08/27/12 3:00 PM ET
Weaver focused on playoff push, not Cy Young
Angels ace putting up award-worthy season as club enters stretch run
By Anthony Odoardi / MLB.com
"My motivation is to win a world championship. I'm not into personal accolades," said Weaver on Sunday as he and his teammates prepared to finish off a three-game series with the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Does Weaver even pay attention to the race?
"Not at all," he said.
That was the case among most of Weaver's teammates and coaches as well.
Both Weaver and center fielder Mike Trout are undoubtedly the front-runners for both the AL Cy Young Award and the AL Most Valuable Player Award. But the Angels are attempting to battle out of a late-season slump, fighting to make up ground in the AL West (9 1/2 games back) and in the Wild Card (four back), and they remain focused on team goals.
However, it's tough to ignore the facts regarding the Angels' ace. With 16 wins, he is tied for the AL lead with Rays fireballer David Price, although Weaver missed two starts with a lower back strain.
Weaver has also taken just three losses, his 2.74 ERA is the fifth best, and before giving up nine runs in three innings to the Rays earlier this month, his ERA was a ridiculous 2.22. Weaver has allowed the fewest hits (112) of any qualified pitcher, and he owns the lowest WHIP (0.98).
That doesn't even factor in the no-hitter Weaver tossed on May 2, the first of his career and the 10th in Angels history.
Although not much for talking about end-of-season awards, coaches and teammates were readily willing to speak on where they feel Weaver ranks among starters.
"He's an elite pitcher. He's one of the most elite pitchers in the game of baseball, whether you look at the American League or the National League," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He's going to be at the top of his class for a long time."
"He's one of the best pitchers in the game and one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "He's a competitor, he does his homework, and every time he takes the mound, he's looking to win."
Since 2010, Weaver's first year factoring into the Cy Young voting (he finished fifth), the 29-year-old is 47-23. Entering Tuesday's start against Boston, his 2.71 ERA ranks the lowest of any starter in the AL with at least 300 innings during that span -- just ahead of 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander (2.76) and '10 AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez (2.76).
Add in a 16-8 record in 2009 and Weaver has truly dominated hitters for the past four seasons. How he does it consistently is perhaps the most interesting part. Unlike Verlander, Hernandez and Price, Weaver doesn't have the mid-to-high 90s power fastball in his repertoire.
In fact, Weaver's average fastball velocity is just 87.2, according to FanGraphs.com, which is the eighth-lowest mark of qualified pitchers in the Major Leagues.
When asked how he was able to be so effective without that weapon, Weaver said: "Smoke and mirrors."
There's no question Weaver is a magician on the hill every fifth day for the Angels, but his pitching coach elaborated bit more. Butcher said it starts with outstanding fastball command and a sneaky delivery.
"There's a lot more to pitching than velocity," Butcher said. "When you have deception and you have the type of movement that he has, when you can cut the ball, when you can straighten one out, he can sink it. When you add those factors in there as well with the deceptive other four pitchers, you've got a very good pitcher."
Last season, a lot was made of Verlander's ability to be the losing-streak stopper for the Tigers, which factored into his Cy Young and MVP candidacy. Verlander went 16-3 after a loss.
This year, Weaver is 7-0 after an Angels defeat so far, with a chance to make it 8-0 against Boston on Tuesday. It's not the same enormous win total, but impressive nonetheless, especially with the pitching staff owning a 5.36 ERA since July 1.
"It's a huge impact," Iannetta said. "If you're winning a few games and he takes the mound, he keeps it going. If you're losing a couple games here and there and he takes the mound, it's not an automatic win, but it's the ability to go out there and stop the trend."
Outfielder Torii Hunter is in his 16th year in the Majors. His nine career at-bats against Weaver are second to only Vernon Wells (18) on the team. His two home runs, however, are second to none.
Nine at-bats surely doesn't make Hunter an expert, but from watching in the outfield, he admires the way Weaver makes adjustments and differentiates his pitching to each hitter.
"Every year, he knows that people are trying to get a hold of his secret, and he has to change it up every once in a while," Hunter said. "And that's what he does. He's always coming up with new things and new ways of pitching and new sequences."
And maybe this year, Weaver's new ways of pitching and new sequences have helped him uncover a secret of his own: winning the AL Cy Young Award. Whether it was intended or not, his performance is making it a distinct possibility.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.