Jeff Weaver’s 2005 Season, By Robert Louis Stevenson

Unfortunately I can’t say with absolute certainty that he’s the only one to do it, but I’m guessing at the very least only a small number of pitchers in big-league history have ever started a season quite like Jeff Weaver has this year. It’s not that Weaver has been incredibly inconsistent on a start-to-start basis — plenty of starting pitchers do that every year — it’s that he has alternated near-flawless performances with completely disastrous ones through his first four starts of 2005.

He began the year pitching against the Giants, in San Francisco:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
8.0     5     0      0      1      2      0     102

Weaver scattered five hits — including just one that went for extra bases — in eight shutout innings. Although he struck out only two batters (one of which was the other starting pitcher, Brett Tomko), he walked just one and induced 16 ground-ball outs. Weaver got through four of his eight innings while facing the minimum three hitters, and Mike Matheny, who doubled with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, was the only San Francisco runner to advance as far as second base.

Then he faced the Giants again five days later, this time in Los Angeles:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
3.0    11     8      8      0      1      1      75

Weaver again pitched to contact, striking out just one hitter and walking none, but this time it didn’t work. He gave up 11 hits in just three innings, although only one — Pedro Feliz‘s three-run homer on the last pitch Weaver threw — went for extra bases. What killed Weaver was the following sequence that came with two runners on base and one out in the top of the first inning:

Single
Single
Single
Single
Single

By the time the fifth straight single (off the ever-potent bat of Matheny) found its way into center field, the Dodgers were down 5-0. Weaver recovered to retire eight of the next 11 batters he faced, but the wheels came off for good in the top of the fourth inning. Omar Vizquel led off the inning with a single and stole second base, Weaver hit J.T. Snow with a pitch, and Feliz homered to right-center.

Amazingly, the Dodgers saved Weaver from picking up his first loss of the season when they came back from being down 5-0 in the first inning and 8-3 in the fourth inning to win the game 9-8 when they scored four runs off closer Armando Benitez (and left fielder Jason Ellison) in the bottom of the ninth inning.

So, with a 1-0 record and a 6.55 ERA, Weaver stayed in Los Angeles and went up against the Padres in his third start:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
9.0     5     0      0      1      7      0     114

This time Weaver managed to miss some bats, striking out seven Padres while scattering five hits in a complete game shutout. He split up his non-strikeout outs evenly, getting 10 outs on the ground and 10 in the air, and once again gave up just one extra-base hit (a fourth-inning double by Ramon Hernandez).

And then, with a 2-0 record and a 3.60 ERA, Weaver made the always dangerous trip to Coors Field Friday night to start against the Rockies in his fourth game of the season:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
4.0    13     8      8      1      0      1      87

I watched the game, and it was very much like Weaver’s second start against the Giants in that the Rockies just kept stringing together hits until the score was out of hand. He gave up “only” one homer, a two-run shot to Brad Hawpe that made it 4-0 Rockies in the bottom of the third inning, and handed out only one walk, but Weaver also didn’t strike out a single one of the 25 batters he faced. And the Rockies went 12-for-23 (.521) when they put the ball in play against him.

Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy left Weaver in the game despite the fact that he gave up two runs in each of the second, third, fourth, and fifth innings, in part because you have to give a starting pitcher a longer leash in Colorado and in part because the Dodgers couldn’t afford to blow their bullpen out in the first game of a three-game series on Planet Coors (the two teams ended up combining for 38 runs in the three games). So Weaver and his ERA took an extended beating, as Weaver finished with his first loss of the year and the ERA finished at a bloated 6.00.

Finally, here are some of my favorite Weaver-related stats so far this year:

  • Of the 26 innings Weaver has thrown a pitch in this year, he has completed 20 of them (60 outs) without allowing a run. In the other six innings, Weaver has allowed 16 runs while recording 12 outs.
  • In his two Dr. Jekyll starts, Weaver has induced 1.63 ground balls for every fly ball, while allowing a .250 batting average on balls in play. In his two Mr. Hyde starts, he has just 0.46 ground balls for every fly ball, and his ball-in-play batting average has been a rather amazing .585.
  • Even when he’s been great, Weaver has pitched to an awful lot of contact, striking out nine batters in 61 total plate appearances, while handing out only two walks and holding his opponents homerless. In his two awful starts, Weaver has just a single strikeout in 47 plate appearances and has also walked only one batter, but he has served up two homers.
  • As if his wildly inconsistent pitching wasn’t enough, Weaver has also done his Jekyll-and-Hyde act at the plate. In his two good starts, he hit 3-for-8 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored. In his two bad starts, he is 0-for-3.
  • If you’re wondering, the next team on the schedule for Weaver is the Arizona Diamondbacks, whom he’ll be shutting out at Dodger Stadium Wednesday evening.

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