Hello reader. I would like to play the infamous "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" game with you. You know the drill -- I pick a player I want to write about; I somewhat subjectively choose more heralded players that compare very similarly to said player in subjectively-chosen stats; and then you guess who the mystery player is.
So these are the numbers over the last three seasons for four relievers that are known around the game as pretty elite, along with my mystery player. Ready? Go! (Note: this includes Davis' numbers only as a reliever.)
Super Ultra Mystery Player
Wow! Great guess! I'm going to give you credit and pretend you didn't use context clues from the title or the photo.
I'm talking about Milwaukee Brewers' reliever Will Smith. I pride myself in knowing a good amount about the game of baseball, and to be honest I didn't know much about Smith. I'm guessing there's a good portion of national baseball fans that don't either. But I'm all for recognizing and appreciating greatness; make no mistake, Will Smith is great.
Here's a brief history of Will Smith. He was drafted in the 7th round out of high school by the Angels in 2008 and was traded to Kansas City, where he made his MLB debut and pitched in parts of two seasons. He was sent to the Brewers as the return for Nori Aoki, and he has thrived in each of the last two seasons in Milwaukee and even led the league in appearances in 2014.
From the table, you can see that Smith strikes out a greater percentage of batters than any of the others not named Wade Davis and more batters than all of them on a per inning basis. Smith's walks are a little bit on the high side, but his xFIP and SIERA are rather comparable to the others. The column that really keeps him from a reputation of late-game dominance is that last column, but a lot of that can be explained away by dumb luck and circumstance.
Since coming to the Brewers, Smith has allowed a rather preposterous .340 BABIP, and his LOB% over that time is just 75.5 percent. A 75.5 percent LOB doesn't seem out of the ordinary until you take into account that late-game relievers tend to have much higher strand rates than other pitchers. Why? Late-game relievers tend to get a higher proportion of their outs via the K, and they also often come into innings in which one or two outs have already been recorded for them. Wade Davis, for example, had a LOB% of 89.5 percent over the same span.
Will Smith isn't just good; he's getting better, too. In 2015, his age-25 season, Smith posted a career-high 12.93 K/9 with a 2.47 FIP/2.75 xFIP/2.39 SIERA in 63.1 innings. How does he do it? Smith throws a fastball that averages over 93 MPH along with two variations of a breaking ball. An interesting wrinkle about Smith is that, as a lefty that is exclusively a fastball/breaking ball pitcher, you'd expect him to be more of a LOOGY. He was actually death on righties last season, holding them to a measly .193/.264/.281 slash line.
Although he throws both a curve and a slider, the slider is the one that makes him his money. He throws his slider a whopping 40.3 percent of the time, and for good reason. Using FanGraphs' pitch type linear weights, in 2015 Smith's slider ranked in the top ten in total value among all relievers. On a per-pitch basis, Smith's slider was mere decimal points below Tyson Ross' and Chris Archer's and just above Clayton Kershaw's and Madison Bumgarner's. Translation: Will Smith's slider is straight filth. For visual purposes, here is Will Smith using his slider to strike out Alberto Callaspo, one of the most difficult men in baseball to strike out and also the man who was traded for Smith when he went from the Angels to the Royals.
So we've established that Will Smith is pretty good at this pitching stuff. He will also start next season at just age 26 and still has four years of team control. What does this all mean? Nothing, other than that as far as relievers are concerned, he is a very valuable asset. This sounds like the type of asset in which a rebuilding team would want to cash, and it also sounds like the type of asset in which many contending teams would be interested.
In terms of both talent and asset value, Smith isn't Ken Giles. But he isn't far off from Giles, either. And don't forget that Giles fetched the Phillies five young pitchers, including young stud Vincent Velasquez. The Brewers could choose to keep him and enjoy years of quality relief for a cheap price tag. Or they could choose to deal him and progress even further into their rebuilding phase. We know that relievers are incredibly volatile, and Will Smith's value could conceivably go up in the future, but if we're talking about expected value, the potential downside of an injury or collapse is greater than the upside the Brewers would possess by keeping him with the intention of dealing him later on down the road. Either way, though, Will Smith should no longer be a mystery to anyone but the mystified hitters he faces.
. . .
Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond The Box Score.