Why doesn't Jered Weaver get more respect?
That's a very good question; why doesn't Jered Weaver get more respect?
This is the major leagues' strikeout leader from 2010 we're talking about; he whiffed 233 batters, a career high. This is the No. 6 starting pitcher from last year's Player Rater, and the No. 28 player overall. To put that into perspective, Weaver, last season, outperformed such pitchers as Cliff Lee, a second-rounder per ESPN's early live draft results, and Jon Lester and CC Sabathia, both third-rounders.
Weaver, meanwhile, is going 69th on average so far this preseason (average draft position: 69.7), making him a seventh-round selection.
Every rationale for the low ADP has a fairly obvious rebuttal:
• Weaver has only one "elite" fantasy season on his résumé, his first four big league years are perhaps stronger indicators that he belongs in a lower value tier.
Rebuttal: First of all, Weaver's 2006, at least from the point of his May 27 major league debut forward, should also qualify as an "elite" campaign. As for his 2010, it came at the age of 27, at the peak of his prime, and it involved some significant improvements that he should be able to maintain.
Weaver's most significant advancement in 2010 was his command: In addition to setting a personal best in strikeouts, he also set a new mark in walks per nine innings (2.17), ranking 12th among qualified starters in the category. He ranked sixth in baseball in strikeouts per nine (9.35), and had the fourth-most 0-2 counts (263) in the game. Weaver's ability to vary speeds between his 89.9 mph (on average) fastball and 78.6 mph changeup, as well as to effectively locate his curveball, particularly in the upper half of the strike zone, largely made the difference. Unlike in seasons past, he repeatedly got ahead of hitters early in the count, helping explain a significant bump in strikeouts in light of the fact that he didn't really add a new pitch or rely on a previous one more than he had in the past.
• Weaver's 2010 season was fluky or "lucky"; the law of averages says he's bound to regress to the mean after such a surprising year.
Rebuttal: While it's true that pitchers tend to regress somewhat to the mean over lengthy stretches of time, isn't it possible that Weaver's aforementioned improvements might have effectively heightened what's classified as "the mean" for him? The luck argument, as well, has substantial holes.
To the latter point, Weaver's critics might point out that he had a .277 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), the 25th-lowest number among qualified starters, and significantly beneath the league average of .297 in 2010. But, as I previously pointed out in my BABIP analysis column, taking the category at face value is foolish. It ignores the fact that Weaver is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, his 48.2 percent fly-ball rate the second-highest among qualified starters, and that extreme fly-ballers should be expected to have BABIPs beneath the league average because of the much greater likelihood that fly balls -- at least the ones kept within the field of play -- will be converted into outs.
Look at it this way: The major league average for BABIP on fly balls alone in 2010 was .137 -- that data per Baseball-Reference.com -- and Weaver's BABIP on fly balls was .170, noticeably higher. In fact, on any batted ball, be it fly ball, ground ball, line drive or bunt, Weaver's BABIP was actually league average or higher. If you calculate his BABIP assuming that every batted ball drops for a hit at exactly the league-average rate, it would have been .256; 21 points lower than it actually was.
Sure enough, Weaver also had a .281 BABIP in 2009, and his career number in the category is .285, so he already had an established track record of BABIPs anywhere from 15-20 points beneath the league average.
But, you might respond, if Weaver is such a fly-baller, then wouldn't he be more susceptible to costly home runs, with his 7.8 home run/fly-ball percentage last year -- 31st-lowest out of 92 qualified starters -- serving as a red flag? Perhaps, except that, again, Weaver has a track record of success in the category, ranging anywhere from 7.0 percent (the low end, in 2007) to 8.4 percent (the high end, in 2006) during his five big league seasons, and managing a near-identical 7.9 percent number in the category during his career. Another point in his favor: According to Baseball-Reference.com data, the league average home run/fly-ball percentage in 2010 was 8.9, only a little more than a percentage point higher than Weaver's number and certainly not enough to indicate a prospective drop of four rounds' worth of fantasy value.
Two other key peripheral statistics show that Weaver's 2010 wasn't at all a luck-generated mirage: He had a 3.06 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching score), 10th-best among qualified starters, and a 3.51 xFIP (Expected FIP), 13th-best. Those are signs that any potential regression should be minimal.
• At least compared to two or three years ago, the Angels stink, will torpedo Weaver's win total and their somewhat suspect bullpen will perhaps even hurt him somewhat in terms of ERA and WHIP.
Rebuttal: Fair point that the Angels might no longer be as strong a contender as they were in the not-so-distant past, but then they didn't do him many favors last year, either. The Angels actually won only 18 of Weaver's 34 starts, and provided him only 4.33 runs per nine innings of support, down significantly from 5.72 in 2009 and almost a run beneath his 5.27 career number. Weaver didn't earn a single one of what's considered a "cheap win" -- a non-quality start meaning either fewer than five innings or four or more earned runs allowed -- and suffered six of what's considered a "tough loss" -- a quality start that results in a loss. In addition, per Baseball-Reference.com, on four occasions he left a start in position to win only to see that win squandered by his bullpen.
Just look at Weaver's quality-start performance and you'll get a sense of how unfortunate he was: He had the second-most quality starts in baseball (27) and the fourth-best quality-start percentage among qualified pitchers (79.4). He was already suffering the impact of what was a lack of team support, at least in terms of wins.
Maybe that's part of the reason he's being underrated, because had he won, say, 19 games, voters would have regarded him higher than fifth in the Cy Young race. But in spite of just 13 wins, Weaver's numbers say he deserved better anyway.
• Maybe it runs in the family; older brother Jeff was supposed to develop into a perennial Cy Young contender and fell substantially short, so perhaps Jered will follow suit and suddenly have his command escape him.
Rebuttal: That's simply ridiculous, and no more viable an argument than picking any random pitcher and suggesting "Maybe Jered Weaver will fall apart like so-and-so cherry-picked example." Bloodlines? Genetics? Bah. Sports history is littered with countless examples of brothers, father-son combos, cousins, etc., in which one family member was substantially better than another.
Besides, let's go ahead and point out that Jeff Weaver has never had a season with as high a K's-per-nine ratio as Jered's 9.35.
Ultimately, Weaver is a pitcher with ace-caliber potential who, even in the worst-case scenario, should be one of the safest bets to finish as the No. 2-caliber fantasy starter at which he's being drafted. Even the staunchest Weaver critics could hardly build a viable case to drop him outside the top 20. Heck, he probably deserves more of a groundswell of support to push him within the top 10!
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.