(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)
I currently have zero shares of Luke Weaver so far this fantasy baseball season and I am kicking myself for it. I had my reservations earlier this year but now I have Weaver Fever and I want everyone to know it. The young Cardinals right-hander has impressed early this season with a 2.08 ERA ( 2.72 FIP/3.46 SIERA) and a 25.4 K-rate in 17.1 IP. Heading into draft season Weaver had helium that I could not afford. His 117 FantasyPros ADP was rich for my blood on a pitcher with major warts and less than 100 career MLB innings. One of Weaver’s largest wart in my eyes heading into the season was his lack of a third pitch. He threw his fastball/changeup combination 88.5% of the time last season, mixing in his curveball just 120 times total.
So far in 2018, he has already thrown 58 curveballs in just 17.1 innings. Weaver appears to have heard the criticisms and worked on improving the pitch this offseason.
His curveball is thrown hard at 81.77 MPH making it the 9th hardest thrown curveball early in 2018, up +1.98 MPH from his 2017 version of the pitch. His 5 xMov and -3.8 zMov make it firmer than the average curveball movement for right-handed pitchers which is around 6.1 xMov and -5.8 zMov. The pitch so far induced a large number of fly-balls at a clip of 50 percent early in the season.
So let’s see the new third pitch in action last Friday vs the Cincinnati Reds:
A rare whiff on Weaver curveball gets Scooter Gennett swinging (1 of 2 total whiffs Weaver has gotten on his curve this season)
Curveball outer half to get ahead early versus Billy Hamilton, first pitch of the at-bat.
Another hard curveball first pitch of the at-bat on the outer half to get ahead of Cliff Pennington 0-1, this is one of the 4 curveballs’ that Weaver dropped in for called strike.
Another first pitch curveball to Hamilton, this time down at the knees. 8 of the 20 curveballs Weaver threw in this game were to start off an at-bat.
You will notice a pattern in the last three gifs above, Weaver loves to use his curveball to get ahead of batters. He does it a lot. Like I said above 8 of his 20 curveballs Friday lead off an at-bat and another two came when he fell down 1-0. He is clearly confident in his ability to locate the pitch for a strike. He has been using the pitch to counter batters sitting dead red on his nasty fastball to open at-bats.
As you can tell from this wonderful data via Brooks Baseball , Weaver is nearly as likely to start off LHH with a curveball as he is a fastball. When ahead in the count he will put the curveball in his back pocket (6% usage) and focus back onto his fastball/changeup combo that he loved so much in 2017. With two strikes he sprinkles in his curveball but not nearly as often as his higher whiff-rate pitches in the changeup and four-seam.
Not only has Weaver incorporated his curveball more, but the 24-year-old has been successful with it. Hitters have managed just 1 hit versus the pitch this season and are slashing a measly .111/.200/.111 versus against with a 3 wrC+. The whiff rate of 3.5 (2 total whiffs) is well below average for a curveball and is still slightly worrisome. He keeps the curveball in the zone frequently with a zone-rate of 67.2 (highest among his offerings). However, hitters swing at only a quarter of those curveballs significantly lower than any other pitch in Weaver’s repertoire.
We are still early into the 2018 season, and it is still early to make any definite conclusions. Weaver is in the early stages of incorporating a successful third pitch to his pitch mix which is very exciting for a polished 24-year-old. Eventually, the league will start to look for that hard curve early in counts and the right-hander will have to make adjustments again. That’s the life of a major league starting pitcher, they need to be one step ahead of the league if they want to become elite. I will be keeping a close eye on how Weaver continues to build on his confidence in his third pitch, and continue mixing it in to keep hitters off balance.