By now, you should have heard. The Braves just inked the best reliever on the market to a multi-year, lucrative contract, which could mean they are finally willing to spend some money and invest in the team for the long-term. Or this could be the only substantial splash of the offseason. We will have to wait and see, but for now, there’s a reason to be optimistic in Braves Country, as the team just patched up their most glaring weakness from last year in resounding fashion.
Smith has been with the Giants since the middle of 2016 when he was traded from Milwaukee. The towering, 6’5″, 250-pound southpaw features primarily a two-pitch repertoire that consists of a fastball and slider but will occasionally mix in a curveball or changeup. His fastball sits in the low to mid-90s but is really there to keep batters honest. The slider is his out pitch, which he throws over 40% of the time, and it’s particularly deadly against left-handed bats.
Smith’s splits are insane. That had to be a key factor in this signing, considering the Braves lack lefties coming out of the ‘pen in general but especially a dominant one. Jerry Blevins is now a free agent, and Sean Newcomb could be making his way back to the rotation. Either way, Newcomb isn’t exactly a left specialist. This was one of the Braves’ most apparent needs, and they went all out in addressing it.
Take a look at Smith’s numbers versus left-handed hitters:
K/BB – 42.00 (Yes, 42 strikeouts to 1 walk)
Batting Average – .157
On-Base Percentage – .167
Slugging Percentage –.229
OPS – .395
In 72 plate appearances, Smith surrendered a grand total of 16 bases to left-handed opponents, and he wasn’t too much worse against righties either:
K/BB – 2.70
Batting Average – .212
On-Base Percentage – .297
Slugging Percentage – .412
OPS – .709
Obviously not as ridiculous, but still pretty damn effective no matter who is in the box.
Overall, Smith is an intimidating figure on the mound that strikes out opponents at will (see what I did there). Last season, he struck out batters on over 37% of his outs – good for a 13.2 K/9 innings. His walk numbers have remained relatively low his entire career, and he knows how to keep the ball in the ballpark.
Midway through 2018, Smith took over the closing duties for the Giants and never gave the job back. He saved 14 out of 18 games in 2018 but was a much better 34/38 in 2019. However, as things stand now, the Braves plan to use his former teammate, Mark Melancon, in the closer’s role to open the 2020 season. Melancon was 11 for 11 in save opportunities with Atlanta after being acquired from San Francisco right before the trade deadline, but we will see how long he remains the ninth-inning man. Smith seems like the better option to close ball games, and Melancon is only under contract for one more year. Eventually, this will be Smith’s job to lose, whether it happens in 2020 or beyond.
On the free-agent market for relievers, Smith was the biggest land outside of Aroldis Chapman, who never really hit the open market. He quickly re-worked his deal with the Yankees. Now, the Braves have a wealth of talent in their bullpen heading into 2020, including three guys who can close games in Mark Melancon, Will Smith, and Shane Greene. Sean Newcomb could also be apart of the ‘pen, and guys like Luke Jackson and Jacob Webb will be back as well. With this addition, the Braves might have the best bullpen in the MLB next year, which is a far cry from where they were entering 2019.