Welcome to our 2019 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2019. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player every day. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2020 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list, too, and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we focus on Ryan Weber.
2019 in One Sentence
Ryan Weber was mostly fine in the role he served but that he was used enough to qualify for this series in an indictment on the pitchers’ health this year as well as the depth built before the season.
We’re far enough along in this series (only one more after this!) that, if you’ve been reading along all winter, you know the drill by now. If not, well, you are in for a treat. Weber is another one of these players who, frankly, just weren’t that exciting! That means we have to stretch a little bit to get these positives off, which is not ideal because I am not overly flexible.
In Weber’s case, we start where he started, which is with his first impression. The righty first made his way up to the majors in 2019 about a week into May. At this point in the year the pitching was an absolute disaster and the team was just oh so desperate for some bodies who could provide some innings. Weber got his chance, with his first appearance being a spot start against the Orioles. It wasn’t great competition, of course, but he tossed four scoreless innings on three hits and no walks with four strikeouts. Given how the starters had looked to this point in the year, this performance was a revelation. Over his first four outings, two of which were starts, he ended up allowing just two runs over 14 innings with eleven strikeouts and only one walk. It was pretty awesome! Just don’t look into what happened after this.
Looking at his season as a whole, one of the only real positive takeaways for Weber was that he was great at limiting walks. At a time when batters are more patient than ever and are drawing more free passes than ever, the righty only walked 4.4 percent of his opponents, about half of the league-average rate. Weber did this, unsurprisingly, by hitting the zone half of the time. That’s really the only way for him to limit walks, since he is not the kind of pitcher to get a bunch of swings on pitches out of the zone. Now, it is worth mentioning that throwing a bunch of strikes may not be a totally winning strategy for someone like Weber, because his stuff is not the kind that is swung through on pitches in the zone, which can lead to a lot of contact, which in turn puts a lot in the hands of the baseball gods. It’s a double-edged sword for guys like Weber.
Other than that, you can just look at a couple of spits. For example, he was pretty good when he was facing right-handed hitters. Against same-handed opponents, the righty gave up a line of just .253/.270/.345 for a wOBA of .262. This put him in the top 20 percent of the league and he had the fifth lowest walk rate, albeit in a small sample of only 90 batters faced. Weber was also much better as a reliever, pitching to a solid 3.99 ERA in that role while allowing a wOBA of .302. Those aren’t utterly dominant numbers, but they’re certainly useful.
It always feels mean to say things like this but, well, Weber just wasn’t very good overall in 2019. In total he threw 40 2⁄3 innings with the major-league club and pitched to an ugly 5.09 ERA. His 4.23 FIP was alright, to be fair, but that was pretty much just because he didn’t walk anybody. By DRA he was a little worse than average with a 4.98 mark. So, he probably wasn’t quite as bad as the ERA, but it still was not great.
The biggest issue for the righty was simply a lack of stuff, which is really hard to overcome in today’s game. I mentioned above that batters are walking more than ever, but they’re also striking out more then ever. Weber didn’t get that memo, though. He struck out only 16 percent of his opponents, putting him in the bottom eight percent of the league. He just doesn’t miss a lot of bats — he had the lowest swinging strike rate in baseball among pitchers with at least 40 innings, per Baseball Prospectus — and that is a dangerous combination with constantly throwing in the strike zone. It is, frankly, how you end up with an ERA over 5.00.
Unsurprisingly, it Weber is doing well it is because he is not being squared up, and if that is happening it’s generally because of his sinker. This was his most-used pitch in 2019, being tossed just about 50 percent of the time, and it just was not an effective weapon. Only nine percent of swings ended without contact, the expected wOBA against the pitch was .373, which was somehow significantly worse than the actual wOBA of .434. The extent to which bad luck was involved is probably fair to wonder, but also look at where the red is on this zone plot of his sinker. That is where they most often ended up. Not ideal.
The Big Question
The Red Sox have made a ton of roster moves over the last couple of weeks to trim some fat off the edges, but Weber has remained. Given that he does have a minor-league option left and that he’s made it this far, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll be safe at least to start the year. Boston doesn’t have a ton of starting depth, and while Weber isn’t necessarily good in this role he can fill it. If the need for a 40-man spot does come up at some point this winter Weber could be on the chopping block, but at this point I’d expect him to stick around and at least make it to Opening Day.