Monday, August 22, 2011
Jered Weaver, Angels prove inseparable
By Mark Saxon
The news, which started leaking out Sunday evening, was stunning at first glance: According to sources, Jered Weaver had agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract extension to remain with the Angels through 2016. It had an even more permanent feel when word hit that he had full no-trade protection.
Weaver had seemed destined to leave, as had so many Angels pitchers -- Nolan Ryan 35 years ago; John Lackey, Francisco Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn in the past half-dozen years.
Weaver's accomplishments -- the second-best ERA in MLB, a starting nod in the All-Star Game -- were lining him up to hand him a jackpot after he reached free agency. He will turn 30 in October 2012.
If he continued to pitch this well through next season and things had broken right on the market, he might have been in line for CC Sabathia money (seven years, $161 million). That's roughly double what he reportedly agreed to with the Angels. Add a few other factors -- lingering bad blood between his agent, Scott Boras, and the Angels; the fact that talks had sputtered back in January; Boras' tendency to push for free agency -- and it seemed like a non-starter.
But start it did. The Angels' motivation seems fairly clear -- their plan of rebuilding with youth and contending with starting pitching is just starting to click -- and Weaver is the bedrock of that plan.
Understanding Weaver's motivation takes a little more effort, so let's start there:
If you didn't know it before, you probably got a pretty good idea how competitive this guy is when you saw how he reacted to a couple of Detroit Tigers hitters showing him up after home runs recently. Weaver, 28, has never really tasted failure for a prolonged stretch. He was a two-sport star in high school and the most dominant college pitcher in the game at Long Beach State. He went 11-2 his rookie year.
Weaver faced a looming quandary. Most contending teams, the kind that could have afforded him in 15 months, play in miniature stadiums. Why is that such an overwhelming factor for one of the best strikeout pitchers in the game? Simple: When hitters make contact off Weaver, they often hit the ball in the air.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Weaver has induced fly balls at a higher rate (48.5 percent of the time) than any qualified starter since he broke into the league in 2006. Just 6 percent of those left Angel Stadium. Nearly 9 percent left other ballparks.
His lifetime ERA at home is 2.69; on the road, it's 3.87.
Weaver watched the career trajectory of Lackey, his mentor, since he left Anaheim for Boston. Lackey's ERA this season (6.02) is exactly double what it was in 2007, when he led the American League.
And don't think Weaver and his agent didn't run the numbers. In two starts at the new Yankee Stadium, where left-handed hitters can make glancing contact and hit it out, he has a 6.08 ERA. In six starts at Fenway Park, where fly balls to left field are called "home runs," he has a 7.16 ERA.
The Angels struck the perfect note with Weaver when they revamped their outfield last season by promoting speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos and moved nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter to right. The Angels' outfield has led the majors in defensive runs saved this season.
Add those factors to the sentimental factors -- he grew up 50 miles north of Angel Stadium and went to college 20 miles west -- and you begin to understand why Weaver was willing to sacrifice dollars for dominance.
The leap is more like a hop if you think of it from the Angels' perspective. They now stand to have Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana under club control through 2013 (assuming they pick up the options for Santana and Haren). With three starting pitchers that good, rebuilding is more like refurbishing.
The Angels can continue working to make their roster younger while giving the fans (especially season-ticket holders) reason to believe they're yearly contenders. Take those three out of the equation this season and the Angels probably would be looking up at Oakland and Seattle, not closing the gap on Texas.
On another level, this buys general manager Tony Reagins some goodwill with a fan base increasingly disgruntled after watching the Vernon Wells and Scott Kazmir experiments prove frustrating.
In the final analysis, it's really pretty simple. Weaver and the Angels needed each other.