clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

40 in 40: You should join the Gabe Speier Fan Club, whatever it’s called

Gabe Gang rise up!

Los Angeles Dodgers v. Seattle Mariners Photo by Liv Lyons/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Mariners bullpen has been a tough place to stand out lately. Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash are the stars. Gregory Santos is the hot new thing. You’ve got Maple Valley’s own Tayler Saucedo as the local kid made good. Paul Sewald was the People’s Pitcher, and Justin Topa inherited that rags-to-riches mantle as the journeyman reliever who showed up to Seattle and remade his career with a devastating four-seamer/sweeper combo. We even gave him a nickname, Topaz, because he was a gem.

Gabe Speier doesn’t have a nickname. Maybe that’s because he’s usually the one who gives them out, but I think it’s more about his anonymity. Heck, most Mariner fans are probably uncertain as to how to pronounce his actual name. (I have a running bit on Meet at the Mitt where I say it both ways, but I do this out of love. The correct pronunciation is “spire,” not “spear.” Here he is saying it himself.) Befitting his stature (for a pitcher anyway), Speier flew under the radar this year.

Of course that stature is another reason Speier doesn’t get his due, and it shows. I know you animals all love Cal Raleigh because of his “excellent defense” and his “drought-ending home runs” and his “glorious fanny.” But for the Gabe Gents, he’s an enemy because this is just disrespectful:

He may not have the narrative, but the true Gabe Girlies know Speier’s got a journeyman story just as compelling as Sewald’s or Topa’s. He was drafted all the way back in 2013, and it took until 2023 for him to have his first successful MLB season. Don’t give up on your dreams, folks! He’s been around so long that when he was included in the notorious Shelby Miller trade in 2015, it was already the third trade he’d been part of. Not that much was made of his inclusion. When FanGraphs wrote three separate articles about that trade, Jeff Sullivan’s 1,500 words was the only one that mentioned him at all, which was limited to the line “[Arizona] also got Gabe Speier, who is a player.”

Years later, he made his way to the Mariners because he was available on waivers last November, having failed to flourish in the Royals bullpen. This reflects the Royals’ incompetence as much as Speier’s track record, but still: the 2022 Kansas City Royals thought they could do better. This is like that guy wearing a t-shirt that says “Release the Snyder Cut!” in his Hinge profile swiping left on you.

But ever since he was promoted to Seattle to take Robbie Ray’s spot on the 26-man in April, he’s been the Mariners’ secret weapon. He started accumulating Gabe Babes right away by striking out his very first batter, who by the way, had the second-best contact rate in both 2022 and 2023.

Speier didn’t give up a single run across his 12 April games. Maybe we should have seen it coming. Our own secret weapon, Becca Weinberg, chose him for her 40 in 40 last year, which is a pretty big green flag. And he continued that excellence all year, striking out 29.6% of the batters he faced while walking just 5.1%—that’s a 96th percentile K%-BB%—and picking up a team-leading three Sun Hat Awards.

He was particularly deadly against lefties. On broadcasts, Aaron Goldsmith and Dave Sims liked to relay a story about Speier’s first phone call with pitching coach Pete Woodward last November. Woody asked why Speier was throwing his four-seamer to lefties so much, to which Speier didn’t really have an answer. Woody insisted that Speier’s sinker was his best pitch and that if he threw it inside to lefties more often, he’d have more success. He did, and Speier started missing even the contact-heaviest bats:

Don’t mistake him for a lefty specialist though. He was plenty good against righties too, like when he preserved a one-run lead to close out the Mariners’ sweep in Houston.

A key to all this success was being the very best in baseball at getting first-pitch strikes. He was so good at this that he stays on top of the leaderboard even if you set the minimum threshold to 10 innings pitched. As the Gabe Guys know, once he was ahead in the count, it was easy to get hitters chasing his slider. Of the 357 pitchers who threw at least 50 innings, he was second (second!) in getting guys to swing outside the zone. This is one of the best things a pitcher can do, practically ensuring a whiff or bad contact. There’s a reason the strike zone is where it is. That propelled him to the top 10% in getting swinging strikes, like this one:

That was from the Seattle’s final series, a successful one for Speier if not the team. While the rest of the Mariners were farting their way to an October on the couch in that crucial ten-game stretch against the Rangers and Astros to end the season, Gabe Speier was as steady as he’d been all year: 5.1 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K.

There are still plenty of hobbit holes available for purchase on the Speier Shire, and it’s the perfect time to buy. While we should always expect a little regression from a guy who comes out of nowhere, I don’t know how true that is for Speier; he was good by ERA and FIP, but the more predictive xFIP, SIERA, and DRA- had his 2023 as elite, fifth, third, and 11th in MLB, respectively. The best may be yet to come for both Speier and his Gabe Groupies. Despite his lengthy history, he’s still only 28 and is under club control for four more years. So become a Speier Buyer today—he’s a good long-term investment.