Weathering the Storm: Is 2023 Ryan Weathers’ year?

Apr 11, 2023; New York City, New York, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Ryan Weathers (40) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Weathers is one of the biggest surprises in the start of the 2023 season. His solid start has fans wondering if this is a new and improved Weathers.

After a terrible 2022 season that saw him post a 6.73 ERA in 31 games for Triple-A El Paso, Weathers looked like he was in danger of being passed over by new talent.

However, he found his way into the starting rotation when Joe Musgrove broke his toe. The 23-year-old seized the opportunity, allowing three runs in his first ten innings of 2023. Musgrove’s imminent return means that Weathers is likely going to return to El Paso soon. However, that doesn’t mean that he won’t play a major role down the stretch.

The San Diego Padres are currently using a six-man rotation, with Weathers the sixth man in that cycle. It’s expected that after Musgrove replaces Weathers, Seth Lugo will be forced to leave the rotation at some point. Lugo has pitched fantastically in his first two starts, but he hasn’t thrown more than 65 innings in his last three seasons. He’s already at 13, so he’ll need to move to the bullpen at some point to ensure his arm will hold up for the postseason.

Nick Martinez should have plenty of strength in his arm to stay a starter for the whole year. However, it’s possible that the team could move him into the bullpen for the postseason. Blake Snell hasn’t made more than 27 starts since 2018, so there’s a chance Weathers could step in due to injury too. San Diego is going to need reinforcements to their rotation at some point in 2023. While Jay Groome, Julio Teheran, and others are waiting in El Paso, it’s Weathers’ spot to lose.

The young southpaw got plenty of experience starting on a regular basis in 2021, when he made 18 starts in a dismal rookie campaign. While the performance on the field wasn’t great, his experience in facing big-league hitters at Petco Park could be critical for his development.

It’s always important to take early-season success with a grain of salt, even as Weathers’ numbers are very promising. His strikeout rate and walk rate both are at about the same as they were in 2021, but his batted ball data is significantly better. He’s allowing opponents to barrel the ball up far less, which is resulting in much weaker contact. His 62nd percentile average exit velocity allowed is better than average. His expected batting average, slugging, and on-base average also better than league average, which is an extremely promising sign.

He’s made some fairly major changes to his pitch arsenal since he last played in Petco Park. Weathers still uses a 4-seam fastball as his primary pitch, but he’s throwing it harder than he ever did before. The 2018 first rounder threw a changeup on just 7% of his pitches in 2021. That has climbed to 31% in 2023, making it his secondary pitch.

He used a slider more than 30% of the time before this season, but just 1.1% of his pitches this year have been sliders. The slider seems to have been phased out for a new pitch, his sweeper, which comes out 17.9% of the time.

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The new changes have been working too. Opponents are 1-for-7 on at-bats that end with the new sweeper, while they’re 3-for-14 on his change-up. None of those four hits came with much power either, as all were singles. 

Weathers’ ability to limit power is going to be crucial for his ability to have success. He gave up home runs on 5% of his plate appearances in 2021, way above the league average of 3.1%. That trend continued in Triple-A during 2022, when he surrendered a monumental 31 home runs in 123 innings. He’s yet to give up a long ball in his first 10 frames of 2023. If he can continue to limit the slugging success that opponents have against him, his poor strikeout rate and his mediocre walk rate won’t be his undoing. 

He is still just 23 years old. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2028 season. In future years, Ryan Weathers can definitely be a part of this Padres rotation if he continues to progress. Should things break his way, Weathers could make plenty more appearances for the Padres in 2023 as well.

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