I chuckled at people who complained about Will Smith after blowing one save against the Nationals over the weekend. Before that moment, he had posted a minuscule 0.95 ERA in his last 19 appearances. However, I did understand where people were coming from to a degree. With a primarily two-pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, Smith doesn’t have closer’s stuff, especially in today’s game. I’ve always thought of him as more of a seventh- or eight-inning guy, and after blowing another save last night in which he again looked skittish on the mound, it might be time for Brian Snitker to re-evaluate his options.
This is the obvious Will Smith replacement. Rodriguez was closing games for the Pirates before being traded to the Braves; he’s also been stellar since making the move, allowing no runs and just four baserunners over seven innings. However, he was struggling before being traded, and there were signs that it was due to the ban on foreign substances. Rodriguez also blew three of his 17 save opportunities with the Pirates, and he doesn’t exactly have punch-out stuff either. He’s averaging just 7.1 strikeouts per nine this season, and that number is down to 3.9 since arriving in Atlanta. I’m not against giving Rodriguez the opportunity to shut the door, but fans should temper their expectations with him. I don’t believe he’s a substantial upgrade over Smith.
Before the season, I predicted Tyler Matzek would take over the role as a closer. He undoubtedly has the nastiest stuff coming out of the ‘pen; I mean, just look at this graph from Baseball Savant.
At this moment, the only reason I am hesitant to make Matzek the closer is because of the case of the yips he suffered from for years before joining the Braves. Sometimes, there’s no reason to mess up a good thing. With how volatile relief pitching is and Matzek’s history, it may be best to leave him in his set-up role where he is clearly comfortable.
The Braves are currently stretching Ynoa out to be a starter again in the minors, but I could see them putting him in the bullpen out of necessity. I’ve always thought Ynoa would be an elite late-inning reliever if things didn’t work out as a starter, and while I still believe he will be a long-term member of the Braves rotation, this is where he fits best in the short-term. His high-90s fastball and wicked slider could dominate teams at the end of games. Given the Braves’ options, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Snitker gave him an opportunity to see how he handles it.
Now, I was originally only going to talk about potential Will Smith replacements in this article, but while I was writing it, some interesting information was revealed to me. Apparently, Smith’s been tipping his pitches, and opponents have caught on.
Votto was showing a teammate, or a coach, in the dugout, that Smith is tipping his pitches. After seeing him do that, there is a clear difference with his front shoulder on a fastball and slider.
— Matt Traylor (@ballcardz) August 12, 2021
This is actually good news because it is something the Braves can check out on film and fix. That should give Smith much more confidence next time he’s on the mound, and it might just save his job as the team’s closer.
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