When the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Luke Weaver in the deal that sent Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals, they brought on board a 25-year-old right-hander with a crisp fastball and a plus changeup. What Weaver has lacked is a quality third option to augment his go-to offerings. While he went to his hook 12.7% of the time last year, the pitch was more of a show-me than a weapon. Improving it was a primary focus over the offseason, and it has remained one this spring.
It’s not the only pitch the former first-round pick has been working on. Weaver is also hoping to reintroduce a cutter-slider to his arsenal. The extent to which that qualifies as one or two pitches — i.e. cutter and/or slider — isn’t an easy question to answer. At least, that wasn’t the case when I sat down with Weaver a few weeks ago in D-Backs camp.
David Laurila: It’s been a few years since we talked about your repertoire. What’s changed since that time?
Luke Weaver: “Fastball and changeup are still my primaries, but I’ve been developing a slider, and a better curveball. Both are turning into what they want to be. I’m not trying to force them into being any specific thing — I’m just seeing what the break is doing, trusting it, and going for it. With a cutter and a curveball to go with my main two, I have four legit pitches.”
Laurila: You first said ‘slider,’ but then called it a cutter. Which is it?
Weaver: “I think cutter is the winner of the two, but there are times when the ball is going to break a little more and turn into a slider. Other times the ball is going to break less and turn into a cutter. For me, it’s just about finding which one it is. All the time there are … guys might call a pitch a curveball, when it’s really just a slow slider. Different breaks will register as an actual pitch, but sometimes we’ll call it something else based on how we want to throw it — the mindset behind the pitch, if that makes sense.”
Laurila: A cutter typically isn’t as effective as a slider in certain locations, and vice versa. In that respect, the movement you get is going to matter.
Weaver: “Absolutely — you’re on the right track with that — but that’s where it’s a win-win if I can understand what both of those pitches can be. If I can manipulate the baseball into cutting, and also sliding, now I can pick two spots on a left-handed batter, or two spots on a righty, and go from there. At bare minimum, I want to be able to establish one of them.”
Laurila: To clarify, are you hoping to settle on just one, or is the goal to have both a slider and a cutter?
Weaver: “I’ve been able to do both in bullpens — know which one is going to do what — but in a game… maybe not so much. The body might be a little jacked up with an adrenaline rush, so overthrowing could become a part of that. It’s possible to have both, but right now I want to establish one of them. I’m not in a race to have five pitches. I want to have three legit pitches, and a fourth that’s going to elevate me to the next level.
“I feel that they’re all there now, but at the same time I don’t want to settle and say that I don’t have to work on them. There’s still more work to be done.”
Laurila: When did you begin working on the cutter-slider?
Weaver: “I started tinkering with it last year, but it became a thing where my focus started to drift too much to that pitch, instead of worrying about the pitches that were getting me to where I needed to be at the time. That’s the problem with doing stuff in-season. Your attention starts to wander somewhere that it doesn’t need to be. You need to work on it little by little, playing catch, but come game time you’ve got to go with what’s already there.”
Laurila: How do you differentiate between a slider and a cutter? I’m referring to how you hold and release each pitch.
Weaver: “More than anything, it’s where it’s at in your hand. So deeper, or more toward the fingertips. On fastballs, I throw the ball a little looser and have it a little more toward the end of my fingers. I’m not like a hard-pressure guy, and when I get to a cutter, I want the same thing. I just want to be able to tilt the ball a little bit, and allow the speed and the break to turn over.
“On a slider, I want to choke it a little more to take some of that speed off, and create more of the break — you know, let it take its time to do its thing.”
Laurila: On a slider, you’re putting more pressure on a seam.
Weaver: “Absolutely. The middle finger is going to be doing most of the work. But if I think about the pointy finger, with the mindset that it’s doing something… then I feel that they’re going to be synced up, with the middle finger working harder. That’s the mentality I want, that the pointy finger is making the middle finger work harder.”
Laurila: Has working with the coaches here differed from what you experienced with the Cardinals?
Weaver: “Everybody brings their expertise in a different way. I got tremendous information from the guys in St. Louis, especially the players — the Adam Wainwrights, etcetera. Coming over here it’s just a different mindset, with guys throwing different things. There’s no one right way to do something. I’ve learned a lot from [pitching coach] Mike Butcher when it comes to curveballs.”
Laurila: What were the initial conversations, regarding your repertoire, when you came over?
Weaver: “They obviously had a game plan in their head. I sat down and talked with Mike Butcher for a good while, right when I got traded. I came out here with Carson [Kelly], and we talked about different things. We talked curveballs, speed changes, and such. I told them that the cutter was a good pitch for me in the past. I used it to get a lot of outs, especially against lefties. Then I kind of lost it.”
Laurila: So, you actually had a cutter prior to this season?
Weaver: “Yes, but it’s been a few years since I’ve thrown one. My mechanics kind of shifted a little bit and I lost the feel for it. But it’s a good pitch to have, so I took a lot of time over the offseason trying to get it back. I’d say that it was 2015-2016 that it was pretty good. That was in the minor leagues.
Laurila: That was a cutter, not a slider.
Weaver: Right. A slider was more in my college days. I tinkered with one for a while after getting to pro ball, but it wasn’t as effective for me as a cutter would be. I guess that’s what I’d ideally want.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.