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The Curse of Jered Weaver

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(I wrote this in a rush, so forgive any factual errors).

While the Angels have had numerous problems over the last decade, probably the biggest one—at least in recent years—has been the starting rotation. The Angels have had misfotune upon misfortune, beyond the point of black comedy into sheer tragedy. I call this the Curse of Jered Weaver.

Why poor old Jered? Well, the run of terrible luck could begin with the preternatural decline of Weaver from staff ace to batting practice pitcher, in just a few short years. Weaver was a very good pitcher from his debut in 2006, peaking in 2010-11 when he pitched 460 innings, accrueing 11.3 fWAR and an ERA well below 3.00. The following year he won 20 games with a 2.81 ERA, but his strikeout rate continued to plummet and with it, his WAR dropped to 3.1 from 5.4 the year before. You can also track the clear trajectory of rising FIP that pretty accurately predict the next year’s performance. By 2015 he was a replacement level pitcher.

What happened? Very simply, his arm turned to mush. His velocity dropped from reaching the mid 90s into early 2012, to never touching 90 from 2015 on (I literally think he didn’t throw a 90 mph fastball after 2014). Or take a look here. Notice the big drop within the 2012 season, when Jered Weaver injured himself here. Despite what the broadcasters say, it wasn’t his knee but his back. 

That 2012 rotation looked great on paper: with Weaver was CJ Wilson, Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, and trade deadline import, Zack Greinke (who cost the Angels Jean Segura). But Weaver was starting to slip, Wilson was solid but not great, Santana had an off year, Haren was in decline, and Greinke would leave for a big payday.

2012 was the year that Arte and Jerry had made their big splashes in Pujols and Wilson, and Trout’s amazing rookie season. It was supposed to be the beginning of a new era. The Angels did win 89 games, but fell short of a playoff berth.

The 2013 rotation (and team) was a trainwreck. Not only did Pujols continue to get worse, but the Angels brought in Josh Hamilton, who was a huge disappointment. But the focus here is on the rotation: Wilson had his best year as an Angel and Weaver broke his non-throwing elbow in April, although came back a the end of May and, while throwing softer, was still able to get by on guile, somehow managing a 3.27 ERA . But Dipoto filled out the rest of the ranks with mediocrities like Jerome Williams, Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton, and Tommy Hanson. 2013 also saw the debut of a promising, if raw, rookie in Garret Richards, and a single start by a minor league veteran, Matt Shoemaker.

2014 was a bounceback year for the Angels, the sign that the promise of 2012 might actually be fulfilled. The rotation was revamped with a young stud in Richards, a surprise performance by Shoemaker, the return of former farmhand Tyler Skaggs, and the import of Hector Santiago, the four of whom looked to form the core of a new, younger rotation.

In the offseason, Dipoto traded Howie Kendrick for promising young pitcher Andrew Heaney, and Hank Conger netted them Nick Tropeano, further depeening the young staff. So in 2015, the Angels had a younger, fresher rotation with plenty of promise. But Richards wasn’t quite the same, although still solid. Santiago had his best year, but Shoemaker struggled for the most part. Heaney looked solid in 18 starts, but Skaggs was out for the year with Tommy John Surgery, the first of many.

By 2016, a rotation that should have been starting to come into its own was in shambles. It was Weaver’s last and worst year as an Angel (he started a few games for the Padres in 2017 and was even worse). Santiago continued to be erratic and never took his talent to the next level. Richards, Skaggs, Heaney, and Tropeano were all in various stages of Tommy John past, present or future. Matt Shoemaker was the one ray of light, pitching at an elite level for a stretch of time and good overall.

2017 was supposed to be the year that everyone came back strong and healthy. But Richards hurt himself (again). Shoemaker struggled with injury, Skaggs pitched half a season, Heaney was out most of the year, Tropeano the entire year. Eppler brought in a host of peanuts, one of whom proved to be clean and shiny: promising Alex Meyer, who then proceeded to get injured and never came back, retiring earlier this year.

2018 finally saw what looked to be a healthy staff. But, you guessed it, Richards was injured again and finally went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery. It was the last we were to see of the pitcher who was supposed to inherit the title of “Angels Ace” in the line of Weaver-Lackey-Washburn-Finley-Witt-Tanana-Ryan-Messersmith-Chance. Heaney was finally healthy and had a solid, if unspectacular year. Skaggs came back and was also solid but unspectactular. Tropeano was passable, as was newcomer Felix Pena. Rookie Jaime Barria was a bit of a surprise, but it was also clear was getting by on a bit of smoek and mirrors. And then we had the biggest splash of them all: Shohei Ohtani, who looked brilliant if a bit erratic. But he eventually went under the knife for TJS.

Consider the names of Angels who have undergone TJS over the last half decade: Skaggs, Richards, Heaney, Tropeano, Meyer, Ohtani, and I’m probably missing someone. Shoemaker had his own injuries.

Eppler tried a patchjob this year. He let Richards and Shoemaker go and brought in Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey, both of whom were awful. Heaney struggled with more injury and Skaggs died. None of the young pitchers—Barria, Canning, Suarez, Sandoval—proved to be instant successes, although  all showed varying degrees of promise, or at least usefulness. The end result, of course, has been what looks like the worst Angels season in two decades.

Maybe, hopefully, 2020 will be different. As has been stated many times, the problem for the Angels pitching staff is not only injury, but elite talent - or a lack thereof. What is strange, odd, darkly comic and even tragic, is that none one of that promising group turned out to be even a consistent #3 or better starter. One or two still might, and we can still hope that Ohtani will fill his ace potential and transfer the dominance on the mound he showed in Japan and for many of his ten starts last year. But the return rate on this group has just been terrible.

But it all goes back to Jered Weaver, that back injury in 2012, his gumby arm, and the tragedy of injury and (in one case) death that has been the Angels rotation from 2013-19.

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Okay, they've had their healthy era with pitching in the 2000s (aside from Colon missing most of the 2006 season), and their not so healthy era (2013-2019).

Can we now get back please to something resembling a healthy era for the pitching? 

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The Angels have had a staggering amount of bad luck these last few years, but I just don't see any connection - certainly not a "curse" - with Weaver. He was a flyball pitcher who outpitched his peripherals for years. Until he didn't. If anything, I feel fortunate we got to see so many great years with Weav, not cursed at all. 

That being said, it's a Friday afternoon in a lost season, and you gave me several minutes of an entertaining read. So thanks. 

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