Where There’s John Smoltz, There Could Be Yankee Desire For a Bargain Pickup

August 10, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

John Smoltz was designated for assignment after the Yankees beat up on him on Thursday.

Should the Yankees look into signing this 42-year old pitcher who is coming off shoulder surgery and pitched to an ERA of 8.33 for the Boston Red Sox in 40 IP? The quick and easy answer would be, “Absolutely not” but my question is: Is that the right answer?

Boston was heralded for signing Smoltz, even though they guaranteed him $5.5 million. It didn’t work out for them, as Smoltz did not get the job done for the Red Sox. However, that was only 40 innings and he did just recover from shoulder surgery.

Could Smoltz be a useful pitcher down the stretch for the Yankees? There are quite a few indicators that you can use to see if a pitcher has seen his skills really decline or if he has just been hit with a stretch of bad luck.


The Negative Signs

In 2007 and 2008, Smoltz averaged 92.5 mph with his fastball. This season, his average fastball is down to 91.3 mph. This is a clear drop-off, but I don’t think that explains why he has struggled so much. For a pitcher with four other pitches, losing a little bit of velocity shouldn’t be too much to overcome.

His outside of the zone contact percentage is way up. It is sitting at 66.3 percent this season after being 46.8 percent for his career. To me, this indicates that his breaking stuff is down a bit, and batters are making contact with more regularity. This number is up quite a but from his career numbers, but is still right in line with league average (62.3 percent).


The Positive Signs

Smoltz has had very good control this season. He has walked only 2.03 batters per nine innings and has maintained a 3.67 K:BB ratio. That ratio ranks 16th among all starting pitchers, and the names above him are all pretty impressive.

The opposing hitters batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has been .390 against Smoltz, which is absurdly high and unsustainable. The defense behind him was quite bad, so that could account for some of it, but I don’t think you can expect his BABIP to stay above .320 or .330 going forward.

Smoltz has left a very small amount of runners on base. His left on base percentage has been 56.9 percent. Some might chalk this up to Smoltz being unable to buckle down and get outs with runners on base. I would chalk it up to him just being unlucky in these situations so far.

None of the advanced metrics have Smoltz pitching as poorly as his ERA suggests. His FIP has been 4.93, his xFIP has been 4.36, and his tRA+ has been 93. These metrics are all far more predictive than ERA. Going forward, ZiPS projection system likes him for an optimistic 3.54 FIP.


What does all this mean?

Smoltz has been basically league average this season, but has been terribly unlucky. Given the Red Sox use of advanced metrics, I’m surprised that they designated Smoltz for assignment.

From the numbers, I don’t see any reason to believe John Smoltz couldn’t be a league average starter or a better than average reliever going forward. If they were really lucky, he could pitch to that projected 3.54 FIP, which would make him a No. 2 starter in the AL East.

If the Yankees could sign John Smoltz for the league minimum, it would be a great low-risk move with a potential high reward.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section and I’ll be sure to answer them.

All stats were taken from Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, and Statcorner

readers comments

Yankee Tickets

Yankee Tickets

Shop Yankee

Shop Yankee