Today, the Cardinals signed John Smoltz to occupy the #5 spot in their rotation for the rest of the season, after he officially cleared release waivers and was let go by the Red Sox. With an 8.32 ERA at age 42, it might be easy to say that Smoltz’s eight appearances in Boston signify that he’s done as a major league pitcher.
But the sample was just 40 innings, and anything can happen to practically anyone in 40 innings. For example, here’s Smoltz’s career in Boston compared with Jered Weaver‘s last 8 starts for the Angels.
Smoltz: 8 GS, 40 IP, 59 H, 9 BB, 33 K, 8 HR, 8.33 ERA, 4.94 FIP
Weaver: 8 GS, 46 IP, 51 H, 18 BB, 54 K, 10 HR, 6.50 ERA, 4.93 FIP
Over the last couple of months, there’s very little separating how Weaver and Smoltz have pitched. Their FIPs are nearly identical, even if they’ve gotten there slightly different ways. Both of them have been stung by the longball, which has outweighed strong BB/K rates. And neither have deserved results as bad as what they’ve gotten.
For Smoltz, there’s an easy narrative – he’s old, he’s washed up, he can’t pitch anymore. For Weaver, there isn’t an easy explanation for his struggles, so the Angels just keep rolling him out there and expect him to get better. But, for both pitchers, our expectations should be similar going forward.
A bad ERA over 40 innings, driven by a high BABIP and HR/FB rate, does not mean that Smoltz is finished any more than it means that Weaver is finished. And, of course, no one thinks that Jered Weaver is washed up.
Cardinal fans just picked up a pretty good pitcher for the league minimum, thanks to the continued overestimation of the usefulness of ERA. The sooner people realize that it’s an obsolete pitching statistic, the better off baseball will be.