Un-Weaving Some Prior Comments
I'm going to preface my diatribe below by saying upfront that I have no reason to dislike Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. This is not a personal issue. Rather, I'm taking the time to set the record straight because Goldstein not only mischaracterized my stance on Jered Weaver and Mark Prior recently but did it in such a condescending manner that I felt the need to respond.
For the record, I sent Goldstein an email, informing Kevin that I was "very disappointed in one of (his) initial columns at BP" and letting him know that his comments were "inaccurate" and "patronizing." I asked him to run a retraction if he couldn't show me "where I ever said Weaver was as good as Prior, much less better than him." He chose not to, saying "I feel the link I used showed that."
Don't Believe The Hype: In 2003, Jered Weaver had one of the best seasons statistically of any pitcher in recent college baseball history. Pitching for Long Beach State, Weaver had a 1.63 ERA in 144 innings, while accumulating more than twice as many strikeouts (213) as baserunners allowed (81 hits, 21 walks). This caused people to make the dangerous mistake of judging a college player solely by his statistics, and some started to say Weaver was as good as, if not better than, the last college super-pitcher, USC's Mark Prior. Those people didn't talk to the scouts, who saw a pitcher dominating with good stuff and excellent command in a pitcher-friendly park, as opposed to Prior, whose pure stuff was off the charts. Weaver's 3/4 arm slot was also a concern, as that family of pitchers has a tendency to struggle against good lefthanded hitters. Weaver took nearly a year to sign, and now that he's pitched in the pros, all of those concerns have come to light. In the Texas league, lefty batters hit .278 against him, and in the small sample-size Arizona Fall League, his platoon splits were downright ridiculous (.220 vs. RHB, .365 vs. LHB). Add in an incredibly low groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.36) in the regular season, and you have a pitcher who's hard to project as more than a No. 3 or 4 starter. In the end, if he hits his ceiling, he's basically his brother.
No, I didn't make the "dangerous mistake of judging a college player solely by his statistics." I simply pointed out the similarities between the two pitchers and was the first writer to compare Weaver's and Prior's stats. The season was just 1 1/2 months old at that time, yet I made a comparison that stood three months later. I was way ahead of Goldstein or anyone else.
Nope. Wrong again. And, Kevin, if you want to address me, I'd prefer "Rich" rather than "some." Oh, and don't link to my article if you weren't referring to me directly.
"Those people?" Man, that really irritated me. "Didn't talk to scouts?" Really? Hmmm. This is where Goldstein tries to put me in my place as if I am just a naive stathead who has no clue about stuff, ballpark adjustments, etc. I saw every game that Weaver pitched at home in 2004 (and it was 2004 when "Weaver had one of the best seasons statistically of any pitcher in recent college baseball history" and not 2003 as Goldstein stated) -- as well as his outing vs. UCLA at Petco Park -- plus several more during his freshman and sophomore seasons. I also have talked to many scouts about Weaver and have an extensive portfolio of articles that covers all these matters.
While waiting for Goldstein to show me where I ever said "Weaver was as good as, if not better than, the last college super-pitcher, USC's Mark Prior," I'd like to re-print what I actually wrote:
The similarities are startling. Both were born and raised in Southern California. Jered hails from Simi Valley and Mark is from San Diego.
I then compared their college records season-by-season and concluded with the following summary:
The two pitchers had similar freshman seasons, the Long Beach State 49er eclipsed the USC Trojan in their sophomore campaigns, and Jered is on pace to equal or better Mark's outstanding junior year.
I began reporting on Weaver after I attended his first home game (vs. USC) in February 2004. I went as a fan and only decided to turn that outing into a news story when Baseball America's Pitcher of the (previous) Summer struck out the first ten Trojans he faced, including four in the third inning. I sat directly behind home plate among a sea of major league baseball scouts, surrounded as I wrote "by more radar guns than at a California Highway Patrol convention." I spoke to a Kansas City Royals scout sitting behind me, the first of many that I would engage that year.
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".
While on the topic of scouts, I spoke to Bill "Chief" Gayton, the scouting director for the San Diego Padres, at Petco Park minutes after Weaver mowed down the UCLA Bruins for his sixth win, allowing one hit and no runs while striking out 15 batters.
Gayton, who was featured in a three-part series on mlb.com prior to the 2002 draft (Part I/Part II/Part III), told me after the game that Weaver was under consideration as the Padres #1 pick but said there was "still a lot of time between now and the draft." I asked Gayton if he thought Weaver could pitch in the majors in 2005, and he nodded "yes." However, he believes Weaver will be in no hurry to sign with or without Scott Boras acting as his agent due to the number of innings that he will have pitched at that point over the past year.
After Weaver beat the University of Arizona for his seventh win, I reported that "he hit 92 and 93 on the speed guns on occasion but was not his usual overpowering self." Importantly, I wrote, "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."
For comparative purposes, I ran a screen showing MLB pitchers who had averaged 6-7 K/9 and fewer than 3 BB/9 the previous season. Prior was not on this list. Instead, I highlighted six pitchers (including Ben Sheets before his breakout season in 2004) plus his brother Jeff. "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."
While providing a pitch-by-pitch account of Weaver's fifth start in 2004, I may have been the first to report that Weaver was an extreme flyball pitcher:
Weaver threw 108 total pitches (officially), including 74 strikes and 34 balls. Of the 23 outs, 15 were recorded via strikeouts, eight through the air, and none on the ground.
In my next article, I had a section "What They're Saying About Weaver." I included quotes from seven college baseball coaches and three writers, including Allan Simpson and Jim Callis, Goldstein's former colleagues at Baseball America. Simpson quoted San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers: "He's the top player on our list...He could hold his own right now, he's that good." Callis reported that Towers said "only Mark Prior has dominated college hitters as much as Weaver in recent memory, and that Weaver could go straight from Long Beach State to the majors." (To Jim's credit, he also offered one of the best scouting reports on Weaver, comparing and contrasting him with Prior.)
I interviewed Weaver in ...And Down The Stretch They Come!, discussing the pitches he throws and his flyball tendencies.
In The Bane of Weaver's Existence, I detailed the record of Weaver's and Prior's junior seasons:
IP H R ER BB K W-L H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB ERA Weaver 144.0 81 31 26 21 213 15-1 5.1 1.3 13.3 10.1 1.62 Prior 138.2 100 32 26 18 202 15-1 6.5 1.2 13.1 11.2 1.69
I even adjusted these numbers to account for ballpark and schedule effects, concluding with "Now I'm not suggesting that Weaver is going to be as good as or better than Prior. Nobody knows that at this point."
In the comments section of A Holiday on the Links, I wrote the following:
Prior undoubtedly has better mechanics, throws a tad harder, and has better stuff. Weaver, however, does not take a back seat to Prior in the areas of command or control. He is a very polished pitcher and is as close to being major-league ready as any amateur has been since Prior.
Five days later, in Seriously Speaking, I reiterated my position on Weaver and Prior:
Although Weaver has stats comparable to Prior, one could argue that the latter projected to a somewhat higher ceiling owing to his superior mechanics, a 2-3 mph advantage on their fastballs, and arguably better stuff. Jered, on the other hand, has equally good command and control. He is as polished as Mark was at the same stage of their careers. When you shake it all up, Prior comes out on top with Weaver not too far behind.
After Weaver signed last year, I covered his professional debut (complete with photos) and first home start, predicting that "I think it remains a distinct possibility that Weaver could make the jump to the Angels as early as next summer." I correctly anticipated his promotion from High-A Rancho Cucamonga to Double-A Arkansas after an 11-strikeout performance vs. Lancaster in mid-July but was wrong when I suggested he might "wind up in Anaheim before the year is out."
I pieced together Jered's game logs last September, pointing out that he had "struck out 11.41 batters per nine innings, equal to 30% of the batters he has faced this year. However, his 0.40 G/F ratio is off the charts in the other direction. To wit, if Jered had these same stats in the majors this year, he would be the most prolific strikeout and flyball pitcher in the game."
I also wrote, "As an extreme strikeout/flyball type pitcher, Jered most closely resembles John Patterson among today's starters. I hesitate to suggest that his upside could be Mark Prior, but one would have to be oblivious to the facts to think otherwise. His downside appears to be Chris Young." I concluded by saying, "Weaver, more likely than not, will wind up being somewhere between Prior and Young. Think Patterson or a right-handed Cliff Lee."
Jered's height gives him an advantage by allowing the former two-time All-American the ability to throw on a downward plane. That said, he clearly needs to work at or near the knees more often and preferably add more sink to his two-seam fastball. A power pitcher, Weaver favors his four seamer while mixing it up with his breaking ball and change-up. Like his brother Jeff, Weaver works in the low-90s but his big turn and length can make batters feel as if he is bringing it a couple MPH faster than what the gun says.
Finally, in a postseason review of the Angels last October, I said "Weaver has the most upside of the three (Weaver, Chris Bootcheck, and Joe Saunders) and could be a factor in the second half of 2006."
Until today, I hadn't uttered a word about Weaver in five months. But, thanks to Goldstein, I'm now back on track.
As a USC alum, I have no reason to favor Weaver. By the same token, as a Long Beach native, I have no reason to favor Prior. You see, I just call 'em as I see 'em.
1. Weaver and Prior had remarkably similar stats in college.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]