I was in favor of trading Aoki. He’s popular and still provides some value at a reasonable cost, but he’s older, his skills are unusual for a corner outfielder, and they are likely to degrade sooner rather than later. Since he didn’t display the same power in 2013 as in 2012, you could make a decent argument that this was already happening to some extent.
I’m not here to talk about Aoki. I’m here to talk about Will Smith. I’m not a fan of Will Smith. I actually watch a fair number of Royals games. For various reasons they sort of became my AL team of choice. Part of this is reading a lot of Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli. Part of it is their similarity to the Brewers. Part of it, more recently, is the number of former Brewers they employ. Anyway, I’ve seen Will Smith pitch a bunch.
What I’m worried about here is the Brewers not seeing through the superficial improvement that Smith showed last year moving to the bullpen. First let’s establish what smith is. Here’s his player comment from the BP annual last year:
In the move to the majors, Smith left his pinpoint control in Triple-A. While trying to adjust, he started leaving too many pitches in the middle of the zone. He comes by that BABIP honestly: 23 percent of all balls in play were classified as line drives. Control will continue to be key to any success as his fastball struggles to hit 90 mph and he lacks a plus pitch that can cause hitters to swing and miss. If he eventually sticks in the majors, it will be in the back of the rotation, although he could be used out of the bullpen as a long reliever and emergency starter.
So many red flags. Lots of hard contact, no strikeout pitch, average-at-best velocity, low ceiling. All of these strike me as pretty dead on.
The thing is, Smith pitched out of the bullpen last year and his superficial stat-line looked pretty good. He put up a 3.24 ERA in 33 and a third innings. Perhaps most impressively, he struck out 43 batters in just 33 innings while walking just 7. For a guy who has struggled to miss bats consistently that’s impressive. It was also a bit of a sham.
Smith was doing mostly LOOGY work last year, and while he did have 43 Ks in 33 innings, 27 of those came against lefties. He undeniably dominated southpaws, striking out exactly half of the lefties he faced. He had a 13.5 K/BB ratio against them. He managed to keep righties in check (they hit .235/.273/.412 against him), but there’s definitely some luck in those numbers. Righties his liners off Smith 18% of the time (13% for lefties) but his BABIP still stuck at a low .245 against them. That low BABIP kept his BA and OBP artificially low against righties, though you can still see that hard contact in the .412 SLG.
It is entirely possible that the Brewers see something here that they can develop and this will work out fine. I am, after all, just some guy on the internet. But what I see is a lefty with bad stuff who currently looks better than he actually is because he got to dominate lefties out of the pen over a very small sample size. I don’t think he’ll make it as a starter.
I didn’t expect to get a top-tier prospect for Aoki. I did expect them to get more than a low-ceiling LOOGY.