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Signing Carson Smith is a risk worth taking

Smith only pitched 14 2⁄3 innings the past three seasons, but his free agency case is compelling.

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Paying close attention to each offseason throughout the years, I have found one of the more interesting areas of free agency is the market for relievers. The volatility of their careers can make big contracts flop (hello Darren O’Day, Wade Davis, Greg Holland) and turn under-the-radar deals into difference makers (Ryan Madson, Ryan Brasier, Jesse Chavez). This remains relevant in a currently stacked relief market, housing the names of Craig Kimbrel, David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Joakim Soria, Jeurys Familia, and Joe Kelly.

Lying under some of the big names available are relievers— ones that serve value available for a lower cost and lesser risk. Whether it be age, injuries, or potential not yet tapped into, there should be a few opportunities to grab these valuable arms. One name that fits this bill is former Mariners and Red Sox reliever Carson Smith.

After spending time on the 60-day disabled list, Smith was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the conclusion of the season, ending in him electing for free agency. Pitching in a combined 23 23 innings the past three seasons, the warts to Smith’s case are fairly obvious. But, with high-reward potential coming at a reduced cost, Smith should draw plenty of interest on a short-team deal.

Smith’s availability has been far from consistent, but in the 102 innings he’s compiled since his debut in 2014, his performance has been better than almost anyone else. Among 273 relievers with at least 100 innings since the beginning of 2014, here are Smith’s ranks.

  • ERA: 7th
  • FIP: 5th
  • xFIP: 5th
  • SIERA: 9th
  • K%: 23rd
  • K-BB%: 18th
  • GB%: 8th

To build up the best possible understanding of Smith, it’s probably best to look at his short 2018 season. In his brief return from injury (mainly shoulder and elbow issues that sidelined him), he flashed decent results in 14 23 frames (3.77 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.17 xFIP). Out of 412 pitchers with at least 10 innings this season, only 12 posted a higher GB-rate and K-rate than Smith. And while this is a small sample size, it’s worth mentioning that these rates were actually below his respective career marks in each metric.

Even with that, Smith struggled with what once was his primary offering, the sinker.

His signature offering— his slider— remained a mainstay. Hitters went 4 for 28 off the pitch this year, slashing .143/.172/.143 with a 51.7 percent K-rate and 3.4 percent BB-rate, a lot of this being generated off the plus movement.

As mentioned above, there should be no shortage of suitors for the Texas State product. He’ll draw interest from contending teams, perhaps hoping they can get lucky with the shoulder and add a huge addition for a possible playoff run. He’ll draw interest from non-contending teams, hoping for a good first half from Smith, trade him, and get a good return on investment.

Carson Smith is the ideal picture for a “roll the dice” type of signing. The value feels predictably unpredictable. A team could shed a couple million to see him only pitch in four innings this year or to see him pitch at an All-Star level. It feels like there’s very little in between. Either way, at the cost, a risk like Smith could one worth taking for almost any team.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.