks, especially with his strikeout rate merely league average, he’d probably need to win 25 games to remain an elite fantasy option. I’ll say the odds of that happening are rather slim.
Maybe you don’t agree with all this mumbo jumbo. Maybe you’ve seen Weaver pitch once or twice and you think he just has “good stuff” or “it” or some other intangible that the stats don’t quantify. Maybe you’re right. But fantasy baseball is a numbers game, and I choose to use numbers to project which players could break out and which are headed for decline. Weaver very well could replicate the success he’s had over the last three years, but I think there’s a significant chance he regresses and falls into to the second tier of starting pitchers. That’s still very good, and I’d still like to have Weaver on my fantasy team, but I don’t want to draft him like an ace.
I’ll let someone else do that.