Josh Geer, Meatball Artist Extraordinare

Going into 2009, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of Josh Geer. He had thrown 27 excellent innings over five starts in late 2008, posting a 2.67 ERA and 3.91 FIP. His line drive rate (28.3%, yikes!) was a red flag, but there’s so much variance in LD% that 27 poor innings there wasn’t too much cause for concern.

I thought Geer could be a solid 3rd or 4th starter in a big league rotation, particularly if he threw half his games at Petco.

Alas, one year later, Geer fixed the line-drive issue (17.8% in 2009), but finds himself destined for the minors in 2010 after being outrighted off the 40-man roster.

What the hell happened?

Geer actually got lucky in 2009 (.274 BABIP), and posted a solid K/BB ratio (2.35), so that’s not the problem.

The problem is that Geer was historically incompetent at keeping the baseball from flying over the fence, giving up 27 homers in 102 2/3 innings.

It almost hurts to type those numbers. That’s 2.37 homers per nine, folks.

Only David Hernandez of the Orioles topped that, with 2.40 HR/9. The next highest? Braden Looper, all the way down at 1.80.

Hernandez and Geer were far, far, worse with the homers than any other pitcher in baseball.

Hernandez can at least point to his home park (hitter-friendly Camden Yards), division (the AL East), and inexperience (he was a rookie who started the year in Double-A) as excuses.

What’s Geer’s excuse? He’d pitched in the majors before, had a full year at Triple-A to prepare him, and he threw half his games at Petco Park, of all places. He was also facing the Giants as much as any other team.

There’s nothing Geer can say to defend himself, really. The bottom line is that his pitches got crushed on a far-too-regular basis.

With that established, the next question to answer is “How did this happen?”

How could a seemingly promising pitcher just fall apart?

When Geer first came up in 2008, he threw his fastball about 88 mph and his slider at 81. Both pitches lost about 2 mph in 2009, leaving Geer with a fastball that averaged about 86 and often crept down into the 83-84 mph range. Few pitchers with traditional arm angles can make that work. His slider fell to about 79 mph, and averaged half an inch less of horizontal movement, further damaging his effectiveness.

That led to these results:

Josh Geer’s Pitch Type Linear Weights (per 100 pitches)–2008-2009
2008                             2009
Fastball              1.12                               -1.72
Slider                   -.52                               -1.39
Changeup           .14                                 .16

Geer’s changeup also lost about 2 mph (from 77.5 to 75.7 mph), but since he kept his fastball-change velocity difference, that pitch didn’t lose much effectiveness.

Clearly, Geer needs to get his 2 mph back to regain his effectiveness.

Some people may point out that Geer’s HR/FB rate (19.4%) is way out of line and will regress, but I’m not sure. He’s so far out of the normal range, particularly given his home park, that I’m more likely to blame Geer’s lack of velocity.

After all, we can’t expect BABIP to regress unless a player has “MLB stuff.” A guy throwing an 83-88 mph fastball with little deception doesn’t really have “MLB stuff.”

Some may suggest that Geer should move to the bullpen to face more righties, but I don’t think that would help. His changeup was his best pitch, and he actually did a better job against lefties (1.75 HR/9) than righties (2.98 HR/9).

Unless he regains his velocity, Geer won’t be an effective MLB pitcher in any role for any team. If he does, however, I still see him as a competent 4th starter. 2009 may have destroyed his chances, however.

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