Weaver's velocity affecting off-speed pitches

Angels righty's slower fastball limiting deception, and effectiveness, of changeup

June 9th, 2016

NEW YORK -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia recalled the hard turf at the now-defunct Astrodome late Wednesday night and talked about how unfavorable it used to be on sinker-ball pitchers, because it allowed speedy teams to continually beat balls into the ground and leg out base hits.
He used the comparison while answering a question about Jered Weaver, who, after giving up six runs in the first 5 1/3 innings of the Angels' 12-6 loss, has an 8.92 ERA in six starts at the current incarnation of Yankee Stadium, a place that is historically adverse on fly-ball pitchers like him.
"Obviously I haven't fared too well in this stadium over the years," said Weaver, who holds by far the highest ERA among pitchers with at least 30 innings here. "But I don't think you can really change anything. You still have to pitch the way you pitch."
And the way Weaver pitches now certainly isn't, well, ideal.
Weaver's fastball sat mostly at 81-83 mph in the third of a four-game series, as usual. He has managed a team-leading six quality starts in spite of that. But he has also given up at least six runs on three occasions, his ERA at 5.56 and his home run rate -- 2.07 per nine innings -- tied for the second-highest in the Majors.
The fastball velocity is affecting the deception of his off-speed pitches, particularly the changeup.
Weaver mentioned that he ideally wants his fastball and changeup to have a differential of about 12 mph. But on Wednesday -- a start in which he scattered nine hits, two of which went over the fence, and issued two walks -- Weaver's changeup was mostly at 73-75 mph, creating a differential of as little as six ticks.

The inclination is to say he should simply throw his changeup slower, but it doesn't work that way.
"You can't try to take velocity off the pitch," Weaver said. "You have to throw it just like your fastball and try to fool guys with arm speed. But when you don't have very good fastball velocity, it doesn't really play too good with the changeup."
The success of Weaver's changeup is difficult to decipher, because PITCHf/x sometimes calls his fastballs changeups. But according to Brooks Baseball, opponents entered Wednesday having whiffed on Weaver's changeup 17 percent of the time, the most of any of his pitches. They were slugging .309 off it, which is far lower than what they were slugging against his fastball (.619), sinker (.608) and slider (.636). And Weaver had gone to his changeup 20 percent of the time, the most of his career.
But Scioscia said that pitch "hasn't been quite as effective the last couple outings."
In his last two starts, opponents hit .400 and .333 against Weaver's changeup, respectively. On Wednesday, not a single Yankees hitter whiffed on it.
"When you're not throwing as hard velocity-wise, it's not going to have the same effect," Weaver said. "I'm still working hard to try to get some velo back, and trying to maintain it. Until that happens, it's probably not going to be as effective a pitch as it was in the past."
The changeup's ineffectiveness has prompted Weaver to prefer a loopy curveball, one of which was thrown at 66 mph to strike out Brian McCann.
Weaver said that curveball is "really the only pitch that I have to keep guys off balance and keep guys off the heater. It used to be that I could throw the changeup off the fastball and get some good results, but that's just not the case right now."
It's because Weaver's fastball is thrown at an average speed of 83.1 mph, the slowest among non-knuckleball-throwing pitchers in the Major Leagues and the continuation of a consistent decline since 2010.
But Weaver, in his final year before free agency, continues to cling to hope that the fastball velocity will return -- and thus so will the effectiveness of the rest of his pitches -- once he can shake the perpetual tightness that restricts his range of motion.
He's still waiting.
"That's what I'm working to get to," Weaver said. "Until my body starts feeling better, that's probably not going to be the case. But I'm still trying to get the body to where I want it to be, and try to add strength from there."