Don’t Give Up On Smoltz … Yet


Jul 24, 2009

Don't Give Up On Smoltz ... Yet The Red Sox like to strike one-year deals with pitchers working their way back from injury. And it’s a good maneuver — when you sign players to contracts that are short-term and incentive-based, you protect yourself from getting burned.

Of course, there’s also a reason that these players are willing to sign such club-friendly deals: because there’s a good chance that the player won’t perform up to his career standards. Guys like Wade Miller and Bartolo Colon come to mind.

Coming into this season, the Red Sox signed two of these low-risk, high-reward pitchers: Brad Penny and John Smoltz.

Penny hasn’t been that great, going 7-4 with a 4.71 ERA coming into Friday’s start, but he hasn’t been bad either — he does have nine quality starts on the year. And really, nobody expected too much out of him coming into this season anyway. Penny’s been a good pitcher for most of his career, but nobody would ever call him dominating.

John Smoltz, on the other hand, is another case entirely. The man is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s compiled a 3.28 ERA and 1.17 WHIP to go along with over 3,000 strikeouts, and he’s the only person to accumulate at least 200 wins and 150 saves.

But so far this year, Smoltz has been pretty awful with Boston. He sports a 1-3 record and 6.31 ERA in five starts, and he’s made it through the sixth inning only once. At 42 years old, is it possible his best days are far behind him? Is Smoltz just another Theo Epstein flier that didn’t pan out?

Not so fast. Smoltz really hasn’t been as bad as his ERA and record indicate. He’s got 22 punchouts in 25 2/3 innings, and he’s walked just four batters over that time – so it’s pretty clear that he still knows how to throw strikes.

The problem actually might be that Smoltz is throwing too many strikes. Or, at the least, he’s catching too much of the plate. He’s let up 33 hits in those 25 2/3 innings, which translates to a .303 batting average against. The last time Smoltz let up more hits than innings pitched was … wait for it … 1988, his rookie season.

So what’s the problem? 

Many would tell you that he’s not as effective as he once was because he’s struggling to adjust following shoulder surgery. They’d say that he used to work with a fastball in the upper 90s, and now that he’s down to the 90-92 range, players are better able to get wood on his pitches.

But here’s a news flash for those people: John Smotlz hasn’t been throwing 96 into his forties. He’s been a lower-to-mid-90s guy for a while, and despite that, he put together a 2.57 ERA in five starts last year and a 3.11 mark in 32 outings the year before.

The fact is that Smoltz just hasn’t pitched at this level in a long time. Over a year passed between his last start with the Braves and his first with the Red Sox. It’s going to take a little while for him get back the feel for pitching — for him to relearn the nuances of the craft that have made him one of the most consistent pitchers of this generation. Plus, he’s now pitching in the American League, where he doesn’t know the hitters well and now has to face the DH rather than the opposing hurler.

With all of that to account for, it seems reasonable to expect Smoltz to undergo an adjustment period, and that it would last more than five starts.

If his ERA is still this high two months from now, fine, you can chalk him up as a failed experiment. But don’t judge the guy after his first few outings. He could still wind up being a vital part of the team’s championship chase this year.

Who’s hot?
The Red Sox are only 2-5 since the All-Star break, but the bullpen has been stellar in that time. Boston’s relief crew has tallied 16 1/3 innings in those six games, allowing no runs on nine hits with 17 strikeouts. On the year, the Sox ‘pen still stands as the best in the American League with a 3.25 ERA.

Who’s not?
The entire Red Sox offense has been sputtering in the second half, but J.D. Drew in particular has been dreadful. He’s gone 1-for-25 since the break (including seven strikeouts) and has only managed three walks, two runs and an RBI. Drew was hitting .252 heading into the All-Star festivities, but now his average has dropped nearly 20 points to .233.

Quote of the week

“There’s really no explanation for it. We obviously have very good hitters on the team, we’re just going through a rough patch … The biggest thing is we’ve been getting good pitching too, and so that’s maybe what makes it frustrating.”
Jacoby Ellsbury on the Red Sox’ second half struggles. The pitching staff has a respectable 4.22 ERA since the break, but the offense has mustered just a .192 batting average – better only than the San Diego Padres.

Opposing star
The Red Sox should remember Brett Anderson all too well when they face him in Boston on Wednesday. In his last outing at Fenway on July 6, the 21-year-old southpaw tossed a two-hit, complete-game shutout to lead Oakland to victory. Over his last five starts (including that game against the Red Sox), Anderson has a 1.36 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 3.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Perhaps the youngster, who never pitched above Double-A before this year, has finally learned how to be successful at the major league level.

Series of the week

All of a sudden, the Red Sox find themselves 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. The Sox need wins, and they need them now. Fortunately, playing the Orioles at home over the weekend provides them the perfect opportunity to rack up the W’s. Baltimore is 41-53 on the year — 16 1/2 games out of first — and just 15-32 on the road.


The Red Sox are not playing baseball’s toughest opponents over the next week, but the way things are going, you never know what could happen. Still, taking on Oakland (.250 team batting average; 26th in the majors) and Baltimore (4.97 team ERA; 28th in the majors) at home is probably the best medicine the team could ask for. Look for the Red Sox to get back on track this week against two last-place squads.

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