Commentary

Jered Weaver's season for the ages

Updated: August 5, 2011, 6:55 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Jered Weaver, Nolan Ryan Getty ImagesThere was only one Nolan Ryan, but could Jered Weaver one day rise to Ryan's level of reverence in Angels folklore?

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Watching Jered Weaver send a fastball sailing over Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila's head after Carlos Guillen taunted him following a home run brought back memories for a couple of former Los Angeles Angels pitchers.

"It was old school," said Clyde Wright, who pitched in Anaheim from 1966 to 1973. "But old school would have drilled him, not thrown up and in."

Bert Blyleven, who wound down his Hall of Fame career in Anaheim from 1989 to 1992, took exception to Weaver's method of retaliation Sunday, but not his decision to draw a line. Blyleven recalled waiting through an entire offseason before he threw at Oakland A's slugger Jose Canseco for something Canseco had done the previous season.

"If I had to wait a year, whether I got him in spring training or whatever, he was mine," Blyleven said. "But not the next guy [up]. To me, you're not really making a point. So what? Pitchers remember. They have long memories for stuff like that."

The culture in baseball has changed dramatically over the five decades in which the Angels have existed -- hitters wouldn't have dared do what Guillen or Magglio Ordonez did while Nolan Ryan was pitching in Anaheim -- but in a way, things have come full circle.

Weaver's remarkable first four months have put him in the conversation about the best pitching season in Angels history.

It's virtually impossible to compare eras anymore. Dean Chance's 1964 Cy Young season, in which he finished with a 1.65 ERA and threw 11 shutouts, might never be equaled, but it came before the league lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10. It's unlikely anyone will ever strike out 383 batters in a single season, as Ryan did in 1973, but Ryan pitched in a four-man rotation, so he had more chances to pile up strikeouts. Should Bartolo Colon bepenalized for the higher ERA (3.48) hitters earned against him in his Cy Young season, which came before baseball instituted stricter performance-enhancingdrug testing?

These discussions are as subjective as they come. Wright, who pitched in a rotation with Ryan, thinks Weaver's year ranks among the top five in Angels history.

"There's only one Nolan Ryan," Wright said. "But after that, you've got [Chuck] Finley in there, Dean Chance in there. Before Weaver's done, he might be No. 1."

For an organization that didn't make the playoffs in its first 18 seasons and didn't win a World Series in its first 41, the Angels have had a fairly steady succession of dominant starting pitchers. Chance and Bo Belinsky in the 1960s yielded to Ryan and Frank Tanana in the 1970s, who gave way to Finley in the 1980s and 1990s. The Angels were stuck trying to out-slug teams by the late 1990s, but under Mike Scioscia, the team has returned to a philosophy built around pitching and defense.

[+] EnlargeDean Chance
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI It's tough to compare: Dean Chance's 1964 Cy Young season might never be equaled.

The Angels' 21-year-old rookie, Tyler Chatwood, has been able to watch and observe Weaver's Cy Young-caliber season. Perhaps he'll one day be in Weaver's position. He said he's learned not to nitpick around the strike zone, because of the way Weaver attacks the strike zone.

"He can just fire a strike in there with any pitch whenever he wants and he can change speeds with all of his pitches as well," Chatwood said. "He can throw a hard slider, he can back off, he can throw a slow curveball, hard curveball, he can change speeds with his fastball, throw a hard changeup or a soft changeup. He's just one step ahead of everybody."

Colon's career was on a fairly steady down ramp by the time Weaver emerged in 2006 and went 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA. Weaver watched the way Colon prepared for starts -- and the way he reserved his best fastball for when runners got on -- but most of his conversations about pitching were with John Lackey, his onetime mentor.

"Bartolo was a pretty good role model as well, but it was one of those things where you'd watch and learn and not talk and learn," Weaver said. "Obviously, he was a bulldog and as competitive as they come."

That description applies equally well to Weaver, of whom Baseball America wrote while he was at Long Beach State: "intense competitor with an excellent feel for his craft."

Now that Weaver let his emotions boil over in Detroit on Sunday, his challenge might be stuffing them back inside to continue this historic season he's having. His 1.88 ERA is the best in the majors by a sizeable margin. That outburst has already cost Weaver a one-start suspension.

Weaver's most important role model was his older brother, Jeff, who sometimes rubbed his teammates the wrong way when he was coming up with the last-place Tigers a generation ago. Jeff Weaver expressed his frustrations about pitching for a struggling team that rarely scored enough runs to support him, something his younger brother has been careful not to do -- even last season, when the Angels finished below .500.

"He came in and showed his emotions a lot," Jered Weaver said. "He kind of taught me not to do that so much. He found out about three to four years into his career and just made a point to help me not go about things like that."

You can tell Weaver has been thinking a lot these days about getting his emotions back in check.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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