Josh Smoker was a quite emblematic member of the incredibly frustrating, highly disappointing unit that was the 2017 Mets bullpen. Though Smoker still displays the elite fastball velocity that helped make him a Number 1 draft pick of the Washington Nationals in 2007, and his flexibility (seven appearances of 2+ innings pitched) plus his handedness would seem to lend themselves to an appealing asset, the soon-to-be 29-year-old remained maddeningly inconsistent and quite unreliable in the 2017 campaign.
Smoker continued to rack up strikeouts in 2017—68 in 56.1 innings, to the tune of a 10.86 K/9—but gives too much of that value right back with his excessive walk rate—issuing 32 walks—7 of the intentional variety—leaving him with a 5.11 BB/9 rate. Smoker was sent down to Triple-A for a couple of weeks in mid-May after some early-season struggles. Shortly after his recall, Smoker—like seemingly every Mets pitcher in 2017—found himself on the disabled list for a spell, landing there in mid-June with a strained left shoulder. Surely his four-inning, 81-pitch mop-up outing in a 14-3 blowout loss to the Cubs didn’t help. Smoker didn’t return from the injury and his ensuing rehab assignment until late July.
You can parse Smoker’s numbers a bunch of different ways, but it’s hard to find many silver linings beyond the elite strikeout rate. Any hopes that he could at least be a serviceable LOOGY would be contradicted by his splits last year—over 28.1 innings, Smoker allowed a .276/.366/.482 batting line to lefties, whereas over an eerily similar 28 innings against righties, he surrendered an eerily similar .276/.381/.487 line.
While an optimist could point to the fact that Smoker posted a 2.63 ERA over his 27.1 second half innings, many of his underlying numbers remained in concert with his first half numbers, as his 4.26 second half xFIP vs. his 4.48 first half xFIP indicates. While his .370 BABIP and 67.1% LOB% improving to .329 and 87.6%, respectively, in the second half might have hinted at an element of first half unluckiness, the jump in his line drive percentage allowed from a 18.4% in the first half to 27.0% in the second seems less promising.
Given Smoker’s tantalizing talent and pedigree, and his ERA-based improvement over the second half of the season, he will likely be in the mix as a second lefty option out of the bullpen behind Jerry Blevins. Hopefully this offseason the Mets bring in more potential bullpen candidates than last offseason, and Smoker only forces his way into the 2018 major league bullpen by harnessing some of that tantalizing potential and showing some legitimate and sustained improvement