Over the last few years, Rich Lederer and I have exchanged our thoughts on the skills of Jered Weaver. Rich, an unabashed Weaver believer since his days at Long Beach State, saw Weaver as a legitimate frontline starter, while I saw more of a middle of the rotation guy who lived on keeping his fly balls in the park. Our disagreements mostly centered around whether to evaluate a pitcher on how many runs he prevents or his underlying components, as Weaver’s career ERA was nearly a run lower than his xFIP.
This year, Weaver has decided to make that argument obsolete, turning into a pitcher that both of us can agree on – a dominating, legitimate ace.
The last four years, Weaver had posted strikeout rates of 7.68, 6.43, 7.74, and 7.42, putting him just above average but certainly nothing special. This year, Weaver’s K/9 has jumped to 10.45, and he leads the majors in strikeouts by one, inching out strikeout machine (and National League pitcher) Tim Lincecum. In chart form, the leap looks like this.
In addition to increasing his strikeouts by 40 percent, he’s also posting a career low 2.12 BB/9 and a career high 36.6 percent groundball rate. He’s simply pitching better than he ever has before, and by a huge margin.
It’s hard to pinpoint any one reason why Weaver has been so much better this year than in prior years. His velocity hasn’t jumped. He didn’t add a new pitch or change the mix of pitches he’s using. His first strike rate isn’t any different than it was last year. Perhaps the most notable change is the frequency of 0-2 counts, which is up from 22 percent a year ago to 28 percent this year – since he’s getting ahead more often, he can get hitters to chase pitches out of the zone, so even if his stuff hasn’t changed, it’s made more effective by pitching in situations where the hitters have to be aggressive.
Whether he can keep pitching this way remains to be seen. Generally, it’s wiser to lean on four years of data rather than half a season’s worth, but for 2010 at least, Rich and I can agree on Jered Weaver, who has been tremendous, no matter how you evaluate a pitcher.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.