By Chad Stewart
In his second-to-last start of 2016, Jered Weaver tossed six quality innings en route to his 150th career victory. He now ranks second in wins and third in both innings (2,025) and strikeouts (1,598) in Angels history. But after 11 seasons, Weaver is now a free agent for the first time, and his future with the Angels is uncertain.
After a very successful career at Long Beach State that culminated with a Golden Spikes Award in 2004, the Angels selected Weaver with the 12th overall pick in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He quickly sped through the minor leagues and made his Major League debut less than two years after the draft, in 2006.
Weaver’s impact was felt immediately; he posted a 2.56 earned-run average in 19 starts in 2006. The Angels fell short of the postseason in 2006, but Weaver played a major role in getting them there each year from 2007-2009, averaging about 3.3 Wins Above Replacement per year. Still, it seemed as if Weaver had yet to reach his potential.
In 2010, Weaver took a major step forward, posting a 3.01 ERA and generating 5.9 WAR while striking out 233 batters, the most in the majors. That year, he finished fifth in American League Cy Young Award voting and began the best stretch of his career. The following year, Weaver posted a sparkling 2.41 ERA and finished second in Cy Young Award voting. He then followed his magnificent 2011 campaign with a third-place finish in Cy Young Award voting in 2012 and his third straight All-Star Game selection. From 2010-2012, Weaver held the best ERA in the American League at 2.74 and averaged 4.8 WAR per season, cementing himself as one of the best starting pitchers in franchise history.
As his fastball velocity declined, so did his performance. In 2013, Weaver’s average fastball velocity dipped below 87 miles per hour for the first time, down about two mph since 2010. Weaver was still able to pitch effectively with his diminished velocity in 2013 and 2014, posting a 3.43 ERA, but it was clear that he was no longer the Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher he once was.
His average fastball velocity dropped another two mph in 2015 and in 2016, it dropped to 84 mph, the second-slowest in Major League Baseball. While his fastball velocity decreased significantly, the velocity of his changeup and curveball did not decrease correspondingly. The velocity differential between his fastball and his off-speed pitches was key to his ability to continue being an effective pitcher because it allowed him to keep hitters off balance, and he no longer has that. Due to this, he recorded a 4.86 ERA in 337 innings from 2015-2016. And in 2016, he was the second-least valuable starting pitcher in Major League Baseball according to WAR.
As it stands, the Angels still lack starting pitching depth, especially considering Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano will both likely miss the entirety of 2017. While he wasn’t very effective last year, Weaver still made 31 starts and provided 178 innings. He was the lone pitcher the Angels could count on to take the ball every fifth day last year, and that has to be worth something.
The Angels are in desperate need of reliable starting pitchers, and Weaver could provide just that. Assuming Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker both fully recover from their injuries in time for the 2017 season, their rotation would consist of those two plus Tyler Skaggs, Ricky Nolasco, and Alex Meyer or Nate Smith. After those six, there is not much depth to be found in the Angels’ system. In addition, the free-agent starting-pitching market is particularly thin this year.
Weaver could fill the fifth spot in the rotation and afford Meyer and Smith another year of development in Triple-A and allow them to provide some much needed depth. Not a single team in Major League Baseball used just five starting pitchers in 2016. In fact, the Angels used the most in the majors, sending 15 different starters to the mound in 2016. So if there’s one team that recognizes the necessity of starting pitching depth, it’s the one in Anaheim.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention the loyalty Weaver has shown to his hometown team throughout his career. In August of 2011, Weaver and the Angels agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract extension. Weaver was in the midst of his best season and at the height of his career when he signed and was set to hit the free-agent market following the 2012 season. After leading the AL in ERA from 2010-2012, Weaver could have easily fetched a contract worth well north of $100 million, but he opted to take a hometown discount and continue doing whatever he could to bring another championship to Anaheim.
This is all the more admirable because of his agent, Scott Boras. Boras is famous — or infamous — for being the architect behind some of the most lucrative contracts in MLB history and did all he could to convince Weaver to wait for free agency, but Weaver ignored his advice and decided to follow his heart, not the money.
Weaver is a fiery competitor and has given everything he has to win a World Series in Anaheim. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite gone according to plan, but his persistence and dedication should be commended. Jered Weaver is one of the best pitchers to ever take the mound in an Angels uniform and a couple of poor seasons shouldn’t let that be forgotten.
For his loyalty and his performance, the Angels should reward Jered Weaver with another year under the lights at the Big A.
All statistics obtained from FanGraphs.com.