The Diamondbacks are moving right-handed starter Luke Weaver to a bullpen role to begin the season and will open the year with lefty Caleb Smith in the rotation in his place, manager Torey Lovullo announced to reporters Tuesday (Twitter links via Steve Gilbert of MLB.com and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic). Arizona’s rotation to begin the season will be Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly, Zach Davies, Smith and Zac Gallen.
Weaver, 28, has been used exclusively out of the rotation since coming over from the Cardinals alongside Carson Kelly, Andy Young and a Competitive Balance Draft selection in the trade that sent Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis. As was the case in his short time with the Cardinals, who originally drafted him with the 27th overall pick back in 2014, Weaver has at times looked like a quality big league rotation piece but has struggled to stay healthy.
The only season in which Weaver has managed a full workload for the Diamondbacks was the shortened 2020 campaign, when he was rocked for an uncharacteristic 6.58 ERA in 52 innings over the life of 12 starts. Weaver posted a 2.94 ERA with brilliant strikeout and walk rates through a dozen starts in 2019, his first year with the Snakes, but also spent the bulk of the season on the injured list due to a forearm strain. In 2021, he turned in a solid 4.25 ERA with slightly worse (but still solid) strikeout and walk rates. A shoulder strain, however, kept him out from mid-May until September 1.
It’s of course possible that it’ll prove to be a short-term move to the bullpen for Weaver, but it’ll also be interesting to see whether a move to shorter stints will help him to remain healthy. Weaver’s fastball sat at an average of 93.7 mph last year while working as a starter, and it’s common for pitchers to see their velocity tick upward when moving to a relief role. Weaver also has fairly extreme splits when facing lineups for the second and third time in a game. When facing the lineup the first time through, he’s held opponents to a rather tepid .241/.297/.393 output.
As for the 30-year-old Smith, he’s no stranger to a rotation role. He pitched exclusively as a starter with the Marlins in 2018-19 and made 13 starts for Arizona last year, though the D-backs deployed him more heavily out of the bullpen in 2021. Smith has had more success pitching in relief in his career, with superior marks in ERA (3.45 to 4.90), walk rate (9.8% to 11.3%) and home run rate (1.15 per nine to 1.79 per nine) relative to his work as a starter. That said, Smith did pitch to a 4.41 ERA with a 26.3% strikeout rate and 9.6% walk rate in 230 2/3 innings as a member of the Marlins’ rotation in 2018-19.
Both Smith and Weaver have four-plus years of Major League service time and are thus controlled through the 2023 season. Given their relatively short amount of remaining club control, there could be trade speculation surrounding both this summer as the trade deadline approaches. However, Arizona recently extended two of its most popular trade candidates — Ketel Marte, Merrill Kelly — continuing to make an effort to put a competitive roster on the field as they await a wave of high-end prospects who are on the cusp of MLB readiness.
Makes more sense to give him a shot out of the bullpen with his struggles to stay healthy
That combined with him petering out around 70 pitches in almost every start he’s made last year. I think he could be a guy who has more value as a late-inning arm if he can make the transition to such a role. He has the stuff to after hitters for an inning or two, but not enough to handle 2-3 times through the lineup. If he’s not a starter or a late-inning arm by the end of the season, he’s probably going to end up as a non-tender candidate.
Why do people think pitching in the bullpen is easier on a athletes body?
Less innings at a time and overall less innings a season. Most RP’s aren’t asked to throw 4-6 innings at a time, just 1-2, maybe 3 if they’re a long RP. Relievers also aren’t tasked with throwing 150+ IP a season. The most durable might throw 80.
They are also pushing their arm to extremes that starters typically don’t due to trying to sustain success over the length of a start. Throwing all out for 1 inning can be much more long term strenuous than starting, hence reliever volatility.
That isn’t entirely why relievers are so volatile, theres a myriad of reasons all of which could also help explain why it is fairly difficult to predict their production from uesr to year.
However, SPs can be just as big of a mystery, but their team replaces them, and it is more difficult for them to get a shot again.
In fact, the vast majority of relief pitchers that make it to the big leagues were at one point failed starters. Whether it is college or earlier on in their minor league careers, I can promise you any good pitching coach tried to use them as a starter at some point.
Also, one other factor you aren’t considering is relief pitchers tend to only have one to three pitches they can turn to in an outing. If any of those three pitches aren’t working for them, it is increasingly difficult for then to get batters out, and adjust their plan of attack with only a few batters to correct things…
What you said could have some merit, but it is also just as likely, if bot even more likely it is due to an combination of reasons and series’ of cause and effects as to why relief pitchers can be so volatile..
FredMcGriff for the HOF
The snakes must be trying to lose more games to get that high draft pick in 2023.
Gallen’s health is the big wild card here. If he’s at 100% (or close to it) then Arizona’s rotation is decent. They won’t win the West and most likely won’t challenge for a playoff spot, but they should be more respectable than last year
Ehh having a plan is a respectful position but there are too many unknowns and situations with fingers crossed here. Prepare for another sub 63 win season with the goal of finding something to build around still.
Locally, baseball writers are predicting an optimistic 82-80 finish. That doesn’t get them to the playoffs, but is a marked improvement over last year’s disastrous season.
There is more quality depth this year than last year, and young players have another year of development. If they have better luck with health, if the bullpen is actually improved, and if some of the new rookies have decent years, then I think 82 wins is possible. Those are 3 big IFs, but it is possible.
Three if’s means under .500.
Kool-aid is so tasty first thing in the morning
This same scenario has been played out before, turning out some of the best relievers.
Nice rotation. Much better than the lolmets.
Will the Dbacks play .500 ball ? Tough division , mediocre power and iffy rotation. At least they are on TV a lot here in Arizona.
Like the Twins last year, everything that could go wrong, did. They were smart (they usually are) and didn’t go into panic mode. They’ve got a lot of toys coming, so it’s not all bad. This year, OTOH, won’t be real exciting; but better than last.
That can’t be said for some teams who had tough years last year. For them, this year might even be worse.
Geez that’s a bad rotation
Gallen and Kelly are good. It could be a lot worse
Ya you could be Texas or Pittsburgh or Anaheim (oops) or …. Boston or .. so many bad rotations now that I think of it. Lotta runs this year
Trade Weaver back to the Cardinals!