John Smoltz and ERA

All the Roy Halladay to Boston talk is centered around a line that goes something like this: “Off-season signings Brad Penny and John Smoltz have disappointed. Smoltz especially with a 7.04 ERA and 1-4 record…”

Ignore the ERA and record, John Smoltz is fine. In 30 innings Smoltz has walked 5 and struck 28 out. Yeah, he’s given up a few home runs too, but his FIP is a steady 3.61 (3.82 xFIP) and tRA has him at 3.94 (4.81 tRA*) meaning he’s not giving up only sharply hit line drives. Still yet, his BABIP is .394 and his strand rate is 57.6%

Smoltz has had three starts with 5+ earned runs allowed, but look at the gamelogs from those games:

6/25: 5 IP, 7 H, 0 HR, 3 FB, 9 GB, 5 LD
7/6: 6 IP, 10 H, 0 HR, 7 FB, 13 GB, 4 LD
7/20: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 3 HR, 11 FB, 7 GB, 3 LD
7/26: 5 IP, 9 H, 1 HR, 7 FB, 5 GB, 5 LD

All total: 21.2 IP, 35 H, 4 HR, 28 FB, 34 GB, 17 LD. The results don’t seem to meet the processes. Allowing more hits than usual is nothing new for this year’s Red Sox team. They lead the league in BABIP against. A little over 32% of balls put into play result in hits. The next highest team is the Diamondbacks at 31.2%. Until someone produces evidence otherwise, I’m going to notch Smoltz’ BABIP up to a porous defense rather than a new found ability to throw watermelons 90 miles per hour.

The Red Sox are interested in Halladay because it’s Roy Halladay, not because John Smoltz or Brad Penny are pitching poorly.




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46 Responses to “John Smoltz and ERA”

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  1. Matthew says:

    are you guys in love with the rex sox.. who cares about old man john smoltz

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  2. John Smoltz's mom says:

    Yeah, let’s here more about Angel Berroa.

    /rolls eyes

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  3. adam b says:

    I don’t think Smoltz’s BABIP has to do with pour defense, as much as it has to do with him missing his target.

    Watching Smoltz pitch this year you can see he is missing his target a lot. He is leaving a lot of balls over the plate and paying for it.

    I think if there was some sort of stat that showed where the catcher set up vs where the pitch was and what the result was…I think that would be your evidence

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    • Joe R says:

      Fully agree. His stuff is fine. His command is terrible.

      Guys are missing his pitches, but when he misses, he misses in the zone, and it’s crushed. Hence the high HR/FB rate.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      “Watching Smoltz pitch this year you can see he is missing his target a lot. He is leaving a lot of balls over the plate and paying for it.

      I think if there was some sort of stat that showed where the catcher set up vs where the pitch was and what the result was…I think that would be your evidence”

      Here is almost exactly what you’re looking for: http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/07/measuring_a_pit.php . It’s more theory than the actual product though right now. It appears they may be able to do this in the future.

      Regardless I think you’ve been watching too much Baseball Tonight. I think where the catcher lines up ultimately has minimal if any effect on a hitter’s ability to get a missed pitch. After all he basically has little if any knowledge of where it is when a pitch is thrown. Ultimately what affects a hitter’s ability to get contact on the ball is its, location, speed, movement, etc. If he’s missing his location the reason he’s getting hit hard is that he’s throwing the pitches up the middle (http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/07/can_pitchers_co.php) not that he isn’t aiming at the catcher’s mitt., i.e. knowing the location of the catcher’s mitt doesn’t add any important information as to the pitcher’s ability to prevent hits. That information is much more succinctly, easily and ultimately accurately obtained by simply looking at a pitcher’s K%, BB% and GB%.

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  4. Tyrannosaurus Rex Sox says:

    +1

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  5. Pat says:

    A shiny FIP is not winning Smoltz baseball games, so what good is it? Horray he can strike guys out, he still doesn’t get enough outs hence the huge ERA. He just came back from surgery, and the Red Sox look foolish for letting this guy continue to lose games for him in the thick of a playoff hunt. Sure, he might start pitching better, but it’s kinda hard to keep waiting around. Something isn’t working.

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    • Mark says:

      Exactly. It’s all well and good to say someone is “fine” when their peripherals look decent, but what really matters is winning baseball games. (For the record I am not referring to pitcher w-l.) Smoltz hasn’t performed well since joining the Red Sox. Processes be damned, when a pitcher is in his 40s and nearing the end of his career, and the team is trying like hell to make the playoffs, it is results, results, and more results that matter.

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  6. Nick says:

    ZIPS also projects a 3.21 FIP going forward. Given his age and slight decline in stuff, it’s unlikely that he is that good, but he is clearly still a very good pitcher.

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    • steve says:

      LOL. the arrogance of accepting FIP with 100% certainty never ceases to amaze me.

      Smoltz was throwing f’ing BATTING PRACTICE. dude is done. cooked. don’t need FIP to tell me that.

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  7. Wells says:

    Really? Smoltz is fine? There’s no globam warming? Nothing to see here? Move along?

    Really, if your numbers don’t tell you that Smoltz is struggling, you look for new numbers.

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    • J.R. Mannetta says:

      He did. He cited multiple metrics which all suggest Smoltz is pitching above-average to good. Pretty much what the Sox hoped for when they committed to Smoltz.

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  8. Disco says:

    This is the one time where I’ll have to go against the numbers. From watching his starts, he is getting hit hard. Sure, he’s not walking anyone and K’ing people. But he keeps throwing hittable FB’s over the plate. Once he fixes that, THEN he’ll be fine.

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  9. Ray says:

    very nice article

    I had written off the Smoltz signing when it happened, and as a DRays fan, constantly made fun of it due to recent performance

    I’ll have to become a bit more tight-lipped from now on…

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  10. Drew says:

    No matter what the data says, I’ve seen Smoltz throw some meatballs that resulted in some smashed home runs. I’m surprised his HR/FB rate isn’t near 40% with the amount of times he is serving up softballs for batters to crush.

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  11. Nick says:

    Smotlz has been unlucky, but from watching him, I would not classify his performance as “fine”.

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  12. Judy says:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=4359971&type=story

    I thought this was really interesting, and, in combination with the Red Sox poor defensive play, makes sense to me.

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    • Joe R says:

      Orel Hershiser made the Sunday night booth so boring with his lack of insane Morganisms and logical statements.

      Pffffffffffffft

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  13. Edwin Nelson says:

    This is example #1 on how metrics can’t always be used to evaluate a pitchers performance. Anyone who has seen Smoltz pitch this year know exactly why he’s getting pounded. He looks like John Smoltz for 3 innings, which pumps up his peripherals, and then he loses focus, loses control, and throws terrible pitches and gets pounded. I call it Javier Vasquez syndrome.

    Good pitchers get into trouble and find a way to get big outs when they need to get them. Bad pitchers get into trouble and can’t, and right now Smoltz is a bad pitcher. He needs to go to the bullpen ASAP.

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    • Joe R says:

      Exactly.
      Peripherals don’t mention the amount of times a guy leaves a ball over the plate and gets it hammered for a wall ball double.

      At this point I wouldn’t even call it Vasquez-itis. This is Daniel Cabrera-itis. Anecdotally, it’s looked like he’s been unable to keep his pitches down.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    You guys are all idiots.

    Anyone who reads this article and says “he doesn’t get enough outs” or “FIP doesn’t win you games,” or anyone who provides anecdotal evidence over actual statistical evidence shouldn’t be on Fangraphs.

    Smoltz is fine. You can’t chalk up a monstrous K:BB ratio to good/bad luck. It’s good pitching. You CAN chalk up an absolutely unprecedented amount of hits allowed to bad luck. You guys really think every hitter in baseball can aim his groundballs/flyballs perfectly so that fielders can’t get a glove on it? Please.

    He’s not letting up nearly as many LDs as his BAA would suggest. Get off Fangraphs if you don’t understand this.

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    • Neil says:

      Agreed – this is Fangraphs, not a message board at MLB.com. The numbers are showing that his K/9 and BB/9 are better than his career averages and that he has an unsustainably low strand rate and high BABIP. The opponents are making frequent contact against Smoltz (compared to years past), but compared to the average SP, his contact rate is good.

      This happened with Nolasco…excellent Ks, low BBs, but everything the hitters touched fell in for a hit. As a Mets fan, I saw Nolasco pitch against them a couple of times and it was a joke…every pop fly or grounder avoided the gloves.

      I haven’t seen Smoltz pitch, but I do watch enough baseball to know that all pitchers get away with many very hittable pitches during a game and oftentimes a good pitcher’s pitch gets crushed.

      It’s only been 30 innings. If I told you Smoltz would have a 28/5 K/BB ratio and 93mph fastball after his first 30 innings (coming back from injury1), you would all be thrilled. I have faith.

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    • Mark says:

      LOL @ You. These arguments and statements are not mutually exclusive. We understand peripherals very well, thanks. We’re just saying he’s not winning many games. “ZOMG GET OFF FANGRAPHS!!1″ is a snotty, petulant thing to say.

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    • Disco says:

      Oh really. I understand it and more.

      But he WAS getting killed on his mistakes. It’s no fluke he got killed continually. Lefties destroyed him.

      DFA’d.

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  15. Edwin Nelson says:

    Exactly. You haven’t seen Smoltz pitch. The idea that players cannot underperform their peripheral statistics for long periods of time without the mitigating circumstance being luck shouldn’t be on Fangraphs either.

    I’m mot saying that he hasn’t had a few balls bounce the wrong way, but you can’t say that a pitcher who strikes out the side for four innings straight and then walks three guys in the fifth and gives up a bases clearing double is a good pitcher. The final line doesn’t look to bad.

    12K
    3BB
    1H (2B)
    4 innings

    but the results suck. That’s what Vasquez would do for years on end through last year, c(onsistently underperforming his peripherals over and over again). It wasn’t bad luck with him either. Vasquez would simply disintegrate in the 6th or 7th inning of every game. Smoltz still looks like Smoltz enough to fool you. If you watch him pitch you can see that whether it’s physical or mental he just can’t find “it” for long periods of time during a game. If he moves to the setup guy things would improve.

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    • Alex says:

      http://www.3-dbaseball.net/2009/07/javier-vazquez-case-study-in-common.html (linked from the book blog).

      Summary: Vazquez, considering his offensive, defensive, and bullpen support, is about 18 games above average in his career, close to where the stats say he should be. Other than that, everything anonymous said: a .394 babip with a relatively low line drive rate is luck from everything that we know about baseball, part of which is that pitchers have little control in a sample size this small (for BABIP numbers especially) on the rate of hits they allow on grounders or in-park flyballs.

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  16. Toffer Peak says:

    John Smoltz right now is in pretty much the same situation as Nolasco was in May. Great peripherals but terrible luck and thus terrible results. As with Nolasco in May people were writing him off and claiming, “Sometimes your BABIP is high because you just suck…Analysis on BABIP and FIP alone is asinine.” (http://www.fantasybaseballcafe.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=386578) Of course look at Nolasco since then. Sure his peripherals have improved slightly as well but his luck stats have normalized and he’s been dominant since, with a 1.91 and 3.51 ERA in June and July. Funny how that happens.

    I have little doubt that so long as Smoltz keeps up his peripherals he will be in the same situation as Nolasco is now, pitching with excellent results.

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  17. Edwin Nelson says:

    Here’s a news clip from 06′

    “Vasquez has been a model of consistency lately, but not in a good way. In his last three starts he has given up five earned runs and has had one terrible inning in each of them. Batters have had his number during their third look at him, hitting .377. He is 0-2 with a 7.79 ERA in his last three starts and hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning since May 18.”

    I’m from Chicago so I remember this like it was yesterday. He had a ridiculous ERA through 5 innings with peripherals that made him look like a perennial Cy Young award winner. If you look back without doing any breakdown inning to inning, or game to game, you think” wow this guy has had some bad luck”. In reality (and I was there and saw it) Vasquez just lost all command in the late innings, probably due to fatigue (mental or physical). Check out his splits in 2006

    ERA in pitches 61-75=3.64
    ERA in pitches 76-90=8.10

    BAA with no runners on .230
    BAA with runners on .299

    ERA 2006 4.84
    FIP 2006 3.86

    Was it bad luck? No, he just really sucked late in games and it happened so often, for so long the Diamondbacks, Yankees, and White Sox all shipped him out of town for it. For one month maybe it’s bad luck. For 8-9 years though…

    Now the sample size is very small but Smoltz’s ERA in pitches 76-90 is 18.00 and he has given up 10 earned in 5 innings.

    Bullpen!

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  18. Edwin Nelson says:

    Nolasco is a different thing altogether. He’s not 42 years old coming off shoulder surgery, and he was getting knocked around like a pinball machine in every inning. I’m just saying that Smoltz doesn’t have the gas (physical or mental) to cut it as a reliable starter anymore. As a bullpen arm he’s a total stud.

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  19. Tom B says:

    looks like smoltz is having another one of these “better than the stats” starts… facts are facts, he can’t get people out right now.

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  20. Edwin Nelson says:

    Hey, maybe he is getting the raw end of some back luck. However, unlike Nolasco he doesn’t have the rest of his career to wait for things to turn around. This is it for him, and there just isn’t time to wait and see if things get better.

    Check out Nolan Reimold’s HR. Catcher sets up down and away, Smoltz throws the ball up and right over the plate. Then look at the Huff HR. Catcher sets up in and down, Smoltz throws the ball up and on the outside half. That’s not bad luck.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5854225

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  21. Mark C in So PA says:

    Well 2 more games later and he’s been DFA. He’s finished.

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  22. Michael says:

    DIPS analysis of pitchers is effective. The issue is that Smoltz’s run of bad luck and unusual amounts of mistake pitches being crushed is happening at the onset of his season, with the Red Sox in a tight pennant race and with many options outside of Smoltz to go with. Likely they saw the results and decided to go with another option rather than let him work through the luck problems.

    It’s unfortunate that his small sample size made his numbers inflated despite good peripherals, but with the Sox having enough resources to allow Smoltz to be DFA’d and bring someone else up to pitch, they decided to go with that plan. Had the Sox lacked the starting pitching depth that they currently have, you’d likely still see Smoltz in their rotation.

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    • Joe says:

      The Sox are as statistically savvy as any club out there. If they believed he was done, he probably is. You mentioned their pitching depth, but they’re trotting out Brad Penny and his 5+ era and have Buchholz starting who hasn’t pitched effectively in the majors in a year and a half. If they thought there was any chance for him to turn it around, I’d imagine they would keep him.

      You can cite small samples size, but 9 starts is quite a bit to go on. Maybe not in the statistical world, but watching him pitch it was apparent he wasn’t the same guy who used to dominate.

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      • Dim says:

        Agreed with Joe. Smoltz clearly has *something* left, but he can’t yet pitch effectively, and IMO that’s not luck so much as getting used to what he can and can’t do post-surgery. I think a 40-something pitcher with a brand new shoulder is unique enough context to say that the in this case the peripherals don’t tell the whole story, without rejecting their general usefulness.

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    • Joel says:

      I’m wondering why people are still trumpeting the “amazing pitching depth” line this far into the season when most of said depth is either injured or ineffective and their next starters in line after Smoltz are a mid-range prospect in AAA who’s shown troubling trends in his peripherals and a guy who was just in AA ball a few weeks ago and who demonstrated a lack of control and an ability to hang breaking pitches in hsi first major league game. Not to mention the fact that their current 3-4 starters have been mediocre at best to this point.

      It’s August now, not March/April, and everything I’ve seen indicates that the Red Sox have some very real current problems in their rotation after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Their incredible depth no longer exists.

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  23. Andrew says:

    John Smoltz does not look like Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco wasn’t missing with every pitch and getting destroyed by lefties. He was legitimately a pitcher plagued by bad luck and every single starter with a good FIP who’s getting shelled != Nolasco.

    I can’t think of any pitcher who’s really “come back” from shoulder surgery. It’s an injury that really screws up your mechanics and requires a lot of work to start pitching again properly.

    I’m curious if there’s been someone who’s been dominant, went down with a serious shoulder injury, and then returned to dominant form.

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  24. Tripon says:

    So is Fangraphs going to admit it was wrong about this particular pitcher?

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  25. Ed Nelson says:

    Seriously! Stats are great, but you can’t ignore what you see when you watch a guy pitch, and Smoltz was simply incapable of locating his pitches over the course of a full game.

    Now, I can’t believe they DFA’d him. It must be an issue with his contract because as much as anyone could see he’s done as a starter, anyone could also see that he has more than enough left in the tank to be a very good situational reliever. I assumed that he would take Masterson’s place in the bullpen?!

    As far as this organizational depth… True, there is a ton of pitching. However, besides Lester and Beckett, is there really anyone in the organization that you would completely trust to start game 3? Personally, I would rather have Joba than Clay in that game. Red Sox nation should be very, very nervous right now.

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    • Michael says:

      The Sox apparently don’t want to pay him his salary per day in the Major League roster. Or at least that’s what I heard from ESPN, not always the best of sources.

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  26. tom s. says:

    somehow this issue got totally skirted in this discussion – perhaps b/c fangraphs doesn’t follow platoon splits.

    smoltz v. LHB: .440/.490/.758
    smoltz v. RHB: .232/.259/.390

    in 101 PAs against LHB, he’s given up 7 walks and 6 HR and managed only 12 Ks.
    in 85 PAs against RHB, he’s given up 2 walks and 2 HR and managed 21 Ks.

    both the actual results and the peripherals support a dramatic gulf between his performance against LHB and RHB.

    so the answer is, you’re both right. The overall numbers for smoltz are pretty reasonable, because he’s getting 40% of his PAs against RHB who he dominates. The posters are right that smoltz is getting lit up and looking ridiculous – almost exclusively against LHB.

    The disparity between the stathead analysis and the eyeball analysis does not show that FIP is broken. It’s that FIP isn’t being used to examine a serious platoon split in a pitcher’s performance.

    if the good people at fangraphs would try to get platoon splits into the basic and advanced stats, and while I ask for the moon, into the pitch value stats, i bet we’d see some VERY interesting stuff about John Smoltz.

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