By almost any measure, Jered Weaver’s best two seasons came in 2010-11, when he threw well over 200 innings and was worth more than five WAR each year. My guess is that most people still think he peaked in 2012, when he was 20-5 with a 2.81 ERA, despite a terrifying decline in his strikeout rate, and if being a “20 game winner” isn’t what it used to be, it still does count for something in fantasy.
Still, headed into 2013, I think most of us were worried about an impending drop-off thanks to lessened velocity and that strikeout decline, and we got it: Weaver’s 2013 was, by most metrics, his worst since at least 2009. Of course, not many of us expected that he’d fracture his left elbow in his second start of the season and miss nearly two months, either, and that’s obviously a factor in his down year.
So then the question becomes, as Weaver heads into his age-31 season: Is he done as an ace? Done entirely? Or is there more there?
First and foremost, it’s really difficult to look at this velocity trend and not get scared off:
If you want to write off 2013 due to the broken elbow, go right ahead, but let’s not pretend that there wasn’t anything going wrong here before that. Weaver had some concerns around a sore shoulder in the second half of 2012, and it appears that the additional time off from the broken elbow in 2013 didn’t do much to alleviate that.
So that’s the bad news. Well, it’s part of the bad news. This is also bad news:
After peaking in 2010, Weaver’s K/9 has steadily dropped, even as the major league average has increased, and he’s now a below-average strikeout pitcher heading into his age-31 season.
But if he’s not striking people out, surely he’s found another way to avoid hard contact, right? Oh.
I have to be honest; I went into this expecting my answer would be “Weaver’s certainly not an ace, but he’s still a solidly above-average pitcher,” and now I’m second-guessing even that, because the warning signs here are just huge. Weaver isn’t throwing as hard, he’s not missing bats, and he’s allowing more line drives. There’s just nothing about that you want to see in a pitcher, nor is the fact that his first-pitch strike percentage has dropped from 64.7% to 61.1% to 59.9%.
So what’s the good news? Well, you can be pretty certain about what kind of BB/9 mark you’re going to get, because Weaver has been spectacularly consistent in that department over the last four seasons — 2.17, 2.14, 2.15, 2.16. And even though he’s declining, it’s not like he was bad in 2013 — certainly not enough to suggest that he shouldn’t be drafted or anything like that. Despite making only 24 starts, he won double-digit games for the eighth year in a row — yes, referencing pitcher win numbers makes me die a little inside, but it’s relevant for fantasy — and his ERA over the last two years is just 3.02.
Still, it’s looking more and more like that’s being done with smoke and mirrors. Weaver’s xFIP has been north of four in both of the last two seasons, and his FIP isn’t far behind. Everything important is headed in the wrong direction, and if his shoulder woes return, all bets are off. I wouldn’t mind taking him to fill out a roster, but not a whole lot more than that, and you know someone is going to overdraft him based on his name. Don’t let it be you.