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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #18: Luke Weaver

If Marvel has taught me anything, it’s that there is a universe where Luke Weaver started this season as our closer, and the Diamondbacks won just enough games to do something really stupid at the deadline.

Luke Weaver, from the perspective of the batter as he is midway through his windup. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.67
  • Age: 28
  • 2021 Stats: 3-6, 1.18 WHIP, 101 ERA+
  • 2021 Earnings: $1.95 million
  • 2022 Status: 2nd year arb eligible. Had a contract tendered to him at the deadline, but money will wait until after the CBA negotiations.

Luke Weaver came into 2021 looking for a bounce-back. The pandemic shortened season of 2020 started out rough for the young pitcher, and while he did improve over the course of the season, between only having 60 games and setbacks along the way, it was no where near enough time to recover. He ended that year with an ERA north of 6.50 and an ERA+ that put him more than 30% below league average. All in all, not great for someone who was a key return for a franchise icon and supposed to be a significant contributor to the rotation.

During the offseason, there was a lot of discussion about Mr. Weaver, including the frequently mentioned strategy of moving him to the bullpen, given his lack of a strong third pitch and length of his starts. However, Mike Hazen and Tory Lovullo decided to stick with him in the rotation. His first start of the season was in Colorado, so 5 23 innings and only three runs given up was a pretty solid start. He followed up that with a stellar seven innings scoreless performance at home against the Reds, and things were looking up. And then 2020 Weaver returned.

The next four starts were short and unsuccessful, just like so many others had been. The longest of the four was only five innings, while the other three were only four. And it wasn’t a quality over quantitiy thing either, with his ERA ballooning to more than six. It was the usual issues plaguing him. Too many pitches leading to too many mistakes. Throwing 80-90 pitches in only four or five innings will lead to pitches over the plate when you can’t afford them, and that’s what has been happening to Weaver in every bad start he’s had here.

At this point, it was beginning to feel like a lost season, despite the adequacy the team showed in April. The final game for Weaver in that four game stretch was an 8-0 loss against the Marlins, a game which Keegan gave up recapping in the fourth inning and finished by asking how long Weaver could be allowed to remain in the rotation. This both proved to be premature and prophetic at the same time. Premature, because Weaver then rocked out two consecutive scoreless starts, looking as good perhaps as he ever has in an Arizona uniform. Prophetic, because he left the second start early, as a “precaution” due to shoulder stiffness.

That precaution turned into 10-day injury list trip for a right shoulder strain. Only nineteen days later, it became a trip to the 60-day IL, significant at the time since you cannot bring back a player early from that designation. Those sixty days came and went, with no Weaver returning. The team was cautious with the strain, prudent, given the lack of competitive reason to bring him back. There was also a not insignificant set back of him being sent to the COVID list in the middle of his rehab assignment, when he was tantalizingly close to returning.

He eventually did return, in the beginning of September, to get a few starts in before the merciful end of this season, and there was reason to be cautiously optimistic. There were a couple good starts, and he did better in keeping his pitch count down relative to where it had been earlier in the season. There were a couple games where it was higher, but they weren’t the norm. All in all, an unspectacular end to a disappointing season.

2022 Outlook

You might disagree, but I think Luke Weaver has the most to gain potentially from the hiring of Brent Strom. While Gallen and the pitching prospects obviously could benefit from his instruction, to me Weaver’s situation reminds me of where Gerrit Cole was when he was traded from the Pirates to the Astros, where he worked with Strom and became the (Sticky Stuff enhanced) elite pitcher he was when he was given one of the biggest contracts of all time. Obviously, Strom is human, and there is only going to be so much he can do with one of the worst pitching staffs last year in one season, but I’ll be paying close attention to what happens with Weaver under his tutelage.