The Angels needed to make a big move to fix their flagging bullpen. So they went out and signed a guy with most unassuming name ever, Joe Smith. But don't let his anonymity fool you, the Halos might finally have found the guy to stabilize their middle relief.
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
Perhaps it is because of his boring name or his style of pitch, but Joe Smith has been one of the top middle relievers in baseball the last three years and nobody really seemed to notice. He's posted an ERA under 3.00 for three years straight and been worth two wins, which is pretty dang good for a middle reliever.
Being a submariner tends to make people not take a guy too seriously. It is kind of a gimmicky delivery, so people respond to it as if the pitcher was used in a gimmicky fashion. That's not the case for Smith who has progressively been exposed to more and more left-handed batters. That peaked in 2013 as he faced 128 lefties versus 131 righties. He did so with great success, limiting lefties to a .309 wOBA versus .270 against righties. He actually struck out lefties as a much higher rate (22.7% vs. 19.1%) though he also walked them more (10.9% vs. 6.9%) and allowed more homers (4 vs. 1), but that's not entirely unexpected and is entirely tolerable.
That ability to handle all types of batters finally got him noticed when Jerry Dipoto went against his own word to spend big on middle relief, handing Smith a three-year, $15.75 million deal.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
Smith was very good in 2013, but he had a big gap between his ERA (2.29) and FIP (3.60). Smith has shown an ability to outperform his FIP on a yearly basis (the smallest gap between his ERA and FIP came in 2008 when he had a 3.55 ERA and 3.97 FIP), so there is a pretty real possibility that the projection systems just don't "get" him.
I say this because the largest projection gap on his ERA and FIP is CAIRO at 0.43. That might invalidate those projections right from the get go, but it could just be that Smith has a horseshoe up his butt. Otherwise, they are all pretty much in sync with his peripherals. They differ on a few strikeouts here, a few walks there, but they are mostly in agreement.
The only real standout is Steamer, which thinks he is going to give up a lot more hits than usual. That is all BABIP related with Steam forecasting a .297 BABIP for him even though his career BABIP is .272 and has never been over .282 (which was last year), save for his rookie season when he was a much different pitcher.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
I largely agree, but I just think Smith is going to be a little less lucky than he was in Cleveland. That 2.29 ERA just isn't going to happen, especially since he had an absurd 86.3 LOB%. That's going to come back to earth. I'm a little bit in Steamer's camp with the hits, though not as extreme. Smith is a groundball heavy pitcher and the Angels infield defense is a bit spotty with Freese and a healing Pujols at first and an inconsistent Aybar at short. Plus, I just always assume bad luck because I am a pessimistic jerk.
What are the known unknowns?
The one thing we really don't know about Smith is how Scioscia intends to use him. Smith saw a lot of lefties last season, but that doesn't mean Scioscia is going to let that be the case quite so much in Anaheim as he should have more options at his disposal with (hopefully) Sean Burnett and maybe Brian Moran at the ready. If Smith is used on more of a matchup basis, I can very much see him beating my projections.
Even if Smith sees that same even split, he should be OK. The reason I say that is because Smith is actually kind of a different pitcher against lefties than he is against righties. This is a shift he made in recent years. Against righties, he is mainly a sinkerballer, throwing that about 60% of the time. But against lefties, he relies more on his four-seamer, dropping his sinker usage down to about 25%. That leads to more flyballs, which is where playing in the Big A will be good for him.
The only concern I have about that is that lefties might catch on to him. As a submariner, lefties get a chance to see the ball a lot better off of Smith than the standard righty. Now that they've seen him doing that more and more, they can sit on his four-seamer, which would be bad news for him if he continues to be exposed to lefties so heavily.