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Second Thoughts: An ode to the underrated Joe Smith

Side-arming reliever is never given his due credit

Second Thoughts: An ode to the underrated Joe Smith
Joe Smith (Photo:
June 7, 2013
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On a day when everyone will be talking about the Indians’ new 18-year-old wunderkind Walt “Clint” Frazier, I elected to set aside this edition of Second Thoughts as a tribute to one of the least discussed—and yet most reliable—members of the current Tribe roster.

For five years now, this Ohio native has done his job here in Cleveland with escalating efficiency. But for a combination of reasons both rational and perplexing, when the discussion of “new roles” comes up in the Indians bullpen, his name—a name cursed by its inescapable dullness, mind you-- is consistently neglected. Such is life for a man called Joe Smith.

On Wednesday, Smith’s role and the entire make-up of the Tribe bullpen became even hazier when numerous “reputable” media sources reported that closer Chris Perez had been “arrested” for having some sort of arsenal of wacky tobacky in his Rocky River home. On further examination, it now seems just as likely that Perez—merely “under investigation” at this point—could worm out of this legal situation with minimal consequences, due to the small amount of drugs actually involved and the questionable background of the property owner he was renting from. It’s too early to tell at this point. But whether Perez ends up in the joint for his joint or not, he remains sidelined with the shoulder injury that landed him on the DL last month, leaving the Cleveland bullpen no less dazed and confused, so to speak.

Not surprisingly, some second-guessers are already bemoaning the Indians’ decision not to trade Perez and his $7 million dollar contract over the offseason. For the most part, though, the majority of the conversation this week has revolved around the best way to restructure the beleaguered Bullpen Mafia to keep the floundering Tribe afloat going forward.

Step one, it seems generally agreed upon, is the hunt for at least one, if not two, situational left-handers to replace the unmitigated disaster that Hagadone/Hill/Barnes have been thus far. Beyond that, the main area of some contention seems to be whether 2013’s version of Vinnie Pestano—he of the reduced velocity—is still the best choice to take Perez’s throne. The most popular would-be usurper for the title, meanwhile, is not the veteran 7thinning man Smith, but 24 year-old Cody Allen, who’s currently fanning nearly 12 batters per nine innings out of a middle relief role.

Ignoring the fact that the Indians’ all-time saves leaders list is topped by the likes of Bob Wickman and Doug Jones, the general thinking is that Joe Smith “doesn’t have closer stuff” and that a power arm is just better suited to the role. Personally, I consider the whole concept of closers and save statistics kind of misguided and unnecessary anyway, so I’m hardly frustrated with the thought of Smith continuing to work in the random scenarios in which he can have the greatest impact on the game. I suppose the only question I am raising is: if a closer is supposedly your best relief pitcher, and Joe Smith is your best relief pitcher right now, why not consider Joe Smith as your closer?

For much of his career, the thinking with Smith—beyond the lack of power stuff—was that his sidearm style was effective mainly on right-handed batters, but left him vulnerable to left-handers getting a long look at the ball. In fairness, the statistics backed this up early in his career. For a few years now, however, that argument simply doesn’t seem to hold up any longer.

Joe Smith: Righty/Lefty Splits 2010-2013

…………..vs. Righties……..… vs. Lefties

2010…. .160/.264/.274 …… .342/.479/.500

2011…. .248/.303/.280 …… .152/.244/.215

2012…. .209/.289/.311 …… .218/.288/.297

2013…. .182/.229/.242 …… .212/.297/.364

Dating back to the 2011 season, Smith has owned lefties just about as well as he’s frustrated the righties. Through 22 appearances this season, his K rate (8.8 per 9IP) and K/BB ratio (3.80) are also well above his career averages. Basically, he’s a guy you bring in late in a game to get people out, regardless of which box they’re standing in. Theoretically, that pretty well describes a closer’s key requirements, as well.

Make no mistake. This is not any sort of impassioned plea for the criminally underappreciated Joe Smith to leap-frog Vinnie Pestano or even Cody Allen in the hearts of the closer-nominating public. If anything, it’s just an off-day nod of respect for one of the few positive constants (knock on wood) during a rollercoaster season. Keep up the good work, Joe. We know you’ve saved the day more than any arbitrary stat would indicate.

User Comments

June 7, 2013 - 8:19 AM EDT
I could see Allen, Smith, or Pestano as a future closer for this team. Or a present closer, if necessary.

I think they prefer to bring Smith in to put out fires rather than start the 9th inning. Being a veteran and a guy who can induce ground balls, he's the choice when there are runners on base and we need to get out of the inning.

Although Cody Allen might be even better suited for that role due to his ability to get K's.

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