Thursday, May 13, 2010

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By David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

Watching Jered Weaver Wednesday evening, I saw something from him that I hadn’t seen since his inaugural season in 2006. What I saw in him Wednesday evening was the making of a true ace. Not just an ace of our staff, as in the best we’ve got, but a true, bona fide ace—one that would be an ace on any staff.

The numbers clearly support the claim. Against the tougher hitting in the American League, Weaver leads the league in strikeouts (59), is tied for 4th in wins (4), 8th in WHIP (1.06), and 9th for ERA (2.47). While one could argue that the rankings are based on a small sample size, consider how much better his numbers would be if the rest of the team were playing solid defense and offense behind him.

Throughout the game, I sat next to a scout for a rival AL team (who wished to remain anonymous). He has been a scout for most of the last decade, and had scouted Weaver on many occasions. He was more than familiar with Weaver’s repertoire, so, throughout the game, we discussed his performance. Both the scout and I agreed that Weaver’s maturation as an ace this season stemmed from improvements in four areas of his pitching.

The first area that we discussed was the way that Weaver hid the ball during his delivery. Weaver doesn’t have an overpowering fastball. But, what he does have is a deceptive delivery that makes his fastball appear to be much faster than its actual speed. That deceptive delivery was one of the key reasons why Weaver tied Whitey Ford’s American League record by winning his first 9 decisions to start his career and allowed him to twice strike out the first 10 batters he faced in collegiate games. Between 2007 and 2009, Weaver’s delivery wasn’t as consistently deceptive as it had been in 2006. But, this year, Weaver’s delivery has been as confusing as it ever was.

The second area where Weaver has matured as a pitcher is in his composure on the mound. While some pitchers feed off of emotion, Weaver pitches much better without his emotions getting the best of him. On the mound, Weaver has become a machine. He’s exuding confidence without allowing that to affect his location or control. His stoicism is unsettling to the batters, and prevents him from turning fielding errors or hits into Chernobyl - like innings.

Third, Weaver has become much better at keeping the hitters off balanced. Not only is Weaver mixing his tempo on the mound, he’s mixing his speeds and locations very well. This has corresponded to a large jump in Weaver’s K/9, rising from a career average of 7.46 K/9 to 9.61 K/9 so far this year. Similarly, Weaver has been able to increase his groundball to flyball ratio from a career average of 0.52 GB/FB to 0.66 GB/FB. The increased numbers reflect the disruption that Weaver’s pitching has done to the hitters rhythm and timing.

The last area, though, where Weaver has taken a giant leap forward is in the development of his changeup. Twice in the game, the scout shook his head as he charted the ball and muttered “just filthy” about the pitch. At one point, the scout told me that he thought that Weaver’s changeup is “one of the best in the league right now.” Adding an advanced changeup to a deceptive delivery, a stoic attitude, and well-mixed speeds makes for an awesome arsenal.

As the scout started to pack up at the end of the game, and I started to gather my things to leave, the scout told me that he watched Weaver’s last game in Seattle, where he held the Mariners hitless for 7 innings. I told the scout that I watched Weaver combine for an 8-inning no-hitter once against the Dodgers. We laughed about how Weaver lost that game, much like he lost the game against the Rays Wednesday evening.

After that, though, the scout said something interesting — something that I haven’t heard about many other pitchers. The scout said that with the way that Weaver was pitching this year, he “wouldn’t be surprised if he saw Weaver pitch a no hitter sometime soon.” I nodded in agreement.

This year, Jered Weaver has become a true ace. He hasn’t earned that title by default. He’s earned that title because he’s matured into a special pitcher — one who can match up against the best in the American League.

Love to hear what you think!

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