After a solid but inconsistent MLB debut in 2016, Luke Weaver is proving that he has the potential to be a respectable big league pitcher.

Last year Luke Weaver was the new kid on the block. His call up was much anticipated and he was impressive in his first few starts, but his greenness began to show down the stretch of his first major league stint. This year, however, Weaver has shown poise, maturity, and great overall improvement from his 2016 performance.

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Success in 2017

In 2017 Weaver has posted a 1.89 ERA with a 2.57 FIP in 47.2 innings and has improved in just about every category. He has stranded 87.8% of runners on base, given up fewer home runs and walks than last year in the majors with more innings pitched, and his 10.95 K/9 is comparable to the 11.15 he finished with last year.

One of the most encouraging figures is his 55.7% groundball rate. Weaver’s stuff is not particularly overpowering, so maintaining this ability to induce groundballs combined with his strikeout proficiency thus far could prove to be an effective duo a la Carlos Martinez.

Being able to rely on multiple methods of producing outs is a great tool for any pitcher to have, and the fact that he’s been showing this in 2017 is likely a huge factor in his improvement from last year. A rate of 55.7% is more than likely completely unsustainable of course, but if he could maintain even a rate near 40-45% – which he did in AAA this year – groundballs will be a great weapon for Weaver going forward.

Too Soon To Tell?

With all that said, it is incredibly important to recognize that Luke Weaver’s time with the Cardinals this year is still a small sample size. His 1.89 ERA may look fantastic, but one might recall that Mike Leake had a sub-two ERA at one point this season. He has certainly shown enough to warrant optimism for his future, but at the end of the day Weaver is a young arm yet to play a full season in the bigs.

While Weaver has been promising so far, there are a few sources of concern in his performance. He has thrown seven innings in two of his seven starts, but for the most part his pitch count has been high enough to end his start relatively early in the game. In his last start against Cincinnati he allowed no walks and just two hits, yet his pitch count reached 98 after six innings.

He has averaged about six innings per start in the majors this year, and he averaged just over five in Memphis. It’s not unusual for young pitchers to struggle to go deep in games, and it by no means suggests that Weaver is incapable of doing so; being more efficient with his pitches and extending his outings is simply one of the facets of his game that he needs to improve to capitalize on the progress he already made between 2016 and 2017.

Conclusion

Luke Weaver has taken a great step forward in his progression as a pitcher, and he is clearly close to being a legitimate component of the Cardinals’ starting rotation. Barring a complete collapse in his remaining starts this season and/or next spring Weaver looks more and more like a good fit for a currently incomplete 2018 pitching staff. Allowing him to continue to work and develop against better competition – especially considering it currently appears there will be space on the roster for him – could prove a prudent decision for the progression of Luke Weaver.

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Statistics referenced from FanGraphs

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports