The Cincinnati Reds have had a busy day. Earlier in the day they came to agreements for the 2023 season with pitchers Lucas Sims, Tejay Antone, Luis Cessa, and Justin Dunn, as well as position players Nick Senzel and Kevin Newman. Now the team has announced that they’ve signed right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver to a 1-year big league contract for $2,000,000. To make room on the 40-man roster for Weaver the team designated Matt Reynolds for assignment.

Cincinnati seemed to be looking for a veteran starting pitcher to add to the rotation this offseason. They may, or may not have found one in Luke Weaver. Much of his career has been as a starter – he racked up 81 big league starts from 2016-2021 – but he made just one start in 2022 as he split his season between Arizona and Kansas City. While his time with Kansas City went better than it did in Arizona, he struggled in both places and posted an ERA of 6.56 in his 35.2 innings that saw him allow 52 hits.

If you want to be optimistic then you can point to the fact that he allowed just one home run all season. If you want to be pessimistic on that point you could point out that his home run rate for his career has been average at best prior to last season and last season was the fewest innings he’s ever thrown in a big league season.

His FIP was 2.69 thanks to that low home run rate and a solid walk rate. But his strikeout rate was below-average for the era of baseball you’re playing in and when hitters made contact the ball found the outfield grass a whole lot. Over his last three big league seasons he’s had an ERA over 6.50 in two of them, with his ERA of 4.25 falling in between the 2020 and 2022 seasons.

So what is it that the Reds are seeing that they felt the need to guarantee a guy with an ERA that was half a run worse than that of Mike Minor in 2022? Let’s start by looking at the stuff that he brings to the table.

Luke Weaver throws four pitches: A 4-seam fastball, a cutter, a change up, and a curveball. Much of what he threw in 2022 was the fastball and the change up, with the fastball being thrown 60.1% of the time and the change up 25% of the time.

The move to the bullpen for Weaver led to the best fastball velocity of his career as he averaged 95 MPH on the pitch. Despite the extra velocity, though, it was a below-average pitch according to Fangraphs Pitch Values metrics. Unfortunately, at least in 2022, so were the rest of his pitches. In 2021 only his change up was a below-average pitch.

Perhaps the Reds see something that they believe can be corrected that could get him back to that version of himself. But there’s some reason to think that maybe it’s going to be tougher than expected.

Major League Baseball started cutting back on allowing pitchers to use tacky substances and Luke Weaver’s spin rates were down across the board in 2022 versus both 2020 and 2021. Given that his fastball was down in spin rate by nearly 100 RPM but was also being thrown harder (which tends to add spin rate), this seems like a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” situations that he was benefiting from MLB looking the other way in the past and then cracking down on it.

What is interesting with Luke Weaver, though, is just how often he throws his fastball. Pitchers by-and-large are throwing harder than ever, but also throwing fewer fastballs than ever. That’s not the case for Weaver, who has thrown his fastball over 60% of the time in each of the last two seasons. The average fastball rate was 49.1% in the big leagues last season. Switching up how frequently he throws that pitch may help move things in the right direction if he’s capable of finding more success with some of his secondary offerings.

For the most part, Luke Weaver’s BABIP has been worse than the league average. In his career the league average BABIP has gone from .298 down to .289, showing a steady trend that it’s dropping. That’s likely due to increased shift usage, which will be moving in the other direction in 2023. While we don’t know how it will play out, the expectation is that BABIP will rise around the league with the new defensive rules that are going to be in place. Weaver, though, has a career BABIP of .328. When he allows contact in his career it goes for hits far more often than the average pitcher. And in 2022 it was off the charts bad, coming in at .429. It’s highly unlikely that his BABIP will repeat a number that high, or probably anything close to it.

So if you’re trying to remain optimistic you are going to be hoping that his BABIP normalizes back to his career norms or better, his low home run rate continues that he showed last season but in Great American Ball Park, and he finds more consistency with all of his pitches – something he’s shown in the past.

With two spots in the rotation up for grabs in spring training (this is always a bad idea), Luke Weaver will be among a gaggle of guys vying for one of the spots. If he doesn’t take one of those spots expect him to slide back into the bullpen and see where things go from there.

You can see Luke Weaver’s career stats here.

27 Responses

  1. LDS

    Not the most promising pickup, but at least he’s cheap. And Reynolds is gone so that’s something.

    • JayTheRed

      That is the part I really like Bell lost another of his, he has to play players. I find the deal interesting at best. I was looking at the free agent list there are some pretty decent players out there still who might end up settling for lower deals.

    • DataDumpster

      I thought of this immediately also, they are kneecapping Bell to save him from himself. Leads me to believe that Bell was making all the odd lineup changes and not being told who to play. Krall is perhaps showing some signs of being “The Bull”. Without a 70 win season with decent player development to justify spending in 2024 toward a possible wild card slot, Bell may indeed get the DFA.
      It is notable that the Red’s farm system got generally 2 votes as the best from all aspects of drafting and prospects but no mention at all in developing these prospects.

      • Old Big Ed

        Nah, they just decided that Reynolds and Newman fill the same spot, and they liked Newman more.

        It could mean that they are satisfied that Barrero may have turned the corner and don’t need extra short-term SS insurance.

  2. JayTheRed

    McCutchen back to the Pirates on a 1-year deal

    • earmbrister

      Speaking of the Pirates, this was on Pirate News:

      “Weaver was once a top prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals, but injuries and inconsistency have not been his strong suit. He was included in the trade that sent Paul Goldschmidt to the Cards but was traded to the Kansas City Royals this past season. At the end of the season, the Royals non-tendered the right-hander.

      Now Weaver had an atrocious 6.56 ERA. But that’s where the negatives end. Weaver had a K:BB ratio of 2.92 and only allowed a single home run in 35.2 innings of work. He had a 3.82 xFIP, 3.64 SIERA, and 3.84 DRA. Weaver was snake-bitten by unbelievably bad batted ball luck. Opponents had a .429 batting average on balls in play against him”.

      Looks to be a lottery pick based on the $2MM salary. Don’t think this is the last, or most expensive, pitching addition of the offseason.

  3. Jason Franklin

    I didn’t realize we could afford a even worse version of Mike Minor. Pretty impressive. Are the Reds going for dead last this year? Is there someone hitting the draft next year that is a one in a million type talent? (Of course, knowing the Reds luck, they will get the 6th pick).

  4. Kevin Patrick

    There will definitely be room for a long reliever on the roster. Frankly, I think its a reasonable risk to add a guy like this knowing that there are other guys in the pen with about as much potential. I don’t mean to sound cynical when I say that. There are certainly reasons to believe it possible he could contribute on this team in the right role, especially if the refinement of a pitch other than his fastball enables his fastball to be harder to sit on. Heck, even if they can help him develop a bit of a wrinkle in movement on it, 95 ain’t bad. Certainly the other major league teams he played for saw potential as well.

  5. Nick in NKY

    I don’t think negativity about this deal is well-founded. Even if the Reds were a no doubt contender this year, this would still be a decent pick-up. Positioned where they are, they can only go up. Cheap signings of guys of formerly high prospect pedigree seems like a gamble worth taking. Could deliver excellent results, could be trade bait, etc. If he tanks, it’s not that big of a deal because we weren’t going to the Series anyways, and he didn’t cost more valuable assets to acquire. The potential upside here well outweighs the cost, IMHO.

    (Especially since it isn’t my money, and I’ve been among those insisting the team spend more of theirs.)

    • SteveAreno

      You are right, it’s a good signing and affordable. Luke Weaver can get back into higher performance this year. He is building and training towards that outcome. Let’s be positive and keep our fingers crossed. He is very likely to get one of those two starting positions.

  6. Optimist

    1 – meets the budget criteria.
    2 – clearly moves away from the Minor dilemma – we’re paying him, we’re playing him.
    3 – another catch and release if it doesn’t work out
    4 – need another 6-8 of these if they commit to the spring train competition over the contract status deciding the roster.
    5 – is Hoffman returning?

    • TR

      The Reds miss out on Cueto but get an experienced possible fourth starting pitcher within their limited budget. Spring training will see a lot of competition.

  7. MK

    As I mentioned in the Bukauskas article the Reds loved the former first round picks from other teams. At least it is $8 million less than Minor.

  8. Bdh

    Pitchers who limit the long ball are good for GABP. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to see how both Williamson and Stoudt do this year. They both had very good seasons in the reds system as far as limiting the home run goes

  9. Hotto4Votto

    Can’t really see the upside here, other than this move got Reynolds off the roster. Seems like the group of Cessa, Dunn, Overton, Williamson, and Stoudt offer better options on paper. But ya never know?

  10. SOQ

    In 62 years of being a die hard Reds fan, I find myself for the first time, completely disinterested in the upcoming spring training and season. In the past decade I have held onto blind hope that we might see encouraging signs of a budding contender, only too often to see any semblance of hope dashed at trade deadlines, or as in last year, just before opening day AND at the trade deadline. These recent signings do nothing to change my apathy. I don’t think I am alone in this disinterest. Thank goodness for the Reds HOF where I can visit and feel the affection I have felt for most of my life. It certainly isn’t going to be felt in the stands anytime soon.

    • Tom Mitsoff

      I’m not disinterested, and will never be. But I have zero hope or expectations. I’ve been through a few of these cycles, including back in 1982 when the front office purged the roster of what was left of the Big Red Machine and tried to hype up Alex Trevino, Jim Kern, a partially crippled Cesar Cedeno, Clint Hurdle, etc., as a suitable group of suitable replacements. I have no faith in the prospects of a team with just a handful of actual major league hitters to compete at any level.

      • SOQ

        Tom, I still held hope that Hurdle, Householder et al might surprise us all. And remember, 3 years later they finished in 2nd place (4 years in a row)-followed by the WS championship 2 years later.
        This has been a 10 year rebuild and where are we now? Worse than we were when the rebuild started. The main difference I feel is the obscene amounts of money in the game now. The Reds ownership just doesn’t seem to be competent enough to figure a way to combat the $$$ differences. Our plan appears to be just develop’em and dump’em.

      • Tom Mitsoff

        Phil casting aspersions on guaranteed contracts just shows how misplaced he and his father are as leaders of a major league franchise. These guys have absolutely no chance of building a sustainable framework for competitiveness or excellence. They want to run the team on 1960s terms in the 2020s.

  11. redfanorbust

    This signing as many have said is just another Reds getting players on the cheap in hopes of getting lucky. They are sticking with their rebuild plan. I can not actually remember a time and I have been a fan since 75, when the Reds went all in on a rebuild. Maybe they did I just don’t remember. It will be interesting to see if this works or not. IMO the biggest and most important tell in of all this is in 2024 when Votto/Moustakas dollars come off the books. IF the Reds spend that money on some real time above average players and IF the young guys get better this year then they may find themselves with a playoff contending team. Here is hoping to all that and the Reds catching a injury bug break from last years debacle and Tyler Stevenson spending as little time behind the plate as possible.

    • Redsvol

      I tend to agree. 2023 is all about giving the young guys playing time. If you bring in mid-level free agents then you won’t have at bats and innings for the young guys to figure out what they’re capable of.

      We’re starting to get some starting pitching depth;
      -the locks; Greene, Lodolo, Ashcraft (3)
      – the wannabes; Overton, Cessa, Dunn, Weaver, Williamson, Stoudt (6)
      We could use 2-3 more experienced starters for competition/AAA depth. I could see us giving Santillan another shot at starting.

      We have more talented depth in position player ranks;
      – the locks; Votto, India, Stephenson, Newman, Steer, Myers
      – the depth; Fraley, Fairchild, Friedl, Senzel, Solak, Barerro, Maile

      The depth is certainly younger than its been in the past and with more upside. But we certainly don’t have the players you can count on production from like Winker, Castellanos and Suarez. Hopefully the young guys bring it this year.

  12. Redsvol

    I kind of like this signing. Weaver is younger and his alternative stats suggest there is a better pitcher in there.

    We need 1-2 more veteran starters – probably on minor league deals. We also need a lefty bat on the bench. We are very right handed currently. And the remaining free agent list for left ganders is almost bare. Tyler Naquin is still available. Id like to see us bring him back.

  13. Max BRAGG

    GM can not figure out that 5 of his 770,000 OVER THE HILL gang is 3.5 Million dollars! There is players on this team that can’t make softball teams!!!!