Sunday Notes: Southpaw Speier Found Success in Seattle

If you’re not a Mariners fan — or even if you are — there is a pretty decent chance you don’t know that Gabe Speier, along with Toronto’s Tim Mayza, made the most appearances among junior-circuit southpaws during the regular season. And not only did Speier come out of the Seattle bullpen 69 times, he performed admirably far more often than not. The 28-year-old nephew of former big-league infielder Chris Speier logged a 3.79 ERA and a 3.35 FIP with 64 strikeouts and just 48 hits allowed in 54-and-two-thirds innings.

This isn’t his first appearance in Sunday Notes. Back in August 2015, I quoted the then-20-year-old shortly after he’d been traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Detroit Tigers as part of the Rick PorcelloYoenis Cespedes deal. I asked the itinerant hurler — the Mariners are his sixth organization — how he’d describe his path from late-round draft pick to reliable big-league reliever.

“It’s been crazy,” replied Speier., whom Boston took in the 19th round of the 2013 draft out of Goleta, California’s Dos Pueblos High School. “My path has included being traded many times, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve made a lot of friends in every organization I’ve been in, and I’ve learned a lot from many different coaches. Seattle was another fresh start for me, and I feel like I’m a good spot here.”

Speier came into into the season having made 41 big-league appearances, all with the Kansas City Royals from 2019-2022. He put up decent numbers in that four-year span— a 3.83 ERA and a 4.23 FIP over 40 innings — but that was while shuttling between KC and Triple-A Omaha. By and large, the 5-11 lefty was a 4-A reliever without a firm foothold in MLB relevancy.

When we spoke this summer, I asked Speier what’s behind his newfound success.

“A lot of it is them telling me my stuff is big-league stuff and that I just need to throw it in the zone,” was his reply. “I know that’s Pitching 101, but while it was always in the back of my mind that I needed to get ahead of hitters, and stay ahead, the Mariners put it in the forefront of my mind. That’s been the main goal since I got here. It’s kind of become my main identity, that I’m going to pound the zone.”

The numbers show that he did just that. Speier issued just 1.81 walks per nine innings, fourth lowest among relievers who threw at least 50 innings. And he wasn’t exactly tossing cookies over the middle. His 10.54 strikeouts per nine innings were higher than the three pitchers who finished in front of him for walk rate.

Throwing strikes is obviously a big part of Pitching 101 — it always has been, and always will be — but at the same time, this is 2023 and the Mariners are an analytically-inclined organization. One would expect that they had more ideas up their proverbial sleeves when they brought Speier on board. According to the November 2022 waiver-wire acquisition, that’s not necessarily true.

“I had never been with an organization where the analytics were a main part, so I was kind of expecting them to be like, ‘Oh, if you change your grip here you can get more movement,’ or whatever,” said Speier. “But that wasn’t the case. They basically just told me that my stuff was already good, so I just needed to throw it in the zone. The way I’m going about that is by creating a bigger target instead of trying to be perfect. There is location involved — I’m not trying to just throw it down the middle — but instead of picking corners, I’m kind of picking thirds.”

He’s also been pitching effectively in the big leagues. As recently as a year ago, he wasn’t sure another opportunity to do so was in the cards.

“I got sent down last [June] and really struggled in Triple-A,” said Speier, whose numbers with Omaha included an ugly 14.51 ERA over 30 appearances. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it back to the big leagues. Thankfully the Mariners picked me up and gave me a shot. Like I said, it’s kind of been a crazy path.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Hank Aaron went 5 for 6 against Carroll Sembera.

Carroll Hardy went 8 for 18 against Joe Nuxhall.

Corbin Carroll is 6 for 11 against Yu Darvish.

Jamey Carroll went 6 for 10 against Will Smith.

Baby Doll Jacobson went 6 for 10 against Ownie Carroll.

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Asked in late August about pennant races, Dusty Baker said that while he watches the scoreboard and roots for certain teams, what happens in other games is beyond your control — all you can do is try to play good consistent baseball and see who comes out on top. In the same sit-down with reporters, the 74-year-old veteran of 26 managerial seasons brought up how he’d been in pennant races as a young manager. I asked him if he approaches things any differently now.

“No,” replied Baker, whose Houston Astros went on to capture the AL West title on the final day of the season and are now on the doorstep of the World Series. “It’s the same. A race is a race. Anybody ever ran a race, anybody ever ran track, [knows] a race is a race. You just do what you can do. As a young manager, like I said, my first year [1993 with the San Francisco Giants] was exciting. You’re extremely tired in a race like this, emotionally tired. You’re just hoping to find the most energy, the most consistent energy… I like a good fight.”

Following up, I asked Baker if the excitement is any different now that he’s experienced it so many times over the years. His answer was classic Dusty.

“Nah,” said Baker, who won a World Series as an outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, and [finally] his first as a manager with the Astros last year. “I like to win. I’m spoiled by winning. It’s no different now than when I was a kid. That’s why I asked to be traded from the Braves as a young player: I was tired of losing. It was the same way when I was playing Cowboys and Indians. I wanted to be the Native Americans, because I was tired of watching TV and seeing the Indians lose all the time. I’m serious.”

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A quiz:

Who holds the record for most home runs by a player who spent his entire big-league career with only one team?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Jin Wong, who has been with the organization for two-plus decades, most recently as an VP of Baseball Administration/Assistant GM, is reportedly leaving the Kansas City Royals. Wong has served multiple roles since coming to KC in 2020.

Mike McCarthy won’t be returning to the Oakland Athletics coaching staff next season. The 35-year-old, analytically-inclined instructor — interviewed about his craft here at FanGraphs in August 2022 — was the club’s bullpen coach this past season.

The Tampa Bay Rays have promoted Blake Butera to Senior Director of Player Development. The 31-year-old Boston College product has been a minor-league player, coach, manager, and assistant field coordinator in the organization.

Jeff Peterek, a right-handed pitcher whose big-league career comprised seven appearances for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989, died last weekend at age 60. The Michigan City, Indiana native went 0-2 with a 4.02 ERA.

Bob Priddy, who pitched for six big-league teams from 1962-1971, died in late September at age 83 (per Baseball Player Passings). A right-hander who posted a 4.00 ERA over 536 innings, he recorded nine of his 24 wins, and 12 of his 18 saves, with the Atlanta Braves.

Pete Ladd, a right-handed reliever who logged 17 wins and 39 saves while playing for six big-league teams from 1979-1986, died earlier this week at age 67. The Portland, Maine native had 25 of his saves with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1983. He made one appearance in the 1982 World Series.

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The answer to the quiz is Mike Schmidt, who hit 548 home runs while playing exclusively with the Philadelphia Phillies. Mickey Mantle (536 with the New York Yankees) and Ted Williams (521 with the Boston Red Sox) have the next highest one-team-only totals.

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Which former manager is more worthy of the Hall of Fame, Jim Leyland or Lou Piniella? I posed that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, and the result wasn’t nearly as close as I’d expected it to be. More on that in a moment.

Both are the on the recently-announced, eight-person, 2024 Contemporary Baseball Era Committee Managers/Executives/Umpires ballot, which my colleague Jay Jaffe broke down earlier this week. There are two other managers on the ballot as well, but while Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson are likewise solid candidates, Leyland and Piniella having the most managerial wins among the foursome made them a logical poll matchup. Counting the postseason, those totals are Piniella 1,858, Leyland 1,813, Johnson 1,397, Gaston 912.

More than raw win totals matter when assessing a managerial career, and it bears noting that Gaston has two World Series championships on his resume (and was the first Black manager to win a Fall Classic) while the others have just one. Again, both he and Johnson are likewise strong candidates.

As for the poll, Leyland received a hefty 74.9% percent of the votes cast, while Piniella garnered just 25.1%. What that might mean when the official votes are tabulated on December 3 during the Winter Meetings is anyone’s guess.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Hanshin Tigers will face the Orix Buffaloes in NPB’s championship series, which begins next weekend. The Tigers, which had the Central League’s best record, beat the Hiroshima Carp to advance. The Buffaloes, which boasted the Pacific League’s best record and will be looking to defend their title, beat the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Kazuma Okamoto led NPB players in home runs this year with 41. The 27-year-old Yomiuri Giants third baseman/first baseman slashed .278/.374/.585.

The NC Dinos defeated the Doosan Bears 14-9 in the KBO’s wildcard game. Ho-cheol Seo went 3-for-4 with a home run and six RBIs for the winners, who go on to face SSG Landers in the next round beginning today.

Si-hwan Roh led KBO players in home runs this year with 31. The 22-year-old Hanwha Eagles third baseman slashed .298/.388/.541.

Samad Taylor has nine hits in 29 at-bats for the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Yaquis de Obregon. The 25-year-old infielder/outfielder made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals in June and logged a dozen hits in 60 at-bats.

Derrick Loop has made three scoreless relief appearances for Charros de Jalisco. The oldest pitcher in the Mexican Pacific Winter League at age 39, the southpaw is in his 18th professional season, including six in affiliated ball stateside. Loop led Sunday Notes on October 16, 2016.

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Bobby Scales joined the Detroit Tigers radio team as a part-time analyst this past season, working alongside esteemed play-by-play voice Dan Dickerson for a selection of road games. Before entering the broadcast booth, the 40-year-old University of Michigan product played professionally for 14 seasons — including parts of two with the Chicago Cubs — and he also spent time in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s front office. It was during his tenure as the team’s director of player of development that he gave an opportunity to an independent-league pitcher who two years earlier had gone un-drafted out of Ohio State University.

“We needed pitching really bad at the lower levels;” Scales said of the 2013 signing. “I had an intern named Andrew Mack — I think he’s with the Red Sox now — and I asked him to put together a spreadsheet of guys who were leading indie ball in all of these different categories. From there we saw that Drew Rucinski was punching everybody out, so we started asking, ‘How is he doing it?’ We had a rudimentary scouting stuff in place for indie ball when I was with the Angels, the reports were good, and I saw a little bit of tape.

“He was with the Rockford Aviators,” continued Scales. “I talked to his manager, and from there I pulled the trigger. I signed Rucinski on a Tuesday, he flew out on Wednesday and did a little knock-the-rust-off touch and feel when he got on the ground, and then we started him on Friday. This was in A-ball with Inland Empire. He punched out seven or eight, and from there he just kept getting better.”

The following year, Rucinski was promoted to Double-A Arkansas where he went 10-6 with a 3.15 ERA in 26 starts. In July of that season, Scales got a call from Jerry Dipoto, who was the Angels’ GM at the time. The big-league club needed another arm in the bullpen, and what could he give him on Rucinski? A few days later, the righty out of indie ball made his MLB debut.

Nine years later, Rucinski’s resume includes 45 big-league games, 159 more in the minors, and (from 2019-2022) another 121 with the KBO’s NC Dinos. He made four starts this year with the Oakland Athletics before undergoing season-ending back surgery in July.

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FARM NOTES

Chase Petty had a 1.72 ERA and a 2.32 FIP between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga. The 20-year-old right-hander in the Cincinnati Reds organization logged 66 strikeouts and allowed 63 hits in 68 innings. His FIP was the lowest among minor-league pitchers who threw at least 60 innings.

Enniel Cortez went 4-1 with a 1.58 ERA and a 2.64 FIP in the Dominican Summer League. The 17-year-old right-hander in the Milwaukee Brewers organization had 49 strikeouts and walked just five batters in 45-and-two-thirds innings. Cortez was signed out of Tola, Nicaragua in January.

James Triantos is 22-for-51 with three doubles, four triples, and two home runs for the Arizona Fall League’s Mesa Solar Sox. A second-round pick in 2021 out of Vienna, Virginia’s James Madison High School, the 20-year-old infielder in the Chicago Cubs system slashed .285/.363/.390 at High-A Sound Bend this season.

Carson Williams is 14-for-48 with two doubles for the Arizona Fall League’s Peoria Javelinas. Drafted 28th-overall by the Tampa Bay Rays out of San Diego’s Torrey Pines High School. the 20-year-old shortstop slashed .254/.351/.506 with 23 home runs for High-A Bowling Green.

Braden Nett has 16 strikeouts, and has allowed six hits and two runs in 13 innings, with the Javelinas. Signed as a non-drafted free agent by the San Diego Padres in 2022, the 21-year-old Troy, Missouri native had a 4.46 ERA over 40-and-a-third innings this year between the Arizona Complex League and Low-A Lake Elsinore.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At NW Baseball History, Amanda Lane Cumming wrote about how baseball games lasting too long is an opinion that dates back more than a century.

Trevor May lambasted understandably-abhorred Oakland A’s owner John Fisher while announcing his retirement earlier this week. Michael Nowels has the story at The Mercury News.

A Washington DC intersection is set to be renamed for Mamie “Peanut” Jackson, a two-way player with the Indianapolis Clowns who was the first female pitcher in the Negro Leagues. Stacy Jackson has the story at Black Enterprise.

MLB.com’s Mandy Bell had some pointed questions for Cleveland Guardians front office decision-makers Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff.

The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli wrote about how Kim Ng was a reluctant trailblazer, and why her Miami Marlins exit makes her even more impressive (subscription required).

The Fielding Bible has a sortable leaderboard for Defensive Runs Saved.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

George Frazier made three relief appearances for the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 World Series and was charged with a loss in all three, including the Game 5 clincher. The title was LA’s first since 1965 when they beat the Minnesota Twins in seven games, a Series in which every winning pitcher hurled a complete game.

Stan Musial had 24 hits, 25 walks, and one strikeout in 103 plate appearances against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944.

Jigger Statz recorded 4,093 professional hits in a career that spanned the 1919-1942 seasons. Born Arnold John Statz in Waukegan, Illinois, the outfielder logged 536 hits with the Chicago Cubs, 179 with the Brooklyn Robins, 22 with the New York Giants, and 3,356 with the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels.

Minnie Minoso slashed .339/.405/.539 with 40 doubles, 10 triples, and 20 home runs for the Pacific Coast League’s San Diego Padres in 1950. The PCL played a 200-game season that year with the Padres finishing 114-86, four games behind the pennant-winning Oakland Oaks. The San Francisco Seals finished 100-100.

Barry Bonds slashed .359/.526/.821 with 22 home runs in 255 career plate appearances versus the Milwaukee Brewers.

The San Francisco Giants traded Bobby Bonds to the New York Yankees in exchange for Bobby Murcer on today’s in 1974. Bonds, who was subsequently traded five more times in as many years, had 32 home runs and a 151 wRC+ in his lone season with the Yankees. Murcer hit 34 home runs with a 126 wRC+ over his two seasons with the Giants.

The Oakland Athletics beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-2 in Game 7 of the World Series on today’s date in 1972. Gene Tenace, who homered four times in the series, had a run-scoring single in the first inning and a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth inning.

On today’s date in 2011, Albert Pujols homered three times to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a 16-7 win over the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series. Each of the bombs came from the sixth inning on.

Players born on today’s date include Wilbur Wood, a knuckleballer who averaged 22 wins and 348 innings pitched with the Chicago White Sox from 1971-1974. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-born southpaw had averaged 80 appearances, 11 wins, and 17 saves working out of the ChiSox bullpen the previous three seasons.

Also born on today’s date was Chick Lathers, an infielder who saw action in 70 games for the Detroit Tigers between the 1910 and 1911 seasons. A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Charles Ten Eyck Lathers recorded the first of his 29 big-league hits off of White Sox Hall of Fame right-hander “Big Ed” Walsh.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

14 Comments
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Mitchell Mooremember
7 months ago

I went with Killebrew, having completely forgotten his lone, final season in KC. I figured Mantle and Schmidt for second and third, but I couldn’t remember which of them hit the most homers.

bosoxforlifemember
7 months ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

I first thought of Killebrew then remembered he spent a season with KC and it came down to Schmidt, 548, over Mantle, 536,in which case I knew the numbers.

PC1970
7 months ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

I did exactly the same.

Cardaughter Transtulli
7 months ago
Reply to  Mitchell Moore

The three leaders all feel like they played a season for the Astros in their late 30s.