With John Lackey leaving via free agency, the Angels needed Jered Weaver to step up in 2010 and become the team's ace. He did that and so much more, but can he repeat the same kind of success in 2011?
2010 Stats: 224.1 IP, 13-12, 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 233 K
2011 ZiPS Projections: 201.1 IP, 15-8, 3.53 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 195 K
2011 Bill James Projections: 222 IP, 14-11, 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 199 K
2011 Marcel Projections: 193 IP, 12-10, 3.50 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 176 K
2011 MWaH Projections*: 215 IP, 16-9, 3.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 192 K
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2010 in Review: John Lackey's departure left a vacancy in the ace slot of the Angels' rotation. Weaver was asked to fill that vacancy and he did so better than anyone could have anticipated. Jered made some adjustments to his game, including the addition of a much-needed two-seam fastball, and turned himself from a solid #2 starter into a bona fide ace. The end result was Weaver setting career-bests in nearly every category conceivable, with the cherry on top being his decidedly unexpected status as the league leader in strikeouts. Unfortunately, the one category he didn't set a career-high in was wins (not really his fault), which probably prevented him from finishing any better than fifth in Cy Young voting.
Three Lingering Questions for 2011:
- Is Weaver really this good or was last year a fluke? Nobody could have seen Weaver's strikeout title coming, which has to make on think it was kind of a fluke. There is no doubt Weaver is very good, but is he really amongst the elite in the AL? He added another look to his fastball, but that only partially attributes his spike in whiffs and reductions in walk, homers and flyballs. It is always possible that he is simply learning how to pitch smarter, but questions about his new dominant reputation are bound to remain until he proves he can do it again this season.
- How much will Jered benefit from the improved outfield defense? It may not matter too much if Weaver sees his strikeouts drop this season because he'll have a much better defense to rely upon in 2011. With Weaver being such an extreme flyball pitcher, it will be interesting to see just how much better his stats could be with so much range no backing him up. Of course, there is the theory that Jered was gunning for Ks last season because he didn't trust his fielders, so it could actually backfire as Weaver might be not have the same killer instinct he had in 2010.
- Is there any hope that he signs an extension with the Angels this year? The Halos seldom negotiate with a player during the season, but an exception might be made here. We know that Jered was at least approached about a long-term deal this off-season and his agent Scott Boras didn't immediately reject those overtures despite his general distate for such matters. That at least provides a glimmer of hope, but if Weaver has another season that earns him Cy Young votes, Boras may not give the Angels another chance to talk extension once this season ends.
What to Expect in 2011: Like it or not, Weaver has to come back to earth at least a little bit this season. He has shown an uncanny ability to keep learning on the job and making himself better, but I think he has finally maxed himself out. His new two-seamer might get a little bit better, but after that, Weaver really has few areas left to improve upon, other than finding a way to keep that lucky's rabbit foot firmly planted up his butt.
Yes, Weaver got better in 2010, but he also got lucky. His strikeout rate in the first half of the season (9.56 K/9 in March/April, 9.82 in May and 12.00 in June) compared to the second half (8.47 K/9 in July, 9.88 in August and 7.02 in September/October) hints at him probably not challenging for the league K Crown again. He should still get plenty of whiffs, but I think he sort of took the league by surprise with his two-seamer and increasingly aggressive approach last year, so a 9+ K/9 rate seems a little unrealistic. Where he really got lucky though was with the long ball.
Weaver's biggest weakness is and always will be his flyball tendencies. Flyballs mean homers and homers are bad. This much we know. What we don't know is how Weaver allowed 8.3% of his flyballs to turn into homers in 2008 and 2009 but permitted just 7.8% to leaver the yard in 2010. Considering that his BABIP was virtually identical from 2009 to 2010 we know that batters were still hitting him at the same rate, but somehow just not hitting as many home runs. The only thing I can think of is that his increased use of the curve (13% of his pitches, nearly double his career usage) or his two-seam fastball is leading to less harmful flyballs or he just got lucky. Me, I'm going Occam's Razor on this one.
This all sounds like I am degrading Weaver, but I'm really not. He clearly has the ability to dominate, I just think his stats are going to be a little less impressive in 2011. The strikeout might trend down and the homers might trend up, but Jered is still so good at minimizing walks and mistakes that having a few extra balls in play and a handful more balls going over the fence isn't really going to make a dramatic difference in his overall effectiveness. It probably won't merit him serious Cy Young consideration, but that is probably a good thing if the Angels want to keep him in Halo Red beyond 2012.