Luke Weaver was the perceived center piece in a trade for an MVP candidate, Paul Goldschmidt, only 15 months ago. It feels much longer than that as these days we are stuck inside roll by without baseball, but it’s true. You can look it up! Weaver went on to have a brief, but dynamic 2019 season with a 9.65 K/9 and 1.96 BB/9. There were only 5 qualifying pitchers in baseball from a season ago with a higher K/9 and lower BB/9! Why then am I here to write about my disinterest in Luke Weaver for the 2020 season? Is it the inability to grow luscious facial hair like our illustrious Razzball leader? No. I wish it were that simple. I could save myself 1000 words. Instead sit up and enjoy a few paragraphs on why you shouldn’t waste a top 200 pick on Luke Weaver.
The first strike against Weaver is that he hasn’t shown the ability to break the ceiling on 140 innings pitched in a professional season. This downfall can be alleviated by a condensed season and we have all come to the realization that pitchers with less total innings can have fantasy baseball value if they are dynamic enough. This is where the fork in the road comes in for me and Weaver. For him to be a roster worthy fantasy player you must believe in one of two things. He has the capacity to be an accumulator, or he is so dynamic that a lower innings pitched total can be offset by the per innings numbers he provides. The former, even in a condensed season, seems unlikely based on history. We cannot forget that Weaver is coming off a season in which he missed 4 months with a sprained UCL. The Diamondbacks had already made public that they will be monitoring his innings. That may change, but I ask to you the reader, have we learned nothing from Chris Sale? I know I have. There are only so many Masahiro Tanaka’s in the world who can go multiple seasons with a UCL hanging on by a thread. Since this is the case Weaver must be elite in his per inning numbers in order to be fantasy relevant. There will be owners who believe he can do it, as he did it in 2019. I will not be one of those owners.
For a pitcher with less innings pitched to be effective they need to provide elite strikeout numbers or ratios. Weaver’s 9.65 K/9 puts him within spitting distance of an elite strikeout per inning number. However, digging deeper into that number… it seems to be fraudulent. Weaver had a 10.4% swinging strike rate in 2019. Among qualifying pitchers with a K/9 over 9.5, there were only 2 pitchers with under a 12% swinging strike rate. The lowest rate was Aaron Nola at 11%. This implies that for Weaver to not be a considerable outlier in strikeout rate compared to swinging strike percentage he would need to make a substantial leap forward or throw a massive amount of strikes that batters don’t swing at. The latter is possible, as Weaver’s zone percentage is high compared to qualifying pitchers and his swing percentage is low, but it is vital to consider that MLB hitters zone contact percentage against elite pitchers is typically 80%+. To me this means banking on Weaver to simply throw enough strikes that batters watch to offset a low swinging strike percentage is playing on the margins and will likely be a losing proposition. I see regression in Weaver’s K/9 as likely in 2020.
If Weaver’s strikeout rate and innings pitched are going to be pedestrian, he will need to offer elite ratios to justify a place on fantasy rosters. We know ERA is a variable statistic and in evaluating Weaver, we should lean heavily on WHIP if he is due for strikeout regression. In my opinion, the only way for an average strikeout pitcher without a huge park advantage to have a low ERA is either luck, or not allowing baserunners. Weaver has a repulsive career WHIP at 1.37 but took major strides to finish his abbreviated 2019 with a 1.07 WHIP. Weaver has a solid walk rate, which deserves to hold weight in this evaluation. My concerns lie in Weaver’s batted ball data. In 2019, Weaver was in the bottom quartile of qualifying starters in hard-hit rate and exit velocity. That small sample doesn’t fully represent who Weaver is, but even utilizing his career hard-hit rate and exit velocity he is average against those same qualifying starters. To sum it up, when Weaver gets hit, he gets hit hard relative to his peers. This is acceptable at face value as several elite fantasy starters such as Shane Bieber and Patrick Corbin also give up consistently hard contact. The difference between those pitchers and Weaver is that contact is made at a substantially lower rate (70% or lower) than what Luke Weaver offers (77.5%). Weaver’s contact rate would be in the bottom half of qualifying pitchers. While that 7% seems as if it is a small number, when combined with less strikeouts it will inevitably result in more baserunners. This will result in a higher WHIP, which will cause a higher ERA.
Luke Weaver offers some upside. He had an impressive two month run in 2019. Yet, the underlying statistics show a pitcher on a team probable to finish slightly above .500, with likely regression in both his strikeout rate and WHIP. These regressions will subsequently lead to a higher ERA. This is a fringe roster worthy pitcher. His current draft cost is a 16th round pick in 12 teamers. This is a reasonable price in 12s (less reasonable in 15s – that player needs to perform with a lack of options on the wire) as it is droppable early, but I would argue that there are pitcher in this range with both higher floors and ceilings. It’s tough to give out innings pitched or wins projections at this point, but I’ll give Weaver an 8.75 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.29 WHIP, and 4.25 ERA for 2020 that readers can extrapolate when we know more in the weeks to come about the 2020 season.