Both Jered Weaver and Dan Haren put on respective pitching clinics last weekend while facing the Yankees, combining to hold the vaunted Bomber lineup to one run over 18 innings, whiffing 17 men and allowing only seven hits. While there’s something to be said for the fact that neither hurler faced the Yankees’ “A” lineup due to assorted injuries and fatigue — though Weaver more or less faced the best the Yankees have to offer — the fact remains that both pitchers still utterly dominated their competition.
Haren of course pitched the first complete-game shutout of the season against the Yankees, racking up a Game Score of 86, second among all starters that faced the Yankees this season to Josh Beckett‘s 87 back on April 10. Weaver was right behind him with an 81, tied for third-best on the 2011 season with Max Scherzer, who notched his 81 back on May 4.
That’s some Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee-esque domination right there, and while Haren was arguably even more dominant than Weaver, there was something about Weaver’s outing that made me curious to dig a little deeper. Maybe it was the fact that the Yankees dispatched of Weaver fairly handily in Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS (5 IP, 3 ER). Or that the team was saddled with brother Jeff for a season and a half and never saw anything remotely close to this level of pitching. Or, with his ability to change speeds, throw strikes and the confidence to deploy seemingly any of six pitches at any given point during an at-bat — the faith in his secondary stuff is significantly underscored by the fact that he didn’t go to his four-seamer once with two balls in the count against righthanded batters, relying exclusively on the cutter and changeup — he reminded me a lot of a righthanded version of Lee himself. And so I decided to see how exactly Weaver did what he did.
Jered Weaver vs. the Yankees, Friday, September 9, 2011
The above table, culled from TexasLeaguers.com, details the results of Weaver’s start against the Yankees this past Friday. Of particular note are his changeup, slider and curveball, which are the highlighted pitches. I was hoping to be able to compare Weaver’s results against how the Yankees have fared against these types of pitches on the entire season, but TexasLeaguers doesn’t carry team data, so the best I can do is compare Weaver against the league average.
As you can see, his changeup and slider — both of which were thrown with equal frequency, and both of which come in at basically the same exact speed — were death to the Yankees in this game. The Yankees whiffed on 29.2% of Weaver’s changeups, against a 12.7% whiff rate for the league as a whole against the changeup. The Yanks also somewhat surprisingly whiffed on 20.8% of Weaver’s sliders (against a 13.7% league average), surprising because they’ve hit the slider well this season, per Fangraphs’ pitch values. The curve also presented myriad issues for the Yankees — double the league whiff rate, 0% put in play — though it was only thrown 8% of the time.
Though this is far from ideal, if you compare Weaver’s pitch selection data here against Fangraphs’ pitch selection data (far from ideal because the data comes from two different sources), we can see why Weaver was so difficult for the Yankee hitters to figure out. Per Fangraphs, the Yankees have seen a fastball 56.3% of the time during the 2011 season, and if we combine Weaver’s four-seamer and two-seamer like Fangraphs does, we see he only threw fastballs 43.2% of the time. Per Fangraphs, the Yankees have seen a slider 12.5% of the time; Weaver threw one every five pitches. Same thing with the changeup — the Yanks have seen 11.6% changeups total; like the slider Weaver again threw one once every five pitches. Weaver actually threw the curve less frequently (7.6%) than the Yankees have seen on average this season (10.2%), but it didn’t matter; they pretty clearly had no idea what to expect regardless of the count.
I also wanted to see Weaver’s batted ball profile, and so for this data we turn to JoeLefkowitz.com:
This table really hammers home how effective Weaver’s changeup — truly the death knell of the 2011 Yankees — was on Friday. While it was unsurprisingly his second-most frequently used weapon against lefties — going for a groundball a perfect 100% of the time — he also wasn’t afraid to use it against righties, who pounded it into the ground 80% of the time. It’s important to remember that we’re dealing with extremely small samples when looking at one isolated outing, but the table’s still impressive nevertheless. There was only one hard hit ball off Weaver all evening, and that was Jesus Montero‘s booming home run — otherwise, not one batter even hit the ball on a line. That’s straight-up dominance.
Here’s a look at Weaver’s pitch locations:
Virtually nothing was thrown to the middle-outer part of the plate. Pretty much everything was away from lefties, while righties got a steady diet of inside pitches. Next time the Yankee see Weaver it seems like it might behoove their lefties to be just a tad more patient. I realize that you can’t exactly work the count against a strike-throwing machine (Weaver didn’t go to 3-0 against any batter), but I’d almost rather they go down looking than swing away and roll over on sliders and changeups. This is purely anecdotal, but I seem to recall quite a number of swings-and-misses on pitches that looked pretty clearly to be balls. Of course, this is way easier said than done.
Jered Weaver vs. the Yankees, October 19, 2009
So what changed for Weaver since his unthreatening start in the 2009 ALCS, to the point that he’s become one of very best pitchers in the American League? While a three-year decline in BABIP and HR/9 certainly helps, here’s a look at Weaver’s pitch selection from October 19, 2009:
While his curveball was just as if not more effective in that Game 3 ALCS start, one of the primary differences appears to be his slider. While this once again comes with the caveat of maintaining skepticism when trying to compare year-over-year data for the same pitcher due to algorithm shifts, if this data is indeed accurate, he only threw the slider 7% of the time in the ALCS and got zero swinging strikes, compared with 20.3% of the time on Friday and 20.8% swinging strikes. His slider was also put in play 28.6% of the time in Game 3, compared with only 4.2% this past Friday. His slider also comes in nearly three miles faster than it did two years ago, and at virtually the same speed as the changeup is probably pretty indistinguishable to a hitter.
Here’s his pitch location chart from Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS:
While he still hasn’t changed his MO of pitching in on righties and away from lefties, the majority of the strikes were on the inner half in the above graphic, while if you scroll back further up in the post you’ll see he really pounded the entire strike zone this past Friday. With fewer strikes in the middle and outer half of the zone, it likely became a bit easier for the Yankees to wait for their pitch in Game 3. The Weaver of this past Friday who pounded nearly every segment of the strike zone made being patient nearly impossible.
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