Nearly three years ago, the Angels decided that Justin Speier was worth a 4 year, $18 million contract. Yesterday, they decided that he wasn’t worth keeping on the roster, as they chose to eat the remainder of the deal by giving him his unconditional release. The weird thing about those two decisions – he’s basically the exact same pitcher he was at the time of the deal.
His fastball averages 90 MPH, just like it always has. He throws it up in the zone, which serves to make him a guy who gets some strikeouts but also gives up a ton of fly balls. He throws his slider nearly as often as his fastball, which makes him a guy who is going to run an extreme platoon split – he’s death to RHBs but torched by LHBs. None of this is really new.
Nearly the entirety of the issues Speier has faced involve balls flying over the wall with increased frequency. In 2006, he allowed 0.88 home runs per nine innings, while this year he’s at 1.58 HR/9 after posting an awful 1.99 HR/9 last year. However, his balls in air rate is basically unchanged – he allowed more flyballs + line drives (69.9%) in 2006 than he has this year (65.0%). The difference – his HR/FB rate in 2006 was 6.9%, while this year it’s at 13.2%.
HR/FB rate, as you may know, is not particularly predictive, especially among relief pitchers (due to sample size issues). Just like Speier’s low-ish HR/FB rate in 2006 didn’t mean he had a special skill that allowed him to rack up 380 foot outs, neither does his 2009 performance mean that he’s missing the ingredient that allows major league pitchers to keep the ball in the park. It’s likely just noise, and certainly shouldn’t be the kind of thing that would make the Angels take such a dramatic turn in their evaluation of his value.
None of this is to say that Speier is particularly valuable – flyballing right-handed specialists with okay command are ridiculously easy to find in the minors, and that kind of limited skillset doesn’t provide a big boost to a bullpen. But Speier is basically the same guy he was in 2006, only a bit less lucky. Perhaps the Angels just figured out that he was never that great to begin with, but more likely, they’re just overreacting to a few bad performances that don’t really mean much.
Speier was never worth $18 million, but an outright release is a bit over the top. He’s still a decent enough bullpen arm, and if the Angels need to get a tough right-hander out in a late game situation this October, they might wish they still had him around.