Dodgers Serve As Giants’ Death Panel

That’s right, death panels do exist, and as far as the 2009 NL West race goes, the Dodgers just put down the Giants’ adorable little insurrection like the unimportant nuisance that it was. No, it wasn’t a sweep, which would have put the Giants 8.5 games out, but considering that neither Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley went in this series and that the otherworldy Tim Lincecum wasn’t able to outduel Jeff Weaver and a cast of thousands by himself, it’s nearly as good.

Remember, there was a bit of worry going into this series, what with the Dodgers on an August slump, Billingsley injured, and the Giants on a nice run – if San Fran swept the series, that would have put them only 2.5 back and put the Dodgers into an official tailspin. (As opposed to Tale Spin). As I said, I welcomed the challenge, and going into a tough ballpark for road teams to enter, you couldn’t have asked for more. Considering that you nearly had to write off one game once “Billingsley vs. Lincecum” turned into “Corpsey McWeaver and His Fantastic Funtime Friends vs. Lincecum”, I’d almost have considered this a win if we’d gone up there and just avoided a sweep. Winning the series, though, and very nearly sweeping? That’s gravy, and when it’s done without your two best pitchers, proof that this team really has something going.

On another note, the Angels released Justin Speier recently, and when you’re being paid $6.5 million to leave town, that’s not generally a good sign for your performance. So why do I care? Well, three reasons:

1) The starting pitching is what it is, and it’s not going to change. You can complain all you want about the fact that the starters don’t go past 6 innings (though Randy Wolf’s 8 on Tuesday was huge), but that’s simply the group of pitchers we have. Whine that they don’t pitch deeper, angst over the inability to acquire a Roy Halladay before the deadline; it’s immaterial now. With so many teams still in the playoff hunt and so many of them desperate for starting pitching, the chances of anyone decent not being claimed long enough for the Dodgers to get a crack are somewhere between “you’ve won a date with Megan Fox!” and “Obama and Rush Limbaugh to bake s’mores at sleepover”. If you can’t get the starters to go deeper into games, then the only solution is to have a ton of good arms to pick up those extra innings, and with guys like Troncoso, Sherrill, Kuo, Belisario, and McDonald in front of Broxton, that’s a deep and talented crew. However…

2) If you’re counting on your bullpen so heavily, they could always use some help. Guillermo Mota’s quickly turning back into a pumpkin (9.95 ERA and 1.200 OPS against in his last 8 appearances), Ramon Troncoso’s coming off a Braves series in which he got 2 outs and allowed 6 runs, and Jonathan Broxton’s allowed runs in 3 of his last 6 appearances, blowing 2 saves - plus you can never, ever count on Hong-Chih Kuo to be healthy for more than the next pitch.

I’m not suggesting that any of this is due to overuse, nor am I claiming it’s not – it’s just the simple facts of the statistics. The point is, if you’re going to rely on your bullpen to get you to October, it’s never a bad idea to have as many quality arms as you can. So getting back to Speier… 


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3) Justin Speier’s better than his raw stats claim. A 5.03 ERA last year and a 5.18 ERA this year hardly inspire confidence, I grant you. But since the Angels unconditionally released him, he’d come at the prorated veteran minimum for the remainder of the year, and I don’t think he’s done yet. FanGraphs, hit me with some info:

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.

But while he was very effective between 2004-07, his ERA has exploded in the last two years. How do you explain that? Seems that it’s almost entirely due to his increased HR rate, which isn’t a very good indicator of skill.

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.

Which means…

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.

Even if Speier isn’t one of the top 7 Dodger relievers worth giving a playoff spot to – he likely wouldn’t be – he could still be useful enough in eating up some innings for the last 6 weeks of the season, while saving the more valuable arms for October. (Yes, there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that instead of signing the possibly-dead veteran, any number of young minor league arms could come up and serve the same purpose. I think we all know that’s not going to happen, so this is another alternative.) Even in this, the lousy year that got him released, he’s still killing righties, keeping them under .700 in OPS, so he’s clearly got something left – and that’s in the tougher league.

If he wants to stay close to home, yet stay in the playoff race and join a team that could always use bullpen reinforcements, it’s the perfect fit. 

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