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August 10, 2012

Pebble Hunting

The Best Pitches Thrown This Week (By Jered Weaver)

by Sam Miller

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I remember this Angels-Yankees game from 2009 because MLB.tv decided to let me watch it. I was in the blacked out area for Angels games, which was unfortunate, because I had just convinced my boss to pay for my MLB.tv so I could watch Angels games. And then this game played with no restrictions. I thought maybe it was where I was sitting in the building, that I had found a 10-square-foot pocket of Southern California that was somehow outside the law, like a tiny baseball Reservation. I tried for a month but never found it again. That’s why I remember this game. 

The Yankees’ lineup that day had Derek Jeter, followed by eight hitters who batted left-handed or switch-hit. This mattered because Jered Weaver was pitching, and everybody knew that Jered Weaver was lethal against righties but vulnerable to lefties, who hit .276/.335/.477 against Weaver that year. Against lefties that year, Weaver was a below-average pitcher. Against righties, he was an ace. Overall, he was not an ace.

The story of Jered Weaver’s ever-increasing success is a weird one, because against half the league Jered Weaver is exactly the same pitcher he has always been. Right-handed batters must just be baffled by this whole thing. OPS by righties against Weaver:

  • 2009: .615
  • 2010: .653
  • 2011: .621
  • 2012: .637

But against lefties, he has become something else.

  • 2009: .812
  • 2010: .593
  • 2011: .578
  • 2012: .479

To put that last number in perspective, Randy Johnson, who was so difficult to hit from the left side that superstar players refused the challenge, allowed a .571 OPS against lefties. He had two seasons with a lefty-opponents’ OPS lower than .479. (League-wide changes in run-scoring would apply here, but gimme this one. It’s Randy Johnson, for pete’s sake.) It’s not that Jered Weaver has had more success against lefties as he has improved; it's that his success, all of it, every bit of it, has come from his ability to get lefties out better than any $4 million-per-year LOOGY.

On Monday, Weaver pitched against the A’s. He allowed four hits, no walks, and struck out nine in a 117-pitch shutout. He got 17 swinging strikes, a season high. There were five lefties or switch-hitters in the lineup, and against Weaver they went 1-for-18, with a single. The best pitches this week come from those 18 at-bats. 

3. Jered Weaver's two-seamers to Coco Crisp

There are various ways batters take near-strikes that they can't hit. On the left, Crisp takes it as though he's getting ready to hit it the next time; he sort of times it and turns his hands into it just to show Jered Weaver that, in fact, he is a major-league hitter and he will do some damage, rest assured. You throw that pitch again, and old Coco is going to be ready to do some stuff. Old Coco might give you one, but the Coco Man ain't going to just sit there and let you throw it all day. He's ready. He's on it. Try it again, dude. Just try it. TRY IT.

The next pitch, Crisp show the other way batters take pitches they can't hit, which is to completely concede the point and try to convince the umpire that it's a ball. "That ball almost hit me!" The ball is like three and a half feet away from Coco Crisp. There is no other plan, though. 

Later in the game, 

My favorite two-seamer, though, was actually this one to Brandon Moss

because the umpire's punch-out looks to have connected squarely with Moss' kidney, and Moss grimaces as though he was just punched in the kidney, which is an apt complement to this pitch.

2. Jered Weaver's curveball to Coco Crisp. 

To be honest, Weaver's curve, which he throws almost exclusively to lefties, wasn't all that special Monday. Here's a groovy one, 

but he also had a couple that were hit hard. The A's almost seemed to be sitting on it at times, which causes its own problems. The A's announcers, for instance, noted that Crisp had moved way, way up in the box to try to get to Weaver's curveball before it broke out of the zone. Standing so far up in the box would have made Weaver's high breaking ball, as seen above, look too high; it was called for a strike. And standing so far up in the box would have made Weaver's fastball get in on him even more quickly, as seen a little bit further above. Here's Crisp's stance, and a high fastball that he got beat on: 

1. Weaver's changeups, to Josh Reddick

Back-to-back pitches!

In David Remnick's long New Yorker piece about Bruce Springsteen last week, he relayed this story about the power of self-doubt: 

The next year, (Landau) walloped Cream for the loose bombast of their live shows, adding that Eric Clapton, the band’s lead guitarist, was a “master of the blues clichés of all the post-World War II blues guitarists . . . a virtuoso at performing other people’s ideas.” At the time, Clapton was known as “God.” The review gave God a fit of self-doubt. “The ring of truth just knocked me backward; I was in a restaurant and I fainted,” Clapton said years later. “And after I woke up, I immediately decided that that was the end of the band.” Cream broke up.

Reddick is having a very good year. But, at his core, at the very center of his abilities, he is a virtuoso at performing other people's ideas. Jered Weaver's idea was that he should swing terribly at consecutive foot-outside changeups. 

More reading: Dan Brooks on Weaver's change in approach against lefties.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Oakland A's,  A's,  Coco Crisp,  Jered Weaver,  Platoon Splits

4 comments have been left for this article.

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