Drew Smith’s 2021 season was a very up-and down experience. When he was pitching, he was consistently good, a surer hand out of the bullpen. Not without his momentary struggles, but then again, what reliever isn’t? But he once again had multiple injury struggles during the season, starting the year injured and ending it injured, as well. His consistency was sorely missed when he was out with injury, with his premature season’s end coinciding with the team’s downward turn in the standings—as well as Jacob deGRom and Francisco Lindor’s injuries, which definitely contributed more to the tumble.
Coming into 2022, Smith is healthy again and will in all likelihood break camp with the team, though he still has options remaining. He would really need to screw up in spring training to be sent to the minors, as the bullpen is currently constructed with him as one of the more assured, consistent players. And the Mets need Drew Smith to be good and healthy this season for the bullpen to have a shot, and his versatility and stability is an added bonus to an at times volatile group of relievers.
In his career, Smith has had a 3.18 ERA, a 4.41 FIP, with 7.78 K/9 and a 1.21 WHIP. He has a career 125 ERA+ in 76.1 innings pitched. He’s been a very good reliever in three seasons with the major league team, though one of those was the COVID shortened 2020 season in which he only threw 7 innings. That was his worst season, with an uncharacteristically high ERA at 6.43 and 5.76 FIP, which brought his ERA+ to a measly 70. However that season also saw him coming back from Tommy John surgery and being used very sporadically and confusingly by Luis Rojas.
His projections for 2022 seem to be dragged down a little by that small sample size season, as all the numbers are considerably higher than last season and hew closer to the 7 innings he pitched in 2020. ZiPS projects Smith to have a 4.32 ERA, a 4.54 FIP, with 9.50 K/9 and a 1.30 WHIP. These numbers suggest a less successful season for Smith, but with last season being such a good showing, there’s reason to hope that these projections might be underrating Smith a bit. He did have his issues in 2021, giving up more than a few home runs with some coming at inopportune times and walking a few too many batters, but he also had a career low in ERA (2.40) and BABIP (.212) and he averaged nearly 9 K/9.
Now, the bigger concern with Smith is the fact that he can’t seem to stay healthy for a whole season. He’s been in the major leagues for three years, and not a single one of those years has been a full season. The 2018 season he was called up halfway through the season, and he finished out the year with no injury issues. But he missed the entire 2019 season after having Tommy John surgery. He came back in the shortened 2020 season where he wasn’t able to have any consistency due to being shuttled back and forth between the alternate training site and the big league team, then he suffered an injury before the start of the 2021 season, causing him to miss the first month of the season. He then missed the final 6 weeks of the 2021 season due to a shoulder injury.
He’s been mostly good in his career, but Smith hasn’t been able to stay healthy for any full-length season. And the Mets, with a shaky bullpen yet again, need someone who can be consistently good. Smith would be that but he can’t be consistently healthy. If he can stay healthy for the whole season, he can become a cornerstone of the bullpen going forward. But already in Spring Training Smith has been dealing with minor foot soreness. And while he’s returned to game action in spring, it’s worrying to see Smith having yet another injury, and this time not in the arm he’s had trouble with before.
After this season, the Mets bullpen is likely to undergo a major transformation. Edwin Díaz, Trevor May, Seth Lugo, Miguel Castro, Adam Ottavino, and Trevor Williams will all be free agents, leaving Drew Smith as one of the last men standing. The Mets might try to re-sign at least some of these players, as they don’t have enough minor league pitching to completely rebuild the bullpen effectively. But even if just one or two of them leave, Drew Smith would probably become a much more integral member of the bullpen. And if he can’t stay healthy, the Mets bullpen not only becomes weaker now, but for the short-term future of the team.
Drew Smith is entering the season as one of the Mets most important question marks in the bullpen. He has shown his talent and skill, and if only the statistics were being looked at he’d be a lock for important innings. But his injury history is a concern, not only for him but for the present and future construction of the Mets bullpen. He is consistent when he is healthy, but he has struggled too much with injury for comfort. But if he can put the health concerns behind him, he could become an integral part of the Mets bullpen for years to come.