Scouting the Pitchers
May 28, 2006

I guess if I have a niche in the fantasy baseball industry, it's my scouting reports of players.  I just try to watch as many players as possible and relay things about them that haven't shown up in their numbers so far, things are telling about their potential and future prospects.

Jered Weaver, for example.

He had an excellent debut against the Orioles after posting some pretty impressive numbers against Triple-A competition.  And I'm sure there are a lot of people out there now clamoring for his services.  Me?  Not so much.  It's not that I don't think he'll be decent, but I have doubts that he will be half as good as his numbers have looked.  Here's why:

Weaver has a slow delivery to the plate and will be susceptible to teams that run.  His delivery is very distinctive and methodical so there's no fooling baserunners that he's not going home, giving baserunners an easy first step.  Good baserunners will get several steps.  Corey Patterson got almost 4 steps against him and stole second base so easily that by the time Mike Napoli's throw reached second, Patterson had already slid past the base and doubled back.  Weaver also doesn't appear to have a secondary delivery, like a slide step, so stealing bases will be simply a matter of whether or not that baserunner has the green light. 

His delivery also has a lot of parts to it.  He hides the ball well initially with his back turned to the batter, but then it's a sequence of parts moving one at a time so that his whole body acts as a whip.  It's a process rather than a compact delivery.  As such, he is probably going to encounter some difficulty in maintaining consistent mechanics, especially on his breaking pitches.  This was true last night as he threw very few of his breaking balls over for strikes.  Fortunately for him, Oriole hitters were all too eager to swing at them, even though some were very clearly not coming close to the plate. 

He had a little extra adrenaline in his first start: he hit 94 mph once but most of his fastballs were 89-90.  And his long arms make it seem like he's releasing the ball closer to the batter than most pitchers.  He has a good feel for pitching, using his fastball to set up his other pitches. 

But unless he has his breaking ball is working, patient teams like the Rangers, As, Yankees and Red Sox are going to feast on his fastball.  On the plus side, he doesn't see much of those teams until the middle of July.  His next starts will be in Cleveland and Tampa (two good pitchers parks), then back home against Kansas City and San Diego, then at Arizona then back home against the Dodgers and then at Seattle.  In short, he could be a pretty serviceable option until the tougher opponents start showing up on his doorstep.  However, I would not own him in a fantasy league in August or September because the Angels see an awful lot of the A's, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox then and by then there will be plenty of video to study.

His opponent last night, Erik Bedard, didn't fare as well but it wasn't as bad as it looks in the boxscore.  He threw first pitch fastball strikes to the first eight batters he faced.  Unfortunately for him, it was apparent that Angel's hitting coach Mickey Hatcher told his hitters that Oriole's pitching coach Leo Mazzone preaches the doctrine the fastball on the outside corner.  That's what the hitters went looking for.  Four of the first five hits from right-handed batters went to right field.   Bedard didn't do a very good job of mixing his curve or locating his change so the Angels batters simply keyed off his fastball.  Ironically enough, the Orioles hitters should have been doing the exact same thing against Weaver but didn't.

The other problem was the defense behind Bedard.  Melvin Mora made a terrible fielding choice with runners on second and third by trying to tag an already retreating Juan Rivera at third base instead of throwing to first for the easy out.  It had to be ruled a fielder's choice, yet was clearly an error in decision-making.  So instead of runners at second and third with two out, the bases were loaded with one out.  Umpire Tim Timmons followed that up by blowing what should have been the final out on a 3-6-1 double play, but ruled Garret Anderson safe at first.  Then Melvin Mora fumbled a hot shot off the bat of Vlad Guerrero that should have been ruled an error but was ruled a hit.  So by the time Bedard got back to the dugout, the Orioles had in essence given the Angels five outs in the inning.  True, Bedard could have made some better pitches and certainly could have done a better job of mixing his offerings, but his defense had several opportunities to get him out of the inning without any damage but ended up totaling three earned runs. 

So when all is said and done, Bedard didn't pitch nearly as bad as the line score indicates (although it wasn't good) and Weaver was no where as good as his line score.

Another pitcher who's been the subject of much ink this year and last is Oliver Perez.  Other than his Opening Day start, he's been inconsistent to say the least.  But today he turned in a terrific outing (although it was blown by the Pirate bullpen) that should be viewed with a great deal of optimism. 

It's been a while since I've watching him closely, but he's added a little step hitch in his delivery similar to Gustavo Chacin's although not as pronounced.  I don't remember him having that before this year, or even at the beginning of this season.  But it seemed like it was something that helped him maintain his release point.  Also a big plus was that he was throwing his fastball in the low 90s, touching 94 a few times later in the game.  No, it's not the 96-97 he used to throw fairly routinely in his 2004 breakout season, but it is a good sign that the life is returning to his arm. 

Finally, here's a little tidbit I found interesting.  The AL has the reputation of being a sluggers league.  Judging from last year's All Star Game results, I'd say the reputation is justified.  However, a new trend is developing that seems counter-intuitive to the whole three-run homer mentality.

In 2002, just one guy, Alfonso Soriano, stole 40 bases in the AL.
In 2003, that number increased to three (Carl Crawford, Alex Sanchez and Carlos Beltran) with one topping 50
In 2004, it dropped back to just Crawford topping 40, although he nearly got 60. 
In 2005, three guys - Chone Figgins, Scott Podsednik and Crawford - topped 40 with one topping 60 and still one more (Julio Lugo) who was one shy of 40.

This year, there are five guys on pace for 50 steals (Crawford, Podsednik, Figgins, Corey Patterson and Ichiro Suzuki) and two more (Johnny Damon and Joey Gathright) who are on the cusp of being on pace for 40. 

So while the general perception is that steals are scarce, the reality is that they are becoming increasingly common, even in a year when home runs appear to be up.  Don't overpay for speed.