For nearly a decade, Jered Weaver was one of the Angels' most reliable pitchers. He eclipsed 200 innings for three consecutive years, and as recently as 2014. From 2006-2012, he was worth at least 2.9 fWAR, and topped out at 5.9 in 2010. He never had a blazing fastball, and he was never strikeout pitcher, but he was undoubtedly effective.
Weaver was able to get by with an average fastball velocity in the upper 80's, but over the last few years, he hasn't been able to muster much life on that pitch. Last season, his average FB velocity was 84.9 MPH, nearly two miles per hour slower than his fastball was from 2013-2014; and 3.1 miles per hour slower than what his fastball was in 2012.
During the offseason, Weaver began doing something which he'd avoided for years, hoping that it would help him regain some lost velocity and increase his overall effectiveness; stretching.
"It doesn't feel like your body's supposed to do that, but it needs to. I just hated the feeling of it. It's like nails on a chalkboard to me. But if you're gonna commit yourself to staying in this game, if your passion and love is still in it, you're gonna do what it takes to get through that. I'm well aware of what I need to do. I'm going to stay on top of it as much as possible."
Weaver could simply rest on the fact that he's due $20 million for the 2016 season, and coast in spring training knowing full well that he's going to start, but that's not his plan. He wants to continue to succeed at the major league level, and while it would be great to see him return to his former value, the early results in spring training have not been good.
It's one thing to have a bad start, or have a prolonged hitless streak at the beginning of these games, however it's another thing entirely to not be able to throw harder than a high school sophomore.
One scout in attendance has Jered Weaver topping out at 80 mph in two innings today. He threw a 78-mph fastball Austin Barnes hit for a HR.— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) March 9, 2016
While there's more to pitching than just velocity, a fastball below 80 MPH just isn't going to cut it at the major league level. Pitching coaches across the world will often talk about "working off the fastball" and how important it is to "establish the fastball" early on in the game. However it's nearly impossible to do that when you have a fastball that is slower than 143 pitchers' offspeed pitches.
If Weaver's fastball is around 80 MPH during the regular season, it won't be hard for hitters to react to his other pitches. In 2015, his average two-seam velocity was 82.9 MPH (which has likely dropped along with his four-seam velocity); his average cutter velocity was 83.3 MPH; his average slider velocity was 76.3 MPH; his average curveball velocity was 67.6 MPH; and his average changeup velocity was 77.2 MPH.
We're just under a month away from the beginning of the regular season, which gives Weaver some time to iron out his issues. However if he can't and 2016 proves to be just as difficult as the 2015 season was, it's possible this could be the end of his major league career.
"I'd like to play for as long as I can. But if I go through another season like last year -- with not just the frustration of the numbers but how my body felt -- your heart and your mind can only do so much. Sometimes your body pulls the reins back and tells you you need to slow down a bit."
Weaver has been a mainstay in the big leagues since 2006, and despite being just 33 years old, he could be nearing the end of his career.