Baseball BeatMay 10, 2010
Which Pitcher is King?
By Rich Lederer

OK, class. While finals are still a week or two away for many colleges, we're going to hit you up with a pop quiz.

The stat lines for two active starting pitchers are presented below. Which pitcher would you take? Hint: One pitcher is an "innings eater" and the other is a "franchise player."


While there is no right or wrong answer, the stat lines are virtually indistinguishable in my view. Without more information, I would have a tough time choosing between the two. Feel free to dismiss the W-L records if you'd like. With the foregoing in mind, the main difference is that Pitcher A has thrown over 200 additional innings. Pitcher A also has superior strikeout and home run rates while Pitcher B has lower walk and hit rates.

After you pass your answers to the end of the row, we will reveal the names of the two pitchers. [pause] Thank you for your participation.

Pitcher A is none other than Felix Hernandez. Pitcher B is Jered Weaver.

Are you surprised? Well, you're not the Lone Ranger. I was surprised, too. But perhaps no one is — or should be — as befuddled as Dave Cameron, the co-founder of the U.S.S. Mariner and managing editor of Fangraphs who has labeled Hernandez as a "franchise player" and Weaver as an "innings eater." I like Dave personally and respect his work greatly, but he and I have seen Weaver differently for years.

In fairness to Dave, he actually labeled Weaver "more innings eater than ace" in a Two on Two AL West preview two years ago. He expanded upon his comments in a Baseball Think Factory comments thread last summer (emphasis is mine).

In case anyone is wondering, this misquote comes from an article at Baseball Analysts last year, where I stated Weaver was "more of an innings eater than an ace", which is entirely true. Really, if we're going to talk about the Jered Weaver debate, I think it's pretty obvious that my stance on his abilities is closer to reality than Rich's. He's the exact same guy he's always been, just with varying degrees of luck - he's never been a frontline starter, and he never will be. That doesn't mean he sucks - I even put him in my list of the 50 most valuable trade chips in baseball. He's a solid mid-rotation starter. He's just not more than that, and the only people who thought he was were ones who put way too much stock into the value of BABIP-driven ERA.

Cameron then downgraded Weaver to a "mid-rotation starter" and "innings eater" in a discussion with Patrick Sullivan in our Stakeholders series three months ago.

Look, the purpose of this article is not to make Dave look bad as much as it is to bring clarity to the subject. Either Weaver is not an "innings eater" or Hernandez is not a "franchise player." Or either Weaver and Hernandez are both more innings eaters than aces, both more aces than innings eaters, or perhaps both are more franchise players than not. (Note: I have never called Weaver an innings eater, an ace, or a franchise player. Instead, I started writing about him when he was a junior at Long Beach State and compared his collegiate record to Mark Prior's.)

Cameron is far from the only baseball analyst who has underestimated Weaver. Four years ago, Kevin Goldstein cautioned Baseball Prospectus readers "Don’t Believe The Hype." The hype was directed at me. Goldstein concluded:

In the end, if he hits his ceiling, he's basically his brother.

Did Goldstein mean "ceiling" or "floor?" To wit, older brother Jeff has a career ERA+ of 94 (with a seasonal high and low of 134 and 71, respectively) while younger brother Jered has a career ERA+ of 123 (with a seasonal high and low of 179 and 103).

Importantly, the above table is designed to compare actual performance. One can look at other variables (such as age, velocity, and batted ball info) to make projections.

As it relates to Hernandez and Weaver, Felix (24) is younger than Jered (27). While most would give the edge to Felix, even Cameron believes young starting pitchers "defy conventional growth curves" and notes that the normal career trajectory "heads downward" as opposed to an "arc-shaped career path" for hitters. Let's call the age factor a push.

Hernandez (94-95 mph) throws harder than Weaver (89-90), although the latter can dial it up to the mid-90s on occasion in the early innings. Edge to Felix. Mike Fast has studied the correlation between fastball velocity and run average and concluded that "starting pitchers improve by about one run allowed per nine innings for every gain of 4 mph" (or 0.25 R/9 per 1 mph).

With respect to batted ball types, Hernandez induces more groundballs than Weaver. Over the course of their careers, Felix has generated a GB rate of 57% vs. 33% for Jered. As I and others have noted, "pitchers with above-average GB rates outperform those with below-average GB rates" due to the fact that they tend to give up fewer home runs than their counterparts.

Based on age, velocity, and batted ball info, maybe Hernandez projects as a better pitcher than Weaver. But the reality is that Felix has not outpitched Jered to this point. Or, if he has, the difference between the two has been miniscule.

Interestingly, Hernandez and Weaver squared off last Friday night. While one game does not a season or career make, Felix was knocked out of the game in the fourth inning having allowed five hits, four walks, and eight runs while Jered tossed a no-hitter for 6 2/3 innings and combined with Scot Shields for a shutout.

Rotowire added the following comment on Saturday:

Weaver continued his impressive 2010, allowing just two hits over 7.1 scoreless innings Friday against the Mariners.

Spin: Weaver now sits at 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA. A 47:10 K:BB in 44 innings is also quite good. Weaver is nearing elite starter status.

After Weaver's last outing, ESPN posted the following rankings on his player card:

• Ranks 2nd in AL in W (4)
• Ranks 7th in AL in W% (.800)
• Ranks 6th in AL in IP (44.0)
• Ranks 1st in AL in SO (47)
• Ranks 7th in AL in WHIP (1.05)

The 2010 season is less than a quarter completed. Weaver may regress toward his career stats (and rankings) before the year is out. In the meantime, he is the ace of the Angels' staff and has been one of the best 30 starting pitchers as measured by ERA and FIP over the past two and three calendar years.

No matter how you slice it, Weaver is much more than an innings eater, a mid-rotation starter, or his brother Jeff. Heck, he just may be King Jered.


I'm surprised anybody would classify Jered Weaver as an "innings eater." He's way better than that. Usually I have a good deal of respect for Dave Cameron's work; I wonder if this is a bit of intra-divisional bias on his part.

You're right that alot of people underrate Jered Weaver but I don't really think the comparison is that fair. Hernandez just turned 24 and Jered Weaver turns 28 in October. So you are really using Hernandez's performance in a lot of years when players of a similar age would mostly still be in the minors. Last year, at only 23, was the first year in which Hernandez's performance consistently matched his promise. Unless you think that was a fluke year which I don't see much reason to believe given his age and stuff, future expectations for Hernandez should be much higher than for Weaver.

In my old age, I've learned that pretty much everything said has their own biases, especially stuff written on the internet. Usually, as people get more accepted over time, they tend to take less umbrage and tone down their statements (such as Baseball Prospectus, which has drastically changed from their early days). But when they start out, it seems like the only way to get noticed is to make verbal declarations that challenge a particular viewpoint, usually the mainstream.

Maybe Dave Cameron has calmed down, or maybe not. All I know is what I've read of his (which has been only during the last year or so), tends to be filled with bluster and verbal bomb throwing to try to prove that he's smarter than you. Unfortunately, his biases often lead to conclusions that aren't based in fact. His assessment of Jered Weaver seems to be one of those situations.

Then again, I remember a recent article vociferously arguing that the Angels will win quite a bit more than 76 games this year. Their current run differential seems to indicate otherwise.

Dave makes some pretty weird absolutist statements some time:

"he's never been a frontline starter, and he never will be."

A little bit of humility is required in this business. You say something like "never will be" and quite a few players will surprise you and make you eat your words. Weaver going from above average starter to frontline starter is not that big a change. Going from utility infielder to MVP candidate (Ben Zobrist) is a much bigger surprise. But every year, surprises do happen.

Dave Cameron is clearly bias, much more so than others. This makes it difficult to take him seriously. There's a wealth of intelligence there, it's just all so clouded over by "hater" words that spew forth from his mind.

One month into 2010 and already folks have declared the M's a bust and the Angels have fallen. I'll just say this, championships aren't won in April. Also, numbers don't dictate the game of baseball. Analyze them all you want, but there's so much more to the game than numbers, and those who use numbers alone to predict are almost always inaccurate.

There's a lot better reading out there than Dave Cameron or ESPN. All sources carry a degree of bias. The best way to get the truth is talk a scout specifically or just play the games.

I don't know about everyone else, but to me this seems an awfully unfair way to look at this.

Hernandez and Weaver are not apples to apples. Hernandez broke into the majors at age 19, has great stuff, started off with mediocre numbers, and last year made the big step up everyone expected of him. Any value or ability placed on him right now really begins with last year, and an expectation that he'll have many more seasons like it (which would make him a franchise player).

Weaver broke into the majors at 24 as an "advanced prospect" who had an incredible college career. Many felt he was a safe player who almost certainly would be an effective major league pitcher, but they also viewed him as being fairly "low ceiling", which isn't bad considering his very advanced level. He then burst onto the scene in year one, regressed for two straight years, and then last year showed signs he can be more.

These are two completely different careers, and just throwing career numbers up seems lazy to me. They even have different skill sets (which you touched on), in Hernandez's first two years he had a better FIP than ERA, while Weaver has only had one year when he had a better FIP than ERA.

I don't think anything you said disproves calling Weaver an "innings eater". I think the biggest issue here is what that label means...I think you take it as more negative than it is. I suppose I would attach the word "quality" in front of "innings eater", but otherwise I totally agree with this. Right now it looks like Weaver could very easily end up with a Brad Radke type career (albeit Weaver's would look much better numbers-wise as it will be on much better teams) that an insult? I don't think so.

Lastly, it feels very backwards to see a Rich Lederer article cite 44 innings of work as if it means anything (yes, you did qualify the inclusion of the numbers, but why bother having them at all?). Plus, the champion of Bert Blyleven actually included Weaver's ranks in Wins(!) and W%(!!!)?

I don't want this to come off as overly negative, because I respect your work a lot, Rich, but it seems like there is a pattern when you lock into a conclusion before you've studied all the evidence; you almost seem to regress to the same baseball debate tactics of far lesser sportswriters. Where is talk of BABIP? How about xFIP? How about any advanced metric beyond ERA+? We know what you think of Weaver, and you're almost surely right that he's underrated, but don't go too far in your defense of him.

Because then we end up with gems like this: "Based on age, velocity, and batted ball info, maybe Hernandez projects as a better pitcher than Weaver." Really? Maybe? The proper statement is that Hernandez, perhaps, WILL be a better pitcher (while Weaver could as well)...but he PROJECTS to be far more than Weaver.

It's most interesting to me that the "innings eater" has thrown a full season's fewer innings over the course of his career even though they both became full-timers the same year.

Feliz also has him by seven full wins over replacement during his career.

So why is it that we're looking at things like wins, WHIP, and ERA+ when this is Baseball Analysts and we all know that these are really really bad measures to judge pitchers by.

Felix xFIP 2005-2010:

2005: 2.76
2006: 3.34
2007: 3.34
2008: 3.87
2009: 3.42
2010: 3.87

Jered Weaver xFIP 2005-2010:

2005: N/A
2006: 4.30
2007: 4.76
2008: 4.28
2009: 4.48
2010: 3.22

I mean, Weaver is absolutely owned by Felix despite being older in every year pitched (small sample size for 2010, of course). I don't think it's possible to rule out Weaver becoming a #1 starter, but with his track record and age, it's very, very unlikely.

I find it really disingenuous to try and compare these two pitchers using the metrics above. I love making fun of #6org as much as the next guy, but c'mon now.

Expounded on my thoughts here:

05 19   84.1 2.85 2.76 2.6  23                       +4  -84.1             -2.6
06 20  191.0 3.91 3.34 3.8  24  123.0 3.90 4.30 2.6  +4  -68.0 -0.01 +0.96 -1.2
07 21  190.1 3.75 3.34 4.1  25  161.0 4.06 4.76 3.1  +4  -29.1 +0.31 +1.42 -1.0
08 22  200.2 3.80 3.87 3.9  26  176.2 3.90 4.28 3.4  +4  -24.0 +0.10 +0.41 -0.5
09 23  238.2 3.09 3.42 6.9  27  211.0 4.04 4.48 3.9  +4  -27.2 +0.95 +1.06 -3.0
10 24   44.0 4.52 3.87 0.3  28   44.0 3.11 3.22 1.1  +4    0.0 -1.41 -0.65 +0.8

SSS/recency-bias aside, Felix is clearly better, and it's not really that close. You have to understand, Felix is the same age now as Weaver's first year in the big leagues. Yes, Weaver is having a good year so far, and yes, perhaps he is a bit underrated, but lets not be ridiculous here.

Everyone has some favored way of looking at pitching. By my favorite, on a career-to-date basis there is indeed little to choose from between them--Hernandez is maybe .05 to .10 of a run better on an ERA-type comparison. Mind, Weaver has a somewhat below-norm career BABIP, but after 3,000 batters faced it's hard to write that down as just luck.

As to the age issue, it should be irrelevant: Hernandez is not a rookie. He had a good year in 2009, but it would be wise to take care before assuming that it was a leap up to some new and sustainable level of achievement (his 2010 stats, albeit SSS, are in line with his earlier seasons).

Bottom line? Given a choice between them for the same cost (of whatever form), I'd take Hernandez, but that's chiefly because he's likely to give more years before retirement, not because he's so outstandingly better.

I concur with Peter and MangoLiger that while Jered Weaver may be underrated it's pretty crazy to say that he's at the same level as King Felix.

Take out the years where Felix couldn't buy his own beer and you get a clearer picture.

Weaver: 115 ERA+, 592.2 IP, 11.5 WAR
Felix: 130 ERA+, 637.2 IP, 15.2 WAR

Also, Weaver's strand rate for 2010 is currently at 84.6%, which

Just about any metric you use, over any reasonable time scale, Felix is better. The real claim (I think) is that the margin of difference is small enough that they are basically equivalent (maybe a slight nod to Felix):

But the reality is that Felix has not outpitched Jered to this point.

This claim is false. Felix in 238 innings in 2010 outpitched anything Jered Weaver will ever do (how's that for an absolutist statement). If you want to look at small samples, look at all the games this year that Felix didn't have a stiff back (36.1 IP, 2.23 ERA, still better than Weaver, ha! :) ).

The point is, when a guy is just emerging as a stud, and you average his numbers out over 5 years and compare him to a consistently good underrated player, you end up with articles like this.

Rich is bashing another sports writer? Shocking!

Pro Blyleven, Pro Jered Weaver, Anti Prospectus, Anti Heyman. That's all this blogger does anymore (although Bryce Harper ad nauseum is increasing.) Thank goodness for "and friends" or else this site would have no originality.

"I like Dave personally and respect his work greatly, but he and I have seen Weaver differently for years."

That's some bashing, Gabe. It's called a difference of opinion. Relax.

"even though they both became full-timers the same year"

Nope. Hernandez came up a year earlier. If they were hitters it would be a big deal that Hernandez accomplished what he has at a much younger age. But for pitchers, not so much. In fact, it makes Hernandez more of an injury risk going forward. Don't believe me? Just look at the track record of pitchers who were great from ages 20-24.

Though I think it's clear Hernandez is both the better pitcher and the guy with the brightest future, I too have been struck by the similarity of the two guys' results, especially given the vast disparity between their reputations, especially among the SABR-friendly. If you start from when Weaver came into the league -- May 27, 2006 -- and just track their stats, year by year, there are some interesting similarities.

For instance, from May 27 on in 2006, even though Weaver was pretty much lights out on the headline stats, both averaged the same innings per start (6.47 and 6.41), the same WHIP (1.03 to 1.07), and essentially the same K/BB/9 ratios (7.7/2.4 vs. 7.8/2.5):

NM  W  L  ERA GS  IP    H  R  ER HR BB  SO ERA+ IP/9  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
JW 11  2 2.56 19 123.0  94 36 35 15 33 105 179  6.47 1.033  6.9  1.1  2.4 7.7 3.18
FH  9  8 4.08 21 134.2 129 63 61 13 38 117 109  6.41 1.068  8.6  0.9  2.5 7.8 3.08

In 2007, Jered went 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA, Felix 14-7 with a 3.92. Each averaged 10 hits and 2.5 walks per 9 innings:

NM  W  L  ERA GS  IP    H  R  ER HR BB  SO ERA+ IP/9  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
JW 13  7 3.91 28 161.0 178 77 70 17 45 115 116  5.75 1.385 10.0  1.0  2.5 6.4 2.56 	
FH 14  7 3.92 30 190.1 209 88 83 20 53 165 112  6.34 1.377  9.9  0.9  2.5 7.8 3.11

In 2008, both pitched around .500 ball, with the same K rates and hits per 9:

NM  W  L  ERA GS  IP    H  R  ER HR BB  SO ERA+ IP/9  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
JW 11 10 4.33 30 176.2 173 88 85 20 54 152 103  5.89 1.285  8.8  1.0  2.8 7.7 2.81
FH  9 11 3.45 31 200.2 198 85 77 17 80 175 123  6.47 1.385  8.9  0.8  3.6 7.8 2.19

In 2009, both had career years, making all their starts, and setting career highs in wins, IP, and Ks:

NM  W  L  ERA GS  IP    H  R  ER HR BB  SO ERA+ IP/9  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
JW 16  8 3.75 33 211.0 196 91 88 26 66 174 120  6.39 1.242  8.4  1.1  2.8 7.4 2.64
FH 19  5 2.49 34 238.2 200 81 66 15 71 217 174  7.02 1.135  7.5  0.6  2.7 8.2 3.06

2010 is obviously still young, though I would note that even during Jered's good run and Felix's comparative struggle, both have the same number of innings pitched (pointing to one of the King's primary advantages over Weaver the Younger: He's more durable, and pitches deeper into games).

NM  W  L  ERA GS  IP    H  R  ER HR BB  SO ERA+ IP/9  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
JW  4  1 2.66  7  44.0  36 13 13  5 10  47 160  6.29 1.045  7.4  1.0  2.0 9.6 4.70
FH  2  3 4.30  7  44.0  43 25 21  6 20  39  95  6.29 1.432  8.8  1.2  4.1 8.0 1.95

All certainly close enough in terms of on-the-field results that we shouldn't be pretending like they belong on two different planets, or that Weaver isn't a high-quality pitcher.

I don't watch enough of Felix to know about his mental makeup, but I'm extremely impressed with Jered's (after a rough start on that front). He's a real competitive sonofabitch, and keeps his head together. I have preferred him to John Lackey in key situations for some time now.

If King Felix levels off at his current career numbers, then yes, he is similar to Jered Weaver. But, as many have detailed in more depth, Felix is only 23 and coming off a franchise starter-like season. Clearly, his trend is point up.

Weaver, however, seems to have plateaued. Although still capable of improvement at 27, I think it is much fairer to say that Weaver is the more likely of the two to have established his level.

In other words, the differences between Felix and Weaver are enough to justify a wide range between how each is labeled.

Where Cameron is wrong, however, is in indentifying Weaver as an “innings eater”…not because it is an unfair pejorative, but because Weaver does not eat innings. Over his career, Weaver has only averaged 6.1 innings and topped 200 innings only once. If that qualifies as an innings eater, then there are a lot of hungry pitchers out there.

Weaver's HR/FB rate has been under the league average his entire career, so yeah, xFIP is going to throw a flag there. But after a certain point, isn't it's time to credit the pitcher for keeping the ball in the park? This is no longer a small sample.

Fun coincidence: In that same Goldstein piece, he's also telling us not to believe the hype on Andre Ethier and Dallas Braden. I'm glad someone is watching the detectives with BP; while there's value at that site, you also get a ridiculous amount of hubris. And there's a ton of forced humor and cumbersome writing at their site and in their annual (which I will never purchase again, it was too obnoxious and self-congratulatory).

Chone - Felix tossed fewer than 85 innings his first season, and only made 12 starts. That's why I used the term "full-timer," I was looking for at least 20 starts or 100 innings. In 2006 Felix threw 191 innings, and Weaver 123 (plus 77 more in AAA).

Did this author really use of one of the worst starts of a premium pitcher's career while the juxtaposed pitcher faced one of the most horrid offenses he'll ever face to justify any level of similarity, much less superiority?

nightfly, Weaver's 2006 debut (40 IP more than Felix 2005) is closer to Felix's introductory season than to a full starting workload (80 innings away).

King Felix will be a HOF and all-time great. Weaver, bleh. Not Terrible.

It's not a close comparison either in terms of "stuff" and talent.

Felix is going to be even better than he finished last year, for another 10-15+ years if healthy. He's really only just now peaking physically and mentally

Weaver is weed, King Felix is coke jk

This reminds me of the near heart attack Cameron had when the Mariners traded Morrow for League, going so far as to say it must have been a piece of the Halladay deal that happened weeks prior. I wonder how he feels now that League is the Mariners most valuable reliever, Johermyn Chavez is off to a nice start at A+, and Morrow is continuing his career trend of having absolutely no control with a BB rate in the mid 6s. I suggest reading Dave's work on the Morrow-League/Chavez trade for anybody who has already come this far.

Dave Cameron does some good writing, but his arrogance and hyperbole are sometimes too much to take. A little humility goes a long way.

Win-Loss record aside, Felix already has two seasons under his belt better than Weaver's best season to date... at three years younger. He's also improved noticeably every season since becoming a full-time starter. There's just no comparison, and this season's sample size is still too small for it to be considered Weaver's breakout year. It's still hard to see Weaver being anything more than a competent #2.

Chone - yes, that's true. It also doesn't change the cutoff I used for "full time," which I explained. And the point remains that the alleged "inning eater" has thrown far fewer of them than the ace up until now.

Jinxed: "There's just no comparison"
Well, actually there is a comparison. Take a look at the, um...comparison.

Weaver has given up fewer runs per inning than Felix in his career. Felix has played in a much more pitcher friendly ballpark, and according to UZR, the Angels and Mariners have been roughly equal fielding teams since 2005, with a slight edge going to the Mariners.

Felix may have a better fastball and he may be young and still have potential, but Weaver has performed strikingly similar to Felix over the course of his career, which was the whole point of Rich's article.

Both guys are GREAT. Absurd to call Jered Weaver an "innings eater", totally ridiculous. He's one of the top 30 starters in MLB, no doubt. Therefore a #1.