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The Lefty Fresh Prince of Bellaire? Exploring a Will Smith Trade

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The Fresh Prince of Bellaire

Recently, MLBTradeRumors talked about potential trade candidate left-handed reliever Will Smith of the San Francisco Giants, and compared him to some of last year’s impact relievers who were traded for perspective on value.

So who is Will Smith?

Smith, 29 (about to be 30), is a 6’5”, 248 lb lefty reliever, a seventh round draft pick in 2008. After struggling for a year in the starting rotation, Smith established himself in the bullpen as a solid, above average reliever and closer. Since that transition, Smith has the following line: 15-13, 29 SV across 280.1 IP, with a 3.02 ERA. He is a dominant strikeout pitcher, averaging 12.02 K/9 (32.8 K%) and an okay but unspectacular 3.22 BB/9. He has a .211/.283/.341 triple slash as a reliever, with his FIP at 2.73 and xFIP at 2.87.

More than Just a LOOGY

Fellow TCB writer Chris Perry countered that the Astros do not need to add a left-handed reliever due to our current results. While our lefty relievers have been middle-of-the-pack, the Astros’ bullpen as a whole has been the best in baseball against left-handed hitting.

The Astros have struggled to keep a left-handed reliever in their bullpen. From the perennial ups and downs of Tony Sipp, to the somewhat failed Francisco Liriano experiment, this trend has continued into this year. Framber Valdez, Reymin Guduan and Cionel Perez have all taken turns at the token lefty-in-the-pen role.

Smith is devastating against left-handed hitting. He boasts a career line of .199/.260/.329 against lefties (as a reliever).

There may be a question whether the Astros need a lefty specialist, but truthfully, Smith is much more than that.

During the offseason, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote an article called: Somebody Go Get Will Smith, (a great read if you have the time).

Sullivan notes:

“Lefty pitching is forever in demand, and last season, against 72 lefties, Smith finished with 30 strikeouts and only one walk. Yet he’s not a lefty specialist, as he held righties to a slugging percentage of .298, with 30% strikeouts. Side by side, Smith has an awful lot in common with Brad Hand.”

Some additional highlights from Sullivan:

  • Since 2015, with 500+ batters faced, he ranks 7th out of almost 500 pitchers in xWOBA.
https://blogs.fangraphs.com/somebody-go-get-will-smith/
  • In 2018, he was even better, getting all the way to the 5th lowest xwOBA.
  • And in 2019? He’s gotten even better. His xWOBA continued to drop, now all the way down to .220, and his K% jumping up even further to 39.3% Of all pitchers in baseball who have thrown 300+ pitches, Will Smith ranks 4th in xwOBA just behind Josh Hader, 9 spots ahead of Roberto Osuna, and 11 ahead of Ryan Pressly.

Smith has had some injury concerns in the past: a lower back strain (2009), a torn UCL (2016), and Tommy John Surgery (2017), but has seemed to prove those issues are in his past.

What would it take?

Trade values are still as much an art as they are science to me. Will Smith’s low salary ($4M) and performance greatly boost his value, but his price tag will be tempered by the fact that he is only a rental, eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

MLBTradeRumors had the following comparisons based on last year’s trades of top relievers:

Jeurys Familia traded for Will Toffey, Bobby Wahl and $1M international slot money

Will Toffey was the #17 prospect in the A’s system, according to MinorLeagueBall, a C+ 3B prospect. He did not light the world on fire, with questions about his ability to hit for power. Wahl was a lottery ticket, throwing in the upper 90’s. He had a 2.27 ERA as a reliever in AAA at the time of the trade. His 14+ K/9 rate quieted injury concerns from his thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. At the time, the trade was viewed as a fairly light return, with John Sickels saying, “It sure does seem like the Mets undersold, but time will tell.”

Kelvin Herrera was traded for Blake Perkins, Kelvin Gutierrez, and Yohanse Morel.

Blake Perkins came in at #12 on the MinorLeagueBall prospect ratings, a C+ OF prospect. He was a 2nd round draft pick in 2015 and flashed some tantalizing skills being a fast switch-hitter with some power, but was knocked for his ability to make contact. Kelvin Gutierrez came in at #17, a C+ 3B prospect. He was seen as a superior defensive third baseman who missed a good chunk of the season due to an ankle injury. Morel was another lottery ticket, having just pitched 1 game prior to the trade, but was noted to have a fastball that rides up to 95+ mph, years away, but with a ton of potential.

Joakim Soria (+$1M salary relief) traded for Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez

Kodi Medeiros was the headliner having been the 12th overall pick in the 2014 Draft. He was not ranked in the top 20 prospects from MinorLeagueBall, but was ranked as the #12 prospect for the Brewers by MLB Pipeline. Wilber Perez was “essentially a throw in”, who had excellent results in the Dominican Summer League, but was very old for the level.

Minorleagueball gave credit to the White Sox saying they did an excellent job of receiving high-upside value for a 36 year-old reliever. Fangraphs, on the other hand, was unimpressed, calling out Medeiros’ control issues and dismissing Perez as a fringe prospect.

Zach Britton was traded for Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, and Josh Rodgers

Due to recent injury issues at the time, Britton’s trade was a slightly different situation. In exchange for Britton, the Orioles received one of the largest hauls. All three prospects were fairly highly rated, but were Rule 5-eligible and the Yankees were facing a roster crunch. Tate, once the 4th overall pick, had dealt with a myriad of injuries and questions whether he could stick as a starter. These concerns limited him to being ranked the #10 Yankees prospect by MinorLeagueBall. Carroll, a prospect with helium after a dominant showing in the 2017 Arizona Fall League, was a bullpen piece that many believed could serve at the major league level immediately. (He struggled in the 17 IP at the MLB level last year and has been on the IL this year). Josh Rodgers, while not a top prospect, had mixed reviews. Rogers featured an arsenal of a mid-90’s fastball combined with a slider/change.

Will Smith would look good in a Stros uniform

Conclusion

The Astros have one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball, but there have been some questions as to the depth beyond the Harris/Pressly/Osuna combination. Smith would undeniably bolster the bullpen. He would provide not only a lefty reliever if the Astros do want to pursue adding a situational lefty, but also an all-around option who has been absolutely dominant.

After reviewing the returns of comparable players based on MLBTradeRumors, I do think there is potential for the Astros to be able to deal for a player of Smith’s caliber primarily from the overwhelming depth and upcoming roster crunch of club controlled assets without a home.

I would think that Smith’s injury history, while it plays a factor, is minimized with the short duration of his remaining contract and having proven his success since his return from Tommy John.

The question comes down to if the Astros do believe they need a lefty and if a different team overpays due to need and his closing experience which will hold a value to some clubs that likely won’t be replicated by the Astros.

His pitching arsenal is not the Astros bread and butter (high-spin 4-Seamer / breaking ball), but his results more than stand on their own before any tweaking through the magic of Strom. He does have a third solid offering, which helps keep batters off-pace and I always have confidence in the Astros to utilize a pitcher to the best of their ability and potential get a few extra RPMs.

Obviously, the Answer is for DJ Jazzy Jeff Luhnow to get this done!!

DJ Jazzy Jeff Luhnow and Will Smith Rock the House!