Baseball BeatMarch 20, 2004
Bobbing and Weavering
By Rich Lederer

On the same day in which brother Jeff Weaver of the Los Angeles Dodgers gave up eight hits and four earned runs over five innings in a Grapefruit League game against the Florida Marlins, Jered Weaver pitched seven shutout innings to lead the 10th-ranked Long Beach State 49ers (14-5) to a 4-0 victory over the 17th-ranked University of Arizona Wildcats (11-8-1). (Box Score)

The younger Weaver allowed only three hits, one walk, and one hit batter as he improved his record to 7-0 on Thursday night at Blair Field in Long Beach. Jered's ERA (0.71) is now one-tenth of his brother's ERA this spring (7.07).

Weaver vs. Arizona:

            IP  H   R   ER  BB  K
Weaver      7   3   0   0   1   3

Season Totals:

           IP     H    R   ER   BB   K    ERA    W-L
Weaver     50.2   20   4   4    6    73   0.71   7-0

What was missing this time around were the strikeouts. Weaver only fanned three Wildcats, the fewest Ks he's had in his last 20 starts. The big righthander had been working on a streak of five outings of 10 or more whiffs, including back-to-back games of 15 strikeouts heading into his start vs. Arizona.

Going into the game, I was concerned as to whether Weaver's career-high 120 pitches the previous Friday vs. UCLA combined with starting on one day less rest than normal would negatively affect his performance against the Wildcats. As it turned out, Weaver definitely did not have his best stuff. He hit 92 and 93 on the speed guns on occasion but was not his usual overpowering self.

Although the All-American had an impressive strikes-to-balls ratio of 2.1:1 over his 114 pitch count total, he threw nearly as many first pitch balls as strikes. Working behind in the count more often than he had in any previous start this year, Weaver seemed to be throwing in the high-80s as much as in the low-90s. He also went with his fastball about 80% of the time, mixing in an assortment of varying off-speed breaking balls and change-ups as needed.

On one hand, Weaver was not nearly as dominant as he had been in the other four appearances that I have witnessed this year. On the other hand, it was notable that the 21-year-old did so well with as little as he had that night.

More than anything, Weaver knows how to pitch. His stuff is good but not great for a big leaguer. The scouts like his size (6'7", 205), outstanding command, ability to change speeds, and mound presence. I think Weaver projects as a 6 or 7 K/9 type pitcher, not an 8 or 9 guy despite his collegiate record.

Let's take a look at some potentially comparable major league pitchers based on their 2003 seasons.

WALKS/9 IP < 3

                              K/9 IP   BB/9 IP
1   Roy Halladay               6.90     1.08   
2   Livan Hernandez            6.87     2.20   
3   Kevin Millwood             6.85     2.76   
4   John Lackey                6.66     2.91   
5   Miguel Batista             6.61     2.79   
6   Bartolo Colon              6.43     2.49   
7   Ben Sheets                 6.40     1.75   
8   Brad Penny                 6.33     2.57   
9   Matt Morris                6.27     2.04   
10  Woody Williams             6.24     2.24   
11  Tim Hudson                 6.08     2.29

Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia

Roy Halladay, Miguel Batista, and Tim Hudson are extreme groundball type pitchers, which Weaver is clearly not. Even Livan Hernandez and Matt Morris have higher GB/FB ratios than Weaver. That narrows the field down to Kevin Millwood, John Lackey, Bartolo Colon, Ben Sheets, Brad Penny, and Woody Williams.

Although there is a difference in their height, I think Sheets (6'1", 200) may be Weaver's most comparable major leaguer. Both were excellent college pitchers and have a similar array of pitches (low-to-mid-90s fastball, curveball, and change-up). Sheets was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers as the tenth pick in the first round of the 1999 draft.

Given their similar builds, looks, and styles, one cannot dismiss the possibility that Jered may also be comparable to his older brother Jeff, who was an outstanding college pitcher in his own right at Fresno State. What's unknown is whether Jered would be more like the 2000-2002 version of Jeff or the 2003 model that resulted in a disastrous season with the New York Yankees and a subsequent trade to his hometown Dodgers.

And that, my friends, brothers, and Padres, is the multi-million dollar question.

Photo Credit: Matt Brown


Bad day for us UA fans all around, between Seton Hall and LBS. And Sheets hasn't exactly lit the world on fire, has he?

For stalking a kid for a year, isn't comparing him to Ben Sheets a little harsh? :)

Maybe I am higher on Ben Sheets than others. Remember he is only 25 years old. I think Sheets is just coming into his own. Other than home runs allowed, his peripheral numbers were pretty good last year. He had a K/BB ratio of 3.65, sixth in the N.L. behind only Curt Schilling, Mark Prior, Jason Schmidt, Javier Vazquez, and Greg Maddux. In addition, according to the Bill James Handbook, his component ERA was 3.83 vs. an actual ERA of 4.45.

If Sheets can reduce the number of HR allowed, I think he could become a very special pitcher. We will see.

In the meantime, there is no doubt that Jered Weaver has the potential to exceed what Sheets has accomplished thus far as a pro. In fact, given his record as an amateur, I would like to think his upside could be along the lines of Prior (a comparison I made in a previous article). However, in order to achieve that level of success, Weaver will need to strike out at least one batter per inning while maintaining his excellent control. Can he do that? Sure. Is he likely to do that? I doubt it. Recall that only six big leaguers had such strikeout prowess last year.

Another possibility is for Weaver to develop a sinker, splitter, or cut fastball to induce more groundouts. If so, it's conceivable that Weaver could become a Roy Halladay type pitcher in view of their similar builds or possibly a righthanded Mark Mulder (another highly touted college pitcher).

I would also like to throw out another comp for consideration--Ben McDonald, a 6'7", 212 RHP who was the College Player of the Year in 1989 and the first pick of that year's draft. McDonald was a good pitcher in the majors but one who never lived up to his potential, partially due to injuries which forced his retirement from the game at the young age of 29.

In June of 1988 the San Diego Padres had the first pick in the draft. They took a 6-6, college right-handed pitcher with the selection, drafting Andy Benes from the University of Evansville. He spent the 1989 season between AA and AAA (dominating the Texas League) and wouldn't see the Majors again until a few 1997 rehab starts.

Benes had seven seasons in which he struck out more than 160 batters, generally keeping his walk numbers under 70 in his 220IP. Benes was a very good pitcher, and one helluva Weaver comparison.

Check that...he wouldn't see the MINORS until the 1997 season.

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Bryan - I agree with you. Andy Benes is another potential comp for Jered Weaver. Andy was a good, solid pitcher (especially early in his career) but someone who also fell short of the high expectations placed upon him.

Since Benes was chosen as the first pick in the 1988 draft out of Evansville, the only other college pitchers selected #1 have been Ben McDonald (1989, LSU), Paul Wilson (1994, Florida State), Kris Benson (1996, Clemson), Matt Anderson (1997, Rice), and Bryan Bullington (2002, Ball State). All of these pitchers were righthanded and stood 6'4" or more.

The jury is still out on Bullington, who pitched well in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league organization last year.

Here is how the others performed in the majors through the 2003 season with RSAA and ERA+ totals:

McDonald: 83, 115
Benes: 32, 104
Benson: 14, 105
Anderson: -7, 95
Wilson: -38, 90

A mixed bag but one that should give us pause more than anything else. Besides being drafted first, the common thread appears to be pitchers who have suffered arm injuries (surprise, surprise).

Mark Mulder (1998, Michigan State) and Mark Prior (2001, USC), both of whom were selected #2, give the Weaver supporters a couple of current success stories. However, for those pinning their hopes on Mulder and Prior, please note that Paul Shuey (1992, North Carolina), Darren Dreifort (1993, Wichita State), and Adam Johnson (2000, Cal State Fullerton) were also chosen second.

I didn't know that the LB State jerseys just said 'BEACH' on them! I gotta get me one of those...

Christian - The school is affectionately known as "The Beach". Pretty cool I would say and not too bad for marketing purposes. Name an 18-yr-old kid who wouldn't want to go to a school known as "The Beach".

Here's a little trivia: An athletic department official once told me that Cal State Long Beach (aka Long Beach State) is the only university in the country with the name "Beach" in it. I don't know if that is true, but the source was a reliable one.