The End Is Near

Friends, Coloradans, baseball fans, lend me your eyes – I come to bury Greg Smith, not to praise him.

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but a eulogy for the near term success of Smith’s career is probably not out of place. For Rockies fans hoping that they just got a solid young starting pitcher in return for Matt Holliday, I’m sorry, but I have some bad news.

Yes, Greg Smith just posted a 4.16 ERA in 190 innings as a 24-year-old rookie. But unfortunately, those results just aren’t all that predictive, and the markers that we look for in identifying his true talent level, which is predictive, are not nearly as positive.

Here’s what we know about Greg Smith that could inform us about his future in Colorado.

He doesn’t throw very hard. His average fastball was just 87.6 MPH – the 9th slowest average fastball of any pitcher in baseball who threw at least 180 innings last year. Toss out Tim Wakefield because of the knuckleball factor, and the guys with sub-88 MPH fastballs are all command artists who pound the strike zone and don’t walk anyone.

That doesn’t describe Smith, unfortunately. 40.1% of his pitches thrown were balls, which is below average. Compare with fellow soft-tosser Andy Sonnanstine, who threw just 32.9% of his pitches out of the strike zone. Because Smith doesn’t throw hard, and he doesn’t throw strikes, he combines the bad mixture of both an above average walk rate (4.11 BB/9) and a below average strikeout rate (5.25 K/9).

It’s possible to succeed without a great BB/K rate, but it’s not easy. You have to limit the amount of home runs you allow, and the easiest way to do that is by pitching low in the strike zone and not allowing fly balls. If they hit it on the ground, it’s not going over the wall, after all. Well, Greg Smith isn’t very good at that, either – he posted a 45.5% FB% last year, third highest in baseball. Only Oliver Perez and Wakefield allowed more fly balls last year, and both of them have struggled with the long ball throughout their career.

So, we could describe Smith as a soft-tossing flyball machine with below average command and no out pitch. That’s not a great package to start off with, but then you transport that particular set of skills to Coors Field, where lazy fly balls go over the wall and breaking balls don’t move as much, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Honestly, I feel bad for Smith. After a successful rookie season, he has to be thinking that there’s some good stuff in store for him in the major leagues. In reality, he’s now been put into the absolute worst context he could possibly try to survive in, and his uphill battle to fight regression has now become something like climbing Mt. Everest.

Good luck, Greg – you’re going to need a lot of it.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

14 Responses to “The End Is Near”

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  1. Skip says:

    RIP Greg, your pickoff move was fun to watch.

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  2. dan says:

    I agree with this post, but it’s inevitably gonna piss somebody off.

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  3. lookatthosetwins says:

    Yeah his fip was 4.84 last year, and his xfip was even worse, 5.36. That doesn’t look good for someone going from Oakland to Colorado….

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  4. Eric Seidman says:

    Greg Smith = 2009 version of 2008 Kyle Kendrick.

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  5. Jason T says:

    Well, at least we’ll get a general idea of what Ryan Feierabend would look like playing a full season. Poor little bugger.

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  6. Nick says:

    How do you factor in that he’s the best in baseball at picking runners off of first base to his overall performance. I guess that it’s a bad sign that needs to put runners on base to show what he excels at.

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  7. Yeah, horrible trade for the Rockies, I would think they could have gotten more for him and if this is the best available, then it would be better to wait for mid-season.

    So I’m happy, I’m a Giants fan. One less team to compete in the NL West.

    Not that the Giants are going to be competitive either, their goal is to reach .500, nor the Padres with their fire sale going on. Basically it looks like LA and Arizona now for 2009.

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  8. Graham says:

    The pickoffs should definitely help Smith that won’t show up in FIP or his other rates.

    That being said, while he did pickoff 15 runners last year (I’m assuming almost if not all were at 1B), 64 of the 169 hits he allowed went for extra bases so the move is negated a bit there.

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  9. Jim says:

    Obsessive giants guy, the winner of the NL West hasn’t been that far over .500 the past few seasons….that being said, with the Giants offense the way it is, I think .500 is a little unrealistic at this point.

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  10. Tom Au says:

    Maybe Greg Smith has merit as a pitcher, but Coors Field is about the worst place for him to prove it. And the fact that Oakland doesn’t want him says a lot.

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  11. philosofool says:

    I was really stunned by this move on the Rockies. Given the presence of Jimenez and Cook–two extreme groundballers–I’d assumed that the Rockies were on to the importance of GB% in their pitchers.

    Now, it could be the clever scouting has identified good ground ball pitches in Smith repertoire, pitches that he’s currently underusing, and maybe the Rockies have idea about how to develop him into a pitch-to-contact groundballer. Okay fine. But would you trade Matt Holiday for that? I wouldn’t, not even if you threw in Huston Street.

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  12. Greg's Muscle says:

    Damn right Dan! This crap pissed somebody off!!

    Dave – I come to expose you for the “wanna-be” journalist you aspire to be. Sounds like you’re saddened by the Rockies not getting more for Holliday than what they really got. Sounds like soar grapes. Direct that sourness to management not Smith. I’ll bet $$ you wouldn’t stand in the box and take a fast ball from the lefty!! Would ya’

    I agree Smith did not have a stellar rookie year, but then again, tell me how many A’s pitcher did? Well Dave, I’m waiting!! Smith had the lowest run support of ANY major league pitcher this past season. He lost games 1-0 or 2-1. So tell me why this soft tossing fly ball machine didn’t lose more games by wider margins? I think you failed to mention that in your blog. In fact, most TV commentators admitted Smith was getting squeezed on the strike zone because of his rookie status. Basically throw it down the middle or walk em. Smith kept the A’s within a run or two in the late innings which is what your manager expects you to do. I guess that is something you failed to do in your major league career? Oh! sounds like you didn’t get past the Thursday night beer softball league. Smith’s 16 pickoffs tied season record once held by Andy Pettite. Heard of him Dave? If nothing else, this lost art in baseball kept runners close. I’m sure the A’s would have lost more games had the runners not been afraid of the pickoff.

    Your trash got more of a response than what was truely deserved. Enjoy the Thrusday night softball.

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  13. greg's muscle says:

    Cat got your tongue Dave?!

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  14. Al Ojeda says:

    Smith had one bad year and he was jettisoned to Triple A for life basically. I have seen over 30 pitchers the last 3 years who have pitched horribly and yet they find a job in the Majors. Smith is a good lefty who deserved another shot in the Big Leagues.

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