Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
When the Brewers traded Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals for lefty Will Smith, Milwaukee fans weren’t thrilled.
And for good reason.
Aoki had been everything the Brewers needed in a lead-off hitter, posting a .287/.355/.399 slash line during his two seasons in Milwaukee. Smith, on the other hand, seemed to be some no-name reliever who had a career ERA above four.
Members of the media and bloggers were calling the trade a win for the Royals. Some even called it a steal.
But after almost a month of the 2014 season, those critics are beginning to eat their words, as they’ve watched Smith turn into a dominating, fearless and effective late-inning reliever.
In 12 appearances (10.1 innings), Smith hasn’t allowed a run and has struck out 13 batters while only giving up six hits (all singles). The biggest reason for his success is his ability to keep the ball on the ground. His ground ball percentage is at a career-high 47.8% and he’s only allowed three fly balls the entire season. Only seven players have a lower fly ball percentage than Smith.
Here’s his spray chart on batted balls (courtesy of FanGraphs.com).
As you can see from his spray chart, Smith has allowed seven line drives. However, only two have gone for base hits.
Smith hasn’t garnered many swinging strikes (8.6% swinging strike rate), but he has still managed to rack up the strikeouts due to opposing hitters failing to swing at strikes. Smith does an extremely good job of disguising his pitches. Hitters facing Smith have only at 54.7% of pitches in the strike zone. That’s the 13th-lowest percentage among relievers in Major League Baseball.
Smith is just 24 years young who could one day turn into a reliable starter, which is what the Brewers had in mind they traded for him. He has made 17 starts in his career and has a forgettable 5.48 ERA in said starts. But luckily, those numbers didn’t scare Milwaukee away.
Smith is one of the key reasons as to why the Brewers have the fifth-lowest ERA in baseball. If he keeps his dominance up, it’s only a matter of time before he gets a crack at the starting rotation.