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Can the Angels salvage Jered Weaver?

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The crafty righty finally saw his fastball reach depths too low to overcome in 2015. Are his days as an effective starting pitcher firmly behind him, or can something be done to fix the former ace?

Can Weaver survive without a real fastball?
Can Weaver survive without a real fastball?
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After years of missing on predictions of steep regression, the FIP-pimps can finally stick out their tongues and yell, "I told you so!" Jered Weaver, with his diminishing fastball and penchant for fly balls, had a below-average ERA+ for the first time in his ten major league seasons. More alarmingly, he also posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career, just 5.1 per 9 innings pitched.

The biggest culprit for Weaver's struggles in 2015? It was very likely the 85 MPH average fastball he took to the mound every five days, continuing the concerning trend we've seen the last few years. While his percentage of fly balls was right in line with his career norms, 8.9% left the yard, a full percentage over last year and nearly two percent over his 7.1% career mark. According to Brooks Baseball, batters managed to deposit 1.27% of Weaver's fastballs over the fence, well above his career rate of 0.73%. Jered tried to compensate for his slow fastball by throwing the curve more often, registering at 22% of his total pitches thrown, well above his career average of 12%. Batters connected with the big, slow curve just as often, squaring up 1.18% of them for home runs, nearly double his career rate of 0.66%.

An increase in home runs and a dip in strikeouts normally spells doom for a starting pitcher. It is safe to assume the 33 year-old Weaver will never return to the ace levels we enjoyed just a few years ago. This does not necessarily mean the career Angel will be completely useless in 2016, the final year of his contract.

One positive to take from last season: he posted the lowest walk rate of his career, keeping his WHIP at a manageable 1.233. Secondly, since he wasn't allowing any more fly balls than normal, some of the home run increase could be explained away by luck. He remains one of the very best at inducing pop-ups, with 20% of his fly balls coming on the infield.

Another trend that continued in 2015 was Jered's dominance at the Big A:

I

Split

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

HBP

BK

WP

BF

WHIP

SO9

SO/W

Home

4

2

.667

2.79

11

11

0

1

1

0

67.2

66

22

21

6

12

1

53

5

0

0

274

1.153

7.0

4.42

Away

3

10

.231

6.01

15

15

0

0

0

0

91.1

97

62

61

18

21

2

37

7

0

2

395

1.292

3.6

1.76

We know Angel Stadium is where fly balls go to die, playing right into Weaver's hands. What I found most interesting, though, is how many more K's Weaver seems to induce on the Big A mound. There have been several articles penned examining how Weaver's unique cross-fire delivery allows him to obscure the ball as it's released against the backdrop of our ugly rock pile. In spite of his diminished fastball, Weaver continues to exploit this little wrinkle in Angel Stadium, making him an elite pitcher while pushing off the home rubber. Can the Angels maximize this effect by minimizing his starts on the road? I cannot recall another instance of a team utilizing a starting pitcher as a home-only guy. As we know, Mike Scioscia (and Weaver, for that matter) would be very unlikely to implement something so progressive. That said, it would seem to benefit both Weaver and the Angels if they were to deploy him more strategically.

Relegating Weaver to the pitcher-friendly parks on the west coast would certainly help his homerun issues.  He should never take the rubber in the state of Texas and stay out of east coast ballparks all together. A byproduct of the irregular schedule would be allowing the aging Weaver some extra rest during the course of the season, keeping his arm fresh and possibly even recouping some oomph on his fastball. Some would argue this could result in "rust" for the pitcher, though a lack of controllable samples to pull from leaves us without any studies that attempt to answer that question. For what it's worth, even MLB Network crank John Smoltz came to the defense of Matt Harvey recently, claiming most pitchers would welcome some extra rest over the course of a season and brushing off the notion that you suddenly forget how to pitch just because you had ten days off. The tiniest of samples validated Smoltz's hot take, as Harvey combined to throw 11 innings of no-run ball, striking out 15 and walking 2 in two late-season starts, each coming on eleven days' rest.

As currently constructed, the Angels would appear to be in a perfect position to try this experiment. Here are the starting pitchers currently under contract for 2016:

Jered Weaver

Garrett Richards

C.J. Wilson

Andrew Heaney

Matt Shoemaker

Hector Santiago

Nick Tropeano

Tyler Skaggs

Setting aside any potential trades or signings for the moment, the Angels have quite a bit of depth to play with. Even if Skaggs doesn't return to the rotation right away, the team could carry two starters in the pen and have one of them take Weaver's spot when the team visits hitter-friendly parks. For example, Santiago could take the Yankee stadium assignments to mitigate the short porch in right, while Tropeano takes his turns in Fenway to minimize balls headed towards the atrocity in left. Keeping a couple of long-men in the pen would also allow Scioscia to have a quicker hook with his starters when they struggle.

Now, I understand that this is likely all fantasy, way out of Scioscia's comfort zone. Weaver, from what we know, is likely too prideful to ever get on board with a plan like this. However, continuing to treat Weaver like he's the ace of the staff will only result in even worse results next year, as he continues to line-up against the opponent's best starters and takes a beating in non-marine layer, non-rock pile stadiums, inevitably leading to his removal from the rotation all together. If he can swallow his pride and embrace his role as the Angels' own Tim Wakefield (after all, they do have the same fastball), he could find himself helping the team more and maybe even extend his career.