Adding Arms Like One-Two-Three: Suter, Weaver, and Plesac Sign New Deals

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One million dollars. It’s the prize money on Survivor. It’s Dr. Evil’s ransom. Apparently it’s a song by 100 gecs, a band my little brother claims I should know. It’s also the price of Zach Plesac’s services in 2024.

The Angels could use another bona fide starting pitcher. None of their projected starters qualified for the ERA title or posted a FIP below 4.13 last season. However, the fact that they signed a sixth starter like Plesac to a one-year, $1 million deal major league deal is an indication that they’re planning to enter the 2024 campaign with the rotation they’ve got. These five should give L.A. plenty of innings, but that’s just about all they have going for them:

Angels Projected Rotation
Pitcher IP ERA FIP WAR 2024 ZiPS ERA
Reid Detmers 148.2 4.48 4.13 2.5 4.28
Patrick Sandoval 144.2 4.11 4.18 2.3 4.00
Griffin Canning 127 4.32 4.29 1.8 4.37
Tyler Anderson 141 5.43 4.92 1.1 4.62
Chase Silseth (SP) 37 3.89 4.53 0.4 4.36

In a similar vein, length is just about all the Angels can expect from Plesac. Between the majors and minors, the righty has thrown at least 115 innings every full season since 2018, averaging 5.2 IP per start throughout his major league career. Although he has less than four years of big league service time, he’s thrown more innings than anyone on the Angels’ staff aside from veterans Tyler Anderson and Luis García. What’s more, he hasn’t suffered a major injury since tearing his UCL ahead of the 2016 draft.

Durability is a skill in its own right, but unfortunately, it doesn’t mean much if the pitcher in question isn’t performing well enough to stick in the majors. Plesac made just five starts for the Guardians last season, giving up 20 runs in 21.1 IP before he was optioned to Triple-A. He continued to struggle in the minors, and after another month, he was outrighted from the 40-man roster and transferred to the development list, essentially a way to give him some time off despite his clean bill of health.

Simply put, Plesac didn’t provide much reason for optimism with his performance last year. He lost a tick on his four-seam fastball for the second consecutive season, and opposing hitters crushed the pitch for a .532 wOBA and 65.6% hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, he turned his slider into his primary weapon against right-handed batters and a secondary offering against lefties, but he tossed the pitch with even less horizontal movement than before and struggled to hit his spots on the lower glove-side corner. Instead, he threw far more sliders in the strike zone, and as a result, the pitch induced fewer whiffs and more hard contact than in previous years.

To be fair, that all happened in a five-start sample, not nearly enough to draw any serious conclusions. On the other hand, considering how poorly he pitched in the minors, Plesac might actually prefer that we focus on his big league results. In 94.2 IP at Triple-A Columbus, his ERA was nearly as high as his strikeout rate, and 30 of the 98 hits he allowed went out of the ballpark. Nothing improved as the year went on, either, as Plesac pitched to a 6.00 ERA and 7.61 FIP over the final two months of the season. On the plus side, he still averaged 5.2 IP per start, but he may have reached a point of diminishing returns on his durability.

If nothing else, there was enough interest in his services for Plesac to land a major league deal. With 25 starters remaining on the free agent tracker who project for more WAR in 2024, the Angels clearly saw something they liked in his arm. Even if they plan to option him back and forth between Anaheim and Salt Lake, there’s a reason they gave him the Survivor winner’s guarantee. That’s good news for Plesac, who has plenty to gain from a successful season. His deal doesn’t have any options or incentives, but he remains eligible for arbitration, and if the Angels tender him a contract next winter, he is all but guaranteed a raise. The better he performs this season, the higher that raise will be.

Two million dollars. It’s the production budget of To Kill a Mockingbird and From Russia with Love. According to a quick Google search, it’s the ideal retirement savings goal. It’s also the price of Luke Weaver’s services in 2024.

Weaver re-upped with the Yankees on a one-year deal that includes a team option for 2025. The option year is worth a minimum of $2.5 million and can max out at $6 million if he reaches a certain innings threshold in 2024. Club options are always going to be team-friendly, but this structure gives the righty a little more control over his own destiny; the more he pitches, the more he can hope to earn.

Like Plesac, Weaver looks to be the sixth starter for the Yankees. If the five starters ahead of him on the depth chart are healthy come Opening Day, he’ll be a long man out of the bullpen. Unlike Plesac, however, Weaver isn’t optionable, and he has enough service time to reject an outright assignment without sacrificing his guaranteed salary. Thus, the Yankees are clearly hoping he’ll contribute to the big league squad all year, whether he’s pitching out of the bullpen or the rotation.

Weaver posted some of the worst underlying numbers of his career in 2023. His strikeout rate fell, his home run rate soared, and his opponents hit for a .416 xwOBA on contact. That said, the eight-year veteran also crossed the 100-inning threshold for just the second time in his career and the first time since 2018. In 29 games (25 starts) he tossed 123.2 innings; presumably, those are the numbers that caught Brian Cashman’s attention. As a sixth starter/long man, Weaver is heading back to New York to eat innings; the Yankees know better than anyone how valuable starting pitching depth can be:

Yankees Planned 2023 Rotation
Pitcher Days on IL
Gerrit Cole 0
Carlos Rodón 114
Nestor Cortes 116
Luis Severino 75
Frankie Montas 184
Total 489

The upside is minimal for Weaver, who enters his age-30 season with a 5.14 career ERA. In 2023, his 6.40 ERA ranked last in baseball (min. 120 IP), while his 5.61 FIP ranked 99th out of 102 pitchers who met that same playing time minimum. Meanwhile, his Baseball Savant sliders are as blue as Percy Jackson’s snack cupboard. Still, he looked genuinely impressive in three starts with the Yankees last September (he spent his first 26 games with the Reds and Mariners), striking out 16 batters and walking just three in 13.1 innings of work. Needless to say, that’s a tiny sample, but perhaps pitching coach Matt Blake saw something to work with. After all, the Yankees are now paying the highest possible rate of the luxury tax on all new acquisitions. In other words, they didn’t just think Weaver was worth a $2 million flier, but more than twice that in salary plus penalties.

Three million dollars. It’s a silent film starring J. Warren Kerrigan and Pauline Bush. It’s the fine eBay had to pay for stalking, harassing, and mailing bugs to a couple of critical e-commerce bloggers. If you still don’t see where I’m going with this, it’s also the price of Brent Suter’s services in 2024.

Suter was easily the most effective of this trio last season, ranking among the top 30 relievers in baseball with 1.3 WAR. Steamer isn’t so sure he can keep it up, projecting a 4.62 ERA and 0.1 WAR for the coming year, but nonetheless, the southpaw secured a $3 million guarantee. The newest Reds reliever will make $2.5 million in 2024, after which the team can either pick up a $3.5 million option for 2025 or pay him a $500,000 buyout instead.

While all three of Suter, Weaver, and Plesac could see most of their work out of the bullpen this year, Suter is a true reliever rather than a rotation insurance policy. The 34-year-old has been pitching out of the ‘pen since his return from Tommy John surgery in 2019, and he’s been durable and effective in that time. He has qualified as a reliever in each of the past four seasons, never posting an ERA higher than 3.78.

That said, his peripherals in 2023 were somewhat worrisome. His strikeout rate dropped and his walk rate rose for the fourth consecutive season, while his already glacial fastball lost a little more velocity. His 3.38 ERA and 3.44 FIP were excellent, but those numbers got a ton of help from a 0.39 HR/9 and 4.5% HR/FB; entering the season, his career averages were 1.19 and 13.5%, respectively. While Suter always does a phenomenal job limiting hard contact, those home run figures will likely prove impossible to maintain – especially at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati – and his 4.48 xFIP is a worrying harbinger of what’s to come.

The identity of Suter’s primary pitch is something of a mystery; it’s so dang slow that pedants have trouble calling it a fastball. Baseball Savant will tell you it’s a four-seamer and always has been, while Pitch Info suggests he turned it into a cutter this past year. To make matters more confusing, Brooks Baseball (which uses data from Pitch Info) seems to think he switched from a four-seamer to a cutter in 2019. The man himself has insisted it’s not a cutter, even though it naturally cuts, so I’ll stick with his preferred classification going forward.

Regardless of what we call it, the four-seam fastball was his nastiest pitch last season, according to Stuff+ and PitchingBot, yet he threw it less frequently than ever before. Instead, he started throwing more sinkers, despite the pitch’s poor modeling numbers and even worse results. Opposing batters tattooed his sinker for a .394 wOBA and the highest average exit velocity of any of Suter’s pitches. So why would he throw a mediocre pitch so often when he found success leading with his four-seam fastball the previous three years? One explanation is that he was trying to keep the ball on the ground while pitching for the Rockies at Coors Field. While he didn’t throw noticeably more sinkers at home, Suter did manage to induce a 2.27 GB/FB ratio at Coors compared to a 0.98 GB/FB on the road, and none of the three home runs he allowed came in his home ballpark. It’s hard to argue with those results.

Just as relevant to this discussion is Suter’s changeup. He started throwing the change slower and with more drop in 2022, and it has been his most valuable pitch the last two seasons. It’s an absolute weapon for inducing whiffs and limiting hard contact from right-handed hitters, and it explains why he has had such noticeable reverse platoon splits the past two years. It could also explain why he started throwing more sinkers this season. His sinker and changeup have more similar spin axes, more similar movement profiles, and slightly more similar release points than his four-seam and changeup. Thus his sinker might be worse than his four-seam in a vacuum, but it plays off his offspeed stuff so well that it’s worth throwing all the same.

With that changeup in his arsenal, Suter should continue to succeed against righties, even if they keep knocking around his sinker. However, if he wants to maintain an ERA in the low threes at the homer-happiest park in the game, he needs to improve his approach against same-handed hitters. Last season, his sinker was good for generating groundballs against lefties, but not so good for getting outs. As an alternative out pitch, he tried throwing more sliders, but the breaking ball didn’t get the job done. His efforts to induce chase low and outside were fruitless. Instead, his opponents feasted on sliders that missed their spots, making harder contact against the slider than any other pitch. If you’re going to have huge platoon splits, it’s better to succeed against righties. Still, Suter will run into trouble next year if he can’t improve his 4.84 FIP and 5.99 xFIP against left-handed hitters.

Leo is a writer for FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors as well as an editor for Just Baseball. His work has also been featured at Baseball Prospectus, Pitcher List, and SB Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @morgensternmlb.

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4 months ago

I don’t hate the Weaver deal for the Yanks — they’ve lost nearly 500 IP of pitching through FA/trade/DFA, including the guys who threw the 3rd through 6th most IP (German, King, Brito, Severino) and Randy Vazquez, who was likely to be 6th-7th on the SP depth chart.

I think Suter’s a good fit for Cincy. It is of utmost importance to keep the ball on the ground there, and it seems like he’s able to adjust his mix to do just that.

Zach Plesac, well, someone has to pitch, right?

4 months ago

Plesac is under 30.
And he’s got 2020 in his past: something to dream on for the Angels.