Baseball BeatFebruary 22, 2004
A Night At The Ballpark
By Rich Lederer

Having watched Long Beach State's Jered Weaver dominate USC the previous week, I decided to go to the ballpark last Friday to see if he could continue his mastery against the #11-ranked Baylor Bears.

The tall right-hander didn't disappoint me or his teammates as he pitched a solid seven innings, striking out ten and walking only one en route to a six-hit, one-run victory over the visitors from the Big XII Conference. (Box Score)

Weaver, who is now 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA vs. three-ranked opponents, and Friday night college baseball go together like Bonanza and Sunday night TV.

Season Totals:

           IP   H    R   ER  BB  SO
Weaver     21   11   2   2   2   30

*Top of the first inning: The 49er ace warms up with Dream Weaver playing over the public address system. Weaver proceeds to set down the Bears 1-2-3, striking out the third hitter swinging on a high, hard one.

*Bottom of the first: Mark McCormick, Baylor's starting pitcher and third team preseason All-American, strikes out the lead-off man, then walks the next three batters. The coach strolls to the mound with "He do the walk, he do the walk of life" blaring over the PA. With the bases loaded and McCormick in dire straits, Troy Tulowitzki hits a triple off the glove of a diving rightfielder. Long Beach State 3, Baylor 0.

*Top of the second: Weaver jams the cleanup hitter on a 3-2 fastball, retiring him on a blooper to the second baseman--the type of contact that would normally result in a broken bat if not for the aluminum ones in college baseball. The home-plate umpire squeezes Weaver on a couple of pitches and the back-to-back National Player of the Week allows his only walk of the evening. The next batter hits a line-drive single to right past an outstretched second baseman. First and second with one out. Weaver meets the challenge and gets the next two hitters on a foul pop-up to the catcher and a called third strike.

*Top of the third: Two scouts sit down in front of me in the second row behind home plate. Weaver strikes out the first batter looking. The older scout reaches into his bag and pulls out his Stalker Sport radar gun. Weaver allows a Texas League single to left. The runner is subsequently thrown out attempting to steal second, 2-6 for those scoring at home. With two outs and nobody on, Weaver reaches back and Ks the next batter on some major-league gas. The scout looks around, spots a buddy and says "94" with a smile on his face.

*Bottom of the third: The scout pulls out his pouch of Red Man and stuffs a few fingers full of tobacco in his mouth. Mike Hofius, the 49ers first baseman, steps to the plate. The older scout turns to the younger one and remarks, "This guy's swinging the bat pretty good", before leaning over and spitting tobacco juice on the floor of the stadium. Hofius, a mid-level prospect, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 46th round last year as a junior and by the Detroit Tigers in the ninth round out of high school.

*Top of the fourth: As Weaver warms up, the scouts begin talking about Josh Beckett and Mark Prior. Jered strikes out the first batter on a 76-mph slow curve. He gets the next hitter to pop out to second. The following batter hits a single over the the head of the second baseman. Weaver almost picks off the runner with a good move to first, confirming Baseball America's position that he is "tough to run on because he holds runners well". The next batter rifles a line drive single to left. A left-handed hitter pulls a single to right field, scoring the runner from second and sending the other to third. Three consecutive hits and the score is now Long Beach State 3, Baylor 1. Weaver retires the final batter of the inning with what is known as a "Blair Field out" to center field.

(It should be noted that Blair Field is a pitchers' ballpark. According to Boydsworld.com, most noted for its weekly RPI ratings, Long Beach's home field was tied for 16th as the toughest place to score runs in the country from 2000-2003. It has a rating of 79, meaning that teams score 21% fewer runs at Blair than the "average college ballpark".)

*Bottom of the fourth: Tulowitzki, the Dirtbags' sophomore shortstop and hitting star of the game, leads off the inning. Tulowitzki hits a groundball and is thrown out at first. I bend toward the older scout, who also has a stopwatch in his hand, and ask, "What did you get him in?" The scout says "Four-three", a reasonable time for a 6'3" right-handed hitter. Tulowitzki has the best arm and is the #1 shortstop in the Big West according to Baseball America.

John Bowker, a sophomore left fielder who is eligible for this year's draft after redshirting as a freshman due to a wrist injury, drills a single to center. "That guy can hit." Spit. "I really like his bat." Bowker then gets picked off first. The older gentleman proclaims, "Someone did a study and the percentage of runners who steal second base is extremely low" as he shakes his head. Such insight!

*Top of the fifth: Both scouts engage in separate cell phone conversations while Weaver breezes through the inning, 1-2-3.

*Bottom of the fifth: The scouts talk about Scott Kazmir and Clint Everts, the fourth pair of high school teammates chosen in the first round of the same draft. The younger scout, who is not with the New York Mets, mentions that Kazmir was "a lefty who threw 90-94 with a hammer" (referring to the speed of his fastball and the bite of his curveball) in high school. "If Kazmir was 6'2", he would have been the first pick" of the 2002 draft rather than the 15th. Everts, a 6'2" RHP, was selected by the Montreal Expos as the fifth selection in the draft. Kazmir, on the "smallish" side at 6'0" and 170 lbs., led all minor-league pitchers last year with 11.9 Ks/9 IP and is the Mets #1 prospect.

*Top of the sixth: Weaver strikes out the side, racking up his sixth, seventh, and eighth Ks of the night. "Another one bites the dust" is heard over the PA. In between half innings, I ask the scouts where they think Weaver will be drafted and the younger one tells me, "Top half of the first round". That's a pretty safe bet. I ask him what he likes most about Weaver and he says, "Good arm...good arm angle...good movement".

*Top of the seventh: Weaver drops down and throws an almost sidearm fastball for the first time. The pitch is fouled straight back. He then gets the batter on a lazy fly ball to center, a "can of corn". The conversation in front of me turns to Rice's triumvirate of All-American pitchers--Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and Philip Humber. The younger scout predicts that Niemann (17-0, 1.70 ERA for the national champ Owls in 2003) will go #1 in the draft and describes him as a "six-nine, 250-pounder who goes 97-98 with an 82-mph curve". He says Townsend (11-2, 2.20 with 164 Ks in 119 IP) also throws 97-98 with a "filthy" 84-mph curve.

While we're talking, the next batter rips an aluminum bat single past a befuddled Weaver, the sixth and final hit of the game for Baylor. Weaver then reaches back and blows a fastball past the next hitter for his ninth strikeout. He puts the finishing touches on the evening by getting a pinch hitter on an off-speed breaking ball for his tenth strikeout.

*The older scout stands up, knowing his job is pretty much completed for the evening and spits a stream of tobacco juice across the way. The scouts then disappear for an inning, before returning to watch Long Beach State closer Neil Jamison pitch a perfect ninth inning to record his third save of the season.

Next up on Weaver's Friday night hit list: The Houston Cougars at Houston, Friday, February 27.

Friday night I crashed your party
Saturday I said I'm sorry
Sunday came and trashed me out again
I was only having fun
Wasn't hurting anyone
And we all enjoyed the weekend for a change

--Billy Joel, You May Be Right

Comments

Just wondering if the conversation with the scouts regarding Scott Kazmir leads us directly into a Moneyball example of subjective "old school" observation having no merit. Because Kazmir is "only" 6 feet tall he drops from the top spot in the draft? Based on what?

Paul DePodesta addressed the issue of pitchers height specifically in Rob Neyers interview last March, For us, though, effectiveness is much more important. . . . Different guys can do it different ways, and we try to avoid outsmarting ourselves. It's who can get outs, and we really don't care much how they're doing it.

Admittedly, this is a quick example, but, over the past five years, the top 100 pitchers based on Runs Saved Against Average in Lee Sinins Sabermetric Encyclopedia had a median height of 62 and there is virtually no correlation between height and RSAA among those pitchers.

Radar guns and slide rules I can understand. But tape measures? No, thanks.

If Johan Santana is the Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog, is Jered Weaver the Official Pitcher of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT?