Tag: Will Smith

Yankees Free Agent Target: Will Smith

There’s a decent chance that the Yankees will have a couple of voids to fill in the bullpen for 2020. For one, we’ll find out about Aroldis Chapman’s opt out decision very soon. Additionally, though he only made one appearance this season, Dellin Betances is a free agent. So, the Yankees could be players for relievers in free agency even though that may not be the smartest way to fill out its roster.

One option is Will Smith, who the Yankees were interested in as the trade deadline approached a few months ago.

Background

Smith, a 30 year-old southpaw, was first drafted by the Rays in the 40th round out of high school in 2007 but didn’t sign. After one year at Gulf Coast Community College in Florida, the Angels picked Smith in the 7th round of the 2008 draft. This time, the lefty decided to go pro, though he wouldn’t last long in the Angels organization.

In the first of three trades of his career, the Angels dealt Smith and Sean O’Sullivan to the Royals for Alberto Callaspo in the summer of 2010. Smith debuted in the majors with Kansas City a couple of years later as a starter, though became a reliever for good by 2013.

Following the 2013 season, the Royals shipped Smith to Milwaukee in exchange for Nori Aoki. He spent two and a half seasons in the Brewers’ bullpen before he was traded once again, this time to San Francisco at the 2016 trade deadline. Now a free agent for the first time, the lefty reliever can finally choose his next destination.

Performance

Smith’s career as a starter didn’t last long. He made 16 starts for the Royals in 2012 (5.32 ERA/4.66 FIP) and one more start the next season, but that was it. His fastball velocity ticked up in the ‘pen, and the rest was history. Once he joined the Brew Crew, his career took off. His fastball went from 91.3 MPH as a rookie to 94.1 MPH as a reliever in Milwaukee.

In his first two years with the Brewers, Smith logged 129 innings and recorded impressive marks in strikeout rate (32.2 percent), ERA (3.21), and FIP (2.87). By FIP’s standards, Smith was a top-25 reliever in all of baseball during that period. But Smith wasn’t the same in 2016 as he didn’t make his first appearance until early June (more on that in a moment). Eventually, Milwaukee decided to sell and shipped him to the Bay Area.

Now, Smith wasn’t terrible in ’16 by any means. In fact, he pitched very well for the Giants down the stretch. After a 3.68 ERA/4.28 FIP and 23.9 percent strikeout rate in 22 innings with Milwaukee, he rebounded post-trade. The southpaw was better than ever with the Giants and had a 2.95 ERA/1.78 FIP and 34.7 percent strikeout rate after the move. All that occurred even as his fastball velocity dropped by nearly 1.5 MPH.

Smith missed all of 2017 with Tommy John Surgery, which perhaps was no surprise in retrospect after diminished velocity the year prior. When he returned mid-2018, however, he didn’t miss a beat. And not only did he return in stride, but he also was better than ever. Since he rejoined the Giants that summer, Smith has been arguably one of the ten best relievers in the majors. Here’s where he ranks in a few categories since returning from surgery:

  • fWAR: 3.3 (12th)
  • K-Rate: 35.8% (9th)
  • FIP: 2.71 (10th)
  • ERA: 2.66 (18th)

Unlike past seasons, Smith had a little bit of a platoon split in 2019. He was absolute death to lefties (-0.24 FIP and 58.3 percent K-rate!) but not so hot against righties (4.72 FIP and 29.2 percent K-rate). Perhaps it was just an anomaly, as he was pretty balanced against both sides from 2015 through 2018. During that time, Smith had a 2.64 FIP and 30.3 percent strikeout rate against righties and a 2.32 FIP and 36.2 percent strikeout rate vs. same-sided hitters.

Injury History

As already noted, Tommy John before the 2017 campaign is big one in his medical records. The good news is that he’s pitched nearly two full seasons since completing rehab without any issues. His fastball velocity hasn’t bounced back, but it’s been no matter. It’s not like he’s a flamethrower, anyway.

Prior to TJS, Smith tore a knee ligament during spring training in 2016. It was a freak injury that occurred as he lost his balance while he took off one of his shoes.

The weird knee injury is whatever, but it’s always reasonable to be worried about any pitcher’s arm health. Still, the fact that Smith has returned from major elbow surgery with a flourish seems promising.

His arsenal

Per Statcast, Smith is essentially a two pitch pitcher. He primarily throws a four-seamer (46.8%) and a slider (42.3%), but will mix in a curveball (9.0%) from time-to-time. A changeup (1.8%) is a rare occurrence.

I’ve already touched on this, but Smith won’t light up the radar gun with his fastball. It’s not a high-spin offering, either, as it’s in the 39th percentile in all of the league.

His slider is quite impressive, though. It’s got quite a bit more sweeping action than the typical lefty slider. The pitch’s horizontal movement is roughly four inches more than league average.

Even with seemingly just one plus pitch, Smith racks up punchouts. But that’s not all — Smith generates a lot of inefficient contact. In 2018, the lefty was in the 99th percentile of xwOBA. He fell to the measly 91st percentile this season in the same category. Interestingly, his Hard Hit percentage and Exit Velocity marks are mediocre.

Contract Estimates

We’re still waiting on figures to be published on Fangraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, and elsewhere. Once those are out, this post will be published to reflect those amounts. Something in the range of the contracts for Adam Ottavino (3 years, $27 million) or Zack Britton (3 years, $39 million) seems like a reasonable guess.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Of course, especially if Chapman and Betances depart. And, if the Yankees are really trying to not blow the budget, Smith will be a bit more cost-effective than Chapman, for instance.

Now, in a world where the luxury tax is treated like a salary cap, I think there’s something to be said about not spending too much money on a bullpen, as I touched on earlier today. That’s my concern with Smith, particularly with Ottavino and Britton already on fairly significant deals. But if money is not an object, the Yankees should sign Smith.

Los Angeles Dodgers Series Preview: 8/23 to 8/25

(MLB Gifs)

In what the Yankees hope is a World Series matchup, we get one of baseball’s oldest rivalries renewed. Beat LA!

Their Story Thus Far

At 85-44, the Dodgers have baseball’s best record, one game ahead of the Yankees. They are the presumptive favorite to represent the National League in the World Series for the third straight season.

Baseball’s hottest team has something for everyone: An MVP favorite in Cody Bellinger, the Cy Young leader in Hyun Jin Ryu, Maximum Muncy, MTV’s Dan Cortese. They’re second in position player WAR to the Astros and fourth in wRC+, first in the NL at 113. They have a 3.35 ERA as a team and have the best rotation in baseball.

The Dodgers are such a ridiculous collection of talent that they have a 25-year-old two-time All-Star that won Rookie of the Year just three years ago, yet he’s an afterthought (Corey Seager). The Yankees miss Walker Buehler this series, but they get LA’s other two ace-level starters.

Unfun fact for the Yankees: The Dodgers lead baseball with 12 walk-off wins and are coming off back-to-back walk-offs. Gulp.

Injury Report

The Dodgers have a busy 10-day IL with 1B David Freese, UTIL Kristopher Negron, OF Alex Verdugo and 1B Tyler White on there, in addition to RHPs Ross Stripling and Dylan Floro. None are likely for this series.

The Dodgers only have two players on the 60-day IL: Reliever Scott Alexander and starter Rich Hill, the latter who should be back in September.

Player Spotlight: Cody Bellinger

Son of two-time Yankees World Series champ Clay Bellinger, Cody has maintained the weirdest and most impressive streak in baseball. In every season a Bellinger has been in baseball, their team has made the World Series. Cody should make it 7-for-7 this year.

At just 24, Cody leads the NL with 6.9 fWAR and 8.0 bWAR and is batting an absurd .316/.413/.666. Formerly a constant strikeout victim, he’s cut his K rate to 16 percent and is walking 14 percent of the time. He’s tied for the MLB lead in home runs at 42. His uppercut swing is a marvelous thing to watch, and he plays elite defense at both first base and right field.

Even with two lefties going for the Yankees, he’s probably going to demolish some dingers and make some cool defensive plays this weekend. Here’s some video to prepare you.

Extra Spotlight: Will Smith

No, not that Will Smith. Not that Will Smith either. This Will Smith is the Dodgers rookie catcher hitting the ball like 2016 Gary Sanchez right now. Not hyperbole.

In just 28 games, he’s hitting .318/.392/.818 with 12 home runs, eight doubles and 31 RBI over just 102 plate appearances. Keep in mind, he’s solely a catcher. This is bonkers production from your backstop.

The 24-year-old was a top-100 prospect for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus going into the season. He supplanted incumbent catcher Austin Barnes with veteran former Yankee Russell Martin working as his backup (and occasional battery mate).

Potential Lineup

  1. A.J. Pollock, CF (.265/.332/.460, 106 wRC+)
  2. Max Muncy, 1B (.258/.375/.538, 137 wRC+)
  3. Justin Turner, 3B (.294/.378/.504, 132 wRC+)
  4. Cody Bellinger, RF (.316/.413/.666, 171 wRC+)
  5. Will Smith, C (.318/.392/.818, 197 wRC+)
  6. Corey Seager, SS (.272/.344/.465, 112 wRC+)
  7. Chris Taylor, LF (.271/.344/.476, 113 wRC+)
  8. Enrique Hernandez, 2B (.238/.309/.427, 92 wRC+)
  9. Pitchers Hitting!

Off the bench, the Dodgers feature Martin (72 wRC+), OF Joc freaking Pederson (109 wRC+), 1B/OF Matt Beaty (124 wRC+) and former Cardinal Jedd Gyorko (55 wRC+)

Pitching Matchups

Friday (10:10 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Dodgers) vs. Hyun Jin-Ryu (vs. Yankees)

Agreeing to the qualifying offer last offseason, Ryu was one of the least heralded free agent signings, yet he’s pitched his freaking mind out this year. He leads baseball with a 1.64 ERA in 148.1 innings, striking out 126 and walking just 18. He does everything well, allowing just 12 homers. His main problem in recent years has been injuries, but the southpaw has been healthy for most of the season.

Ryu has five distinct pitches: A four-seamer, changeup, cutter, sinker and curveball, each of which he uses between 11 and 28 percent of the time. His changeup has been one of the best in baseball this year, though all of his pitches are effective despite below-average velocity.

Ryu (Baseball Savant)

Saturday (4:05 PM ET) CC Sabathia (vs. Dodgers) vs. Tony Gonsolin (Rookie)

A rookie making just his fifth MLB appearance, Gonsolin looks like my dad attending a Grateful Dead concert in the 1970s. The 25-year-old is a former college outfielder and reliever who the Dodgers took and slowly turned into a starter. It’s been a success thus far: Gonsolin tore up the Minor Leagues before reaching the Majors in just his fourth professional season.

Gonsolin allowed six runs (four earned) in his debut and has allowed just two runs over 14 innings since, striking out 12 and walking just one. He works off a mid-90s fastball with high-spin before going to a mid-to-high 80s splitter and slider (and an occasional curveball).

Gonsolin (Baseball Savant)

Sunday (7:05 PM ET) Domingo German (vs. Dodgers) vs. Clayton Kershaw (vs. Yankees)

A three-time Cy Young winner will toe the rubber against the Yankees on Sunday as Kershaw makes his 23rd start of the season. In all 22 of his previous outings, he’s gone at least six innings.

Kershaw was in decline — for him — last year as his ERA rose to 2.73 for the first time since 2010. This season, he’s stemmed the aging curve by going 13-2 with a 2.71 ERA in a rising offensive environment. He made in back to the All-Star Game and raised his strikeout rate despite a continued decline in velocity.

How has Kershaw done it? He’s improved the separation between his fastball and slider while throwing the slider a heck of a lot as it’s his best pitch. He still has the same fastball-slider-curveball mix as he always.

He’s still essentially an ace, just with diminished velocity. Kershaw’s mistakes can get crushed more often now, but he doesn’t make many. I thought his back injuries would have spelled a less graceful decline, but he’s spitting in the face of Father Time.

Kershaw (Baseball Savant)

Bullpen Status

Here’s who they have:

RHPs: Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, Yimi Garcia, Dustin May, Casey Sadler
LHPs: Caleb Ferguson, Adam Kolarek

Jansen is their closer, though he’s blown six saves, which is more than he has the last two seasons combined. He’s flanked by Baez, Kelly and Garcia, with Kelly improving after a horrid start to his Dodgers tenure. If this team has any flaw, it’s the bullpen, though LA will be able to move some of their starters to the pen in the postseason.

May is their top pitching prospect and has often been referred to as Gingergaard. He’s taken his flamethrowing talents to the bullpen for the time being and I’d like to get a look at him in this three-game set.

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