Welcome to our 2020 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 2020. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player. 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 2021 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we take a look at the 2020 season for Ryan Weber.
2020 in one sentence
Ryan Weber did not impress in his turns as a starter, but somewhat quietly showed some marginal value in a long relief role that was all too important for that 2020 Red Sox team.
On the surface it was a very forgettable year for Weber, who finished 2020 having thrown 43 innings, getting demoted once, and ending the season with a 4.40 ERA. That’s not atrocious, particularly in the context of Boston’s rotation last season, but it’s also certainly not something we’ll be talking about for years to come. And yet, it really was a tale of two roles for Weber, who struggled mightily when he was asked to start but actually looked pretty solid as a reliever.
As it turned out, that split was fairly even with 19 of his innings coming in starts and 24 coming in relief. And as a reliever, Weber actually played the role of a competent major-leaguer. Small sample caveats aside, he pitched to a 2.25 ERA when he didn’t have to start a game while allowing a wOBA (on the same scale of OBP) of only .260. Those are legitimately good numbers and not just “good in comparison” or whatever. And even if you want to turn to the peripherals things stay impressive, as Weber finished with a 2.82 FIP and a 3.40 xFIP in relief. Really, whichever way you slice it, the righty pitched well in relief.
Building off this, Weber was particularly good at the end of the year when he was no longer being asked to start at all. There was a portion of the season in the middle of the schedule where he was sort of bouncing back and forth between the two roles. He made his final start on September 5, and from that point on he allowed just a single earned run over 10 innings of work with 12 strikeouts and two walks. Small sample, of course, but those are really good numbers!
If you want to keep going with just his general numbers, Weber was also solid at keeping free runners off the bases. This has always been a strength for him and he actually took a bit of a step back in this regard compared to 2019. That said, he still finished the year with a 7.6 percent walk rate, which comes in well ahead of the league-average rate of 9.2 percent. It’s not a huge mystery how he gets here, as Weber simply pounds the zone, regularly throwing strikes right around half the time. There are risks to this strategy for someone like him who doesn’t have much swing and miss, but in terms of simply limiting walks it works out.
Speaking of the swing and miss, we have to start this section with Weber’s inability to get strikeouts. Inducing a lot of contact can be considered a weakness to some extent in any era of baseball, but that is particularly true today. Weber just doesn’t have that kind of stuff, and it showed this year with his 14.6 percent strikeout rate, which can be compared to the league-average rate of 23.4 percent. In fact, among the 111 pitchers who tossed at least 40 innings this past summer, only six got strikeouts at a lower rate than Weber. And given that along with the fact that he really doesn’t walk many batters, it comes as no surprise that this is a direct result of not missing bats. Sure enough, according to Baseball Savant, Weber comes in well worse than league-average in contact rate on pitches both in the zone and out of it.
We can also look at the other side of the coin compared to the reliever discussion we had above. Obviously Weber excelled in that role, but when he was asked to start it was a completely different story. This is a big deal, too, because we all know how desperate this Red Sox team was for anything even remotely resembling a competent starter. Weber was not that. By the time he made his last start he had pitched to a 7.11 ERA in this role while allowing a frankly astounding .434 wOBA and ending with a FIP that actually came in significantly worse than his ERA with an 8.03 mark. Whichever way you want to slice it, Weber was a disaster when he was asked to start.
And on top of all this, despite his success results-wise in relief, which made up over half of his total innings, Weber was still one of the very worst pitchers in all of baseball with regards to quality of contact. For a pitcher who is also among the worst in avoiding contact in general, it’s not the kind of combination you’re looking for. Again according to Baseball Savant, Weber was in the bottom one percent in all of baseball in terms of hard-hit rate (rate at which a ball in play is at least 95 mph), and the bottom eight percent in the rate at which balls were barreled, which is the best kind of contact a batter can make.
The Big Question
When Weber pitched for the Red Sox in 2019, he was actually a really good pitcher against righties, holding them to a .262 wOBA, but was undone by lefties, who put up a .402 wOBA against him. In 2020, he was able to smooth that out. He was worse against righties, but lefties finished with a solid but manageable .336 wOBA against Weber. So, that’s certainly an improvement. However, it was largely due to a .213 batting average on balls in play, so I wouldn’t necessarily set this as a baseline moving forward.
Looking ahead to 2021
Weber just recently found himself removed from the 40-man roster as he was one of the casualties when the team had to make room for their Rule 5 protections. He went unclaimed on waivers, though, and opted to choose to stick with the organization on the Triple-A roster. It’s no guarantee this will remain the case as he could get squeezed off that roster as well, but given that he still has options and looked good in that long relief role, he should be able to at least get a chance in camp again to make his case. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if we never see him in Boston again, but I suspect he’ll at least get another audition in spring training.
And with that, our 2020 review series is done. You can check all of them out here.