A recent e-mail exchange among friends about the crushing 5-4 loss to the Padres the other night got me researching what Joe Smith has done for the Mets this year. Here's what I've found, broken down by month:
- Smith had a stellar month of April: 12.1 innings, no earned runs, 14 strikeouts and a WHIP of just under 1. The kid looked like a phenom. Outstanding.
- In May, he pitched 11.1 innings and gave up four runs, but maintained a sub-1 WHIP and struck out 13. In fact, it was in one bad game against Milwaukee that he gave up three of those runs. A very good month all around.
- June was a horrible month for Joe Smith (and the rest of the team). In just 7.1 innings, Smith gave up 14 hits and walked 7, for a WHIP of 2.86. His 6 strikeouts were not bad for the number of innings, but he gave up 6 runs, all earned. Very bad when your job is to come in and get one to three outs. (Admittedly, these numbers are slightly inflated by the game against Detroit in which Smith got rocked while on mop-up duty, but they count all the same).
- July has not been great. Through Wednesday, Smith gave up 7 hits and 4 walks in 6.2 innings (1.65 WHIP). He surrendered 3 runs (2 earned) and one home run. He struck out just 3.
Still, lefties really have been hurting him (numbers are WHIP/AVG/OBP/SLG against):
- vs left-handed batter 1.97/.308/.438/.385
- vs right-handed batter 1.25/.225/.331/.324
After a great start to the year, Smith has regressed to the mean, and he is beginning to look like a "righty specialist." The thing is, the cumulative numbers against righties that appear above aren't necessarily amazing (WHIP and OBP especially) if he's going to be a specialist. It would be nice to see him get those down a little.
Finally, he has a great K/9 of 8.60 and a weak K/BB of 1.89.
Now I shall opine on these matters:
We should not forget that Smith is a rookie. He's just 23 years old, and he likely has a lot of unrecognized potential. Willie Randolph really did not baby him at all, which was good to see. From the start of the season, Randolph was bringing him into the game in high-pressure situations. And early on, at least, Smith was succeeding.
Having said that, though, I think Randolph quickly fell in love with Smith, and rightfully so--Smith was awesome in his first 17 appearances. But Randolph did the same sort of thing at the end of last year with Guillermo Mota, and it can be a real trap. It seems that Willie can't seem to cut back on playing certain guys (or take them out of the game early enough) even when they obviously have started to come back to Earth.
So where does Smith go from here? Does he become a guy who pitches to righties only? Does he figure out how to become more effective against lefties? (I have no numbers in front of me, but I seem to remember that Chad Bradford was surprisingly decent against lefties last year.)
Finally--and this is somewhat off-topic, but it is what sparked my interest in looking at some of these numbers--the Mets middle reliever I trust most in any truly high-leverage situation (against a righty or lefty) is Pedro "Pedro 2" Feliciano, with his 1.06 WHIP and .279 OBP against.