First off, I am so glad that I was able to watch baseball yesterday. Since I don’t do basketball and the Olympics are over, I needed something to get me out of my wife’s hair. Plus, baseball is just the greatest and I miss it.
To get back on track, we saw a lot of old and new faces yesterday. Guys like Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, and (dare I say) Juan Francisco provided plenty of pop. It was really nice to see Mitch Haniger hit a home run in his only plate appearance. But it was not any of the positional players that caught my eye, it was a pitcher.
If you read the title above, you know where this is going.
Will Smith looked amazing yesterday. In 2 innings of work, he struck out 3 batters. He is a lumbering beast of a dude, which I always like in a pitcher. There also seems to be a bit of anger behind his eyes. Dude throws angry sometimes (or at least that breaking pitch looks it). Will Smith is the type of guy the Brewers really could have used last season.
During last May’s historic meltdown (in case you don’t remember, the Crew went 6-22 in May), a bullpen pitcher who could have thrown 3 or 4 innings would have been huge. We didn’t have that. Instead Ron Roenicke and company kept throwing every guy available on the mound, to little or no success. The injuries had already taken a severe toll on the starting rotation. Guys like Hiram Burgos and Mike Fiers were forced into starting rolls and out of the bullpen. During May it felt like we were just tossing turds against the wall and hoping something stuck.
Even if we remove the 4 blown saves between Axford and Henderson in May, the bullpen was a nightmare. While it is not entirely their fault(starters were awful), they were called on to do their job and could not do it. The only exception was Mike Gonzalez, who had a 2.57 ERA through the first 2 months of the season (he had a 6.21 ERA from June through the rest of the season and is currently someplace else). As the season progressed, Tom Gorzellany took over as the long relief guy and did an amazing job (2.70 ERA in his relief appearances). But he just had a shoulder “cleaning” in December and the Brewers will need someone to fill-in.
Prior to yesterday, I was concerned about having another May pop up this season. You just never know what can happen. Then Will Smith went out yesterday and dominated the 6th and 7th innings. And even though it was the first game of the spring, it still put my cynical mind at rest. Once Gorzellany returns, we will also have a nice little duo of solid left-handed relievers. Which is something we have been sorely lacking the past few seasons. My point is, I saw enough in Smith yesterday to feel like he is the most important piece of this bullpen.
Now, most of you will probably say “Lou, you have given us nothing but a hunch.” True, so here are some numbers:
In his career as a relief pitcher, Smith has a 2.45 ERA and 6.33 walk to strikeout ratio. In his career he has 102 strikeouts in 123 innings.
Not a lot to go off of, I know, but it was enough for Uncle Mark and Aunt Doug to trade away a bona fide lead-off hitter and everyday right fielder for. After watching him yesterday, I can’t help but feel like this was the right move.
Now for the big question, why is Will Smith the missing link? One word, flexibility.
We have tons of guys who could come in and start if they needed to. This season alone we will probably have Tyler Thornburg, Tom Gorzellany, Mike Fiers, Alfredo Figaro, Hiram Burgos, Johnny Hellweg, and Jimmy Nelson all available to spot start. You will note that they are all right handers (except Gorzy). Now we have a left-handed spot-start option in case Gorzellany is hurt or not back from his shoulder surgery. I have every reason to believe that Smith can throw 5-6 innings of solid ball on a given night. That is what will make the difference in 2014’s pitching staff, flexibility.
One of the biggest components of a championship team is depth. The “next man up” mentality is something the Brewers have attempted to utilize for the past 2 decades. This is the first season where the pitching staff could actually be successful at this approach. We have so much pitching depth, but it is almost all right-handed. That is why Will Smith could be the missing link for the Brewers. Not because he is a giant(6’5″), not because of his slider/curve (not entirely sure which it is, I just know it has a TON of movement), and not because he shares a name with the Fresh Prince. This kid just makes the Brewers pitching staff deeper. Something you need if you are going to be a playoff caliber team. I am not saying the Brewers are a playoff caliber team just yet, but I think that the addition off Will Smith can only help. He just became my player to watch for 2014.