This article has been a long time coming, and contrary to popular belief, it gives me no joy typing it. But we have finally reached the point where the Braves need to say good-bye to Will Smith.
The best way to describe Smith’s tenure as a Brave is non-stop heart attacks with a hint of glory. But man, did that glory taste oh-so sweet. So delightful, in fact, that it blinded many people from recognizing exactly who Will Smith has been for the entirety of his Braves career — a below-replacement level reliever.
Following three stellar seasons with the Giants, Smith joined the Braves on a three-year, $40 million contract prior to the 2020 season. A deal that is now one of the few stains on Alex Anthopoulos’ near-perfect resumé.
2020 was an awkward year for everyone, especially Smith. Not only did he move across the country to join a new organization, but COVID struck, and he was actually infected with the virus right before the start of the season. That caused him to miss a large chunk of the 60-game campaign and limited him to just 16.0 innings, where he recorded an underwhelming 4.50 ERA. He followed that up with a disappointing postseason performance in which he allowed three runs over six innings, including a back-breaking home run in Game 5 of the NLCS to none other than Will Smith of the Dodgers. We all know what happened after that.
Admittedly, the 2021 regular season was better than 2020. He posted his best ERA (3.71) and FIP as a Brave (3.44), which is even more impressive considering he was closing games for the team. And, of course, Smith followed it up with a perfect postseason. That alone was worth the $13 million the Braves paid him last season. Still, saying he was anything more than a slightly above-average reliever is inherently false, and we’re talking about his best year in a Braves jersey, which brings us to 2022, where things have completely fallen apart.
Following last night’s debacle, Smith’s ERA is now up to 4.38, and I wish I could tell you his peripherals suggest things will get better. But his FIP is even worse at 5.23, and his Baseball Savant page is becoming more blue by the day.
Furthermore, the eye test is the nail in his coffin. Smith has become a one-pitch pitcher. The only offering he can rely on is his slider. Smith’s fastball lacks velocity, and he seems afraid to throw it for strikes. This is understandable, considering opponents are hitting nearly .300 off his heater and slugging .493 with four homers.
Smith has given up six earned runs in his last three innings pitched, and it’s not like he’s being used in high leverage situations anymore, either. Snitker is essentially pitching him strictly in garbage time, and he still can’t get the job done.
If the Braves didn’t have a ton of bullpen options, maybe they would be forced to wait things out with Smith. But with the emergence of guys like Dylan Lee and Jackson Stephens, Smith could very well find himself one of the odd men out soon. The Braves will probably look to add at least one more relief arm at the trade deadline, and Kirby Yates is nearing a return. Last year will be a memory Braves Country will never forget, but it’s time to say good-bye to Will Smith.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire