Get to Know the Newest Atlanta Brave: Will Smith

I’m going to spare you the Will Smith references from the entertainment world since we’re sure to read and hear about a thousand of them between now and Spring Training.

But what I will tell you is that Alex Anthopolous was not going to wait for the free agent markets to take shape. He acted before everyone, and now the Braves have the best back-end of their bullpen since the days of Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty. And with the money being committed to Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and now Will Smith, it had better be a really good bullpen.

Smith helps towards guaranteeing that it will be. A well-traveled man, Smith has pitched for Kansas City, Milwaukee, and San Francisco. It was for the Giants that he established himself as an elite reliever, with this past year being the best year of his career. He was top 5 in the National League in saves, strike out percentage, strikeouts per nine innings, and left on base percentage. He was tops in the league in win probability added, so I would guess that AA thinks he’s getting probably one of the top 2 or 3 relievers in the league.

I said in the comments yesterday that I didn’t think he has elite stuff. He’s a fastball-slider guy, with his average fastball velocity at 92.6 MPH and his slider at 81.6 MPH, according to Statcast. So he’s not going to blow it past you. He also doesn’t have a curveball that’s above league average on spin rate. But he does get good run on his fastball, and his slider is deceptive. And coupling that with quality command, he’s getting excellent results, so who am I to criticize?

He’s 30 years old, and with a three year commitment, we’re giving a guy a multi-year deal to one of the later points in a guy’s career that I’m comfortable with. But he’s been mostly healthy in his career, so I don’t have a big problem with signing him until he’s 33.

I won’t make any prognostications about what this means for the rest of the offseason. Few know the mind of AA, and we all found out about this deal through a press release, after all. So while I have no idea how this relates to what they will do on the position player side of the ball, I do find it interesting that they signed this former San Francisco lefty and what that means for another lefty, Sean Newcomb. Should the Braves had signed Madison Bumgarner, obviously he would have slotted into the rotation, and Newk would have stayed in the pen. Instead, the Braves signed Will Smith, which means that we could see Newcomb slot into the rotation. So there could be that ripple effect with the rest of the roster should the chips fall that way. If so, this moves does increase Newk’s upside tremendously.

What do you think of the signing? What do you think about this maybe opening a spot for Newcomb in the rotation?

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39 thoughts on “Get to Know the Newest Atlanta Brave: Will Smith”

  1. Like I said in the previous post, Newk’s “stuff” is probably better than MadBum…if he has figured it out. The bright side to the Will Smith signing is that we may only need 5 innings a night from a starter so Newk’s high pitch count won’t be as much of a detriment with a lock down pen

  2. I hope the Smith signing is a sign that payroll is going up, even from the postseason adjusted 144 or so. If FO intends to start season around 130, this is a very restrictive move. We are already a little over 100.

    I wonder if interest in Smith was misread as interest in Bumgarner by the media or if that was a deliberate plant to throw off the media. Strange.

  3. This could be a very shrewd signing. Having thought about it, I also wonder if after reading the tea leaves on the SP market, Anthopolous felt the bidding might get out of hand?

    I love the top starters on the market, of course. Sign Strasburg, Cole or Wheeler, and I’d be ecstatic. Realistically, I know with the Braves M.O., Wheeler is at best a maybe, and the other two are out of the question. The MadBum and Hamels tier of the market doesn’t excite me much either. I think Newk could be as good, or better. So bumping him back to the rotation is smart.

  4. Some folks seem to think Greene will be non-tendered now. I have to say I really don’t like that idea and I hope they are wrong. Having 3+ dependable guys at the back of the pen would really be huge.

    Remember, we basically lost games 1 and 4 against the hated Cardinals by giving up late leads, having Smith would’ve helped that.

  5. What evidence is there that Greene will be non-tendered? Because people have arbitrarily identified that they now have too high of a percentage of their payroll allocated to the pen? What does that matter? We’re not paying our rotation much, our position player core is not that crazy, and we’ll end up having little allocated to our bench.

    I just think that the zig was rotation arms and AA zagged. For example, I think it’s possible that he saw that he could have Bumgarner in the rotation and Newk in the pen, or he could have Newk in the rotation and Smith in the pen for a lot less, and he chose that. I don’t think this has this ripple effect to where he has to shed bullpen arms because he’s got too much tied up in the pen.

  6. It’d funny if after all the “Greene is going to be non-tendered because they have too much committed to their bullpen” comments, the Braves just turned around and re-signed Chris Martin.

  7. I would be surprised and disappointed if they non-tendered Greene. There would surely be a trade market for him if the organization felt it better to use that money elsewhere.

    I’m very happy the team signed a southpaw reliever, although it surprised me they signed the best available. I would’ve been happy with a Jake Diekman.

    This is a high % of payroll to spend on a bullpen, but Acuna’s deal still allows us some flexibility to overspend somewhere, and this spending is only going to be an issue for one year. After 2020, Melancon and Greene will likely be gone.

    I’m pretty cool with this. I do think, with our willingness to part with a draft choice, it could signal that some team (like TEX) is pricing us out of the Donaldson sweepstakes, and we expect to recoup what we’ve lost. I think it’s likely but not certain that Smith is the only QFA we sign.

  8. I don’t think that FOs are compartmentalizing the payroll the way fans do. One, I don’t think that there are pre-determined minimums and limits on the rotation, bullpen, etc. And two, if there were, and they decided they would spend, say, $40M on the rotation, and they assess the FA market, and they don’t like the value compared to internal options they have, then are they going to just spend to spend?

    What if they just went into the season with Soroka, Fried, Folty, Newcomb, and Anderson/Wright/Wilson/Touki? Would that be an underwhelming rotation? Soroka could be ready to anchor the staff, Fried is now in his 4th big league season, some think Folty has righted the ship, Newcomb has 332 big league IP under his belt, and that’s the best collection of 5th starter candidates since the early 2000’s, if not the 90’s. And that rotation costs about $12M. Is that “too little”?

    Same thing for the position players. What if you only have $60M tied up there after re-signing a Donaldson? Where else are you supposed to spend money?

  9. @6

    If they have talked themselves into a rotation with just internal options, then I think re-signing Chris Martin makes a ton of sense. How much is he possibly going to cost? $2-3M? Like I said in the previous comment, where else are you going to spend it? Gerrit Cole is not walking through the door.

  10. I’ve wondered if Greene would be non-tendered. For me, it’s not a question of what percentage of the payroll goes where, though. It’s the fact that they now have 3 closers, but neither Greene nor Melancon are elite at it. I’m not advocating for a non-tender, and certainly see no issues keeping some great pen arms. I actually like it. I hated the patchwork pen. I guess I’m just asking do former closers want to be set up men; and if not, is it an issue?

  11. It just seems ridiculous to think they would non-tender Greene but they paid Adam Duvall to play in Triple-A.

  12. OK, so hang on a sec. Let’s assume Newk goes to the rotation. Where does that leave the pen? What other lefty do we have? Assuming Smith closes, he’s not going to be a situational lefty. Under the new 3-batter rule are LOOGYs a thing of the past? Here’s where I think the bullpen is:

    Smith
    Melancon
    Greene
    O’Day
    Jackson
    Dayton/Minter/Clouse/Burrows/Davidson/Pfeifer
    Webb
    Walker

    There is room for one lefty (unless Walker goes out for another lefty) and we have a multitude of candidates that should be on the 40-man. If you want to add a cheap middle reliever (Tomlin-type), then someone has to go. That’s one reason I think Melancon is on the way out (AA may have a deal already in the works when he offered Smith). I also think this means that Minter is no longer being groomed as closer-in-waiting and may be dangled in trade.

    Davidson, Wright, Wilson, Weigel, and Touissant – whoever doesn’t get traded – will all get a shot in the spring at the 5th slot in the rotation. The losers may also get a shot at the long relief role.

    With all of our pitching prospects, I do think there is currently too much money tied up in old guys in the pen. Melancon should be the odd man out.

    Any idea that Melancon might re-negotiate his contract to 2/14 with a third year option rather than leave it as is? That would be more in line with his true value.

    I don’t think the Braves will sign any more significant FA relievers like Martin.

  13. @7
    Good to see you on here, Mr. Blackwell! For those that don’t know Brent, he is our host on the podcast.

    I agree with you that Greene would have a market if Braves needed to make financial room, so the non-tender, to me, is a non-starting conversation.

    Also, I don’t think it’s realistic that Newcomb goes back to the rotation. To me, it’s just fluff and he’ll be back where he belongs in 2020.

    For me, it’s 2 steps forward and 1 back if Braves trade Greene and I do truly think that we are seeing new age in Braves payroll.

  14. Is Newk’s best use as the second lefty in a pen if you assume that Snit may use Melancon and Smith based on match-up?

    My issue with Newk in pen is that he’s a very durable starter. He made 30 starts 3 years in a row. He had a 1.9 fWAR as a starter last year, and a 0.4 fWAR as a reliever this year. WAR may be deceiving for a reliever, but that’s staggering.

  15. @16 Not only is Newk a very durable starter, he made 134 pitches in a game. A lot of starters get pulled due to fatigue. Newk has clearly got enough to go the distance almost any night out there.

  16. @17 But didn’t he fade pretty badly after the 134-pitch game in 2018? He had a 3.23 ERA at the end of that game (his last start in July) and 6.75 and 4.26 in the two remaining months of the season. In his five August starts, he had an xOPS+ of 152, and batters slashed .327/.398/.527 against him. That he can rebound from that is better than if he had injured himself, but I’m not sure that we want him throwing that many pitches again. Also, he only went more than 6 innings four times and over 7 once in 2018, so I don’t think he’s likely to go the distance very often.

  17. @22 You are really expecting it to be a lot more? I figure it will be around $145M by the end of next season (meaning at the trade deadline).

  18. As opposed to Julio money, I prefer to think of the Smith signing as using Keuchel money. If Newk goes back to the rotation then the symmetry is nice. That leaves Julio money to go to Grandal.

    On the other hand, TT suggests trading for Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras. We could start that package with Riley and William plus others. That would leave enough payroll space to go for a top starter.

  19. @21 I remember Newcomb begining to fade before that game, actually. It was a nice game in an otherwise really meh stretch for him.

  20. His games can be unwatchable, but I don’t think that answers the question of whether or not Sean Newcomb should be in a rotation. And if Moneyball is reflective of reality, the GMs don’t watch the games anyway, so what do they care about watchability?

    Brent, thank you for coming on here! Really enjoyed your hosting on the pod. You guys are great.

  21. I’m really sorry for hijacking a post about picking up the best reliever in the free agent market by talking about Sean Newcomb, by the way. But this is a crazy good bullpen, so I’m just befuddled at what we’ll do with all of them, and I don’t necessarily think there will be some kind of salary dump.

    I think we can use Smith, Melancon, and Greene in 9th inning duties. Closers are so 90’s. If you have 2 lefties to face in the 9th, use Smith. Two RHBs, use Melancon or Greene. We did this last year with Minter and Vizzy, and no one had an issue with it because they both suck. Why wouldn’t it be even more exciting to do this with Melancon and Smith? And outside of Smith and Melancon, the entire pitching staff, rotation included, is dirt cheap. What’s not to love? This is exactly what they said they would do: fill the pitching staff with mostly homegrown players then fill the needs with free agents and trading for veterans.

  22. I find it hard to believe but the Trade Values website seems to think a trade of Bryant, Contreras, and Schwarber to be fair for Riley, Contreras, and Melancon. That would certainly solve all our position player issues at no real cost since the money is more or less equal for 2020 (costs us more in future years, but who cares). Seems like the Braves should have to put in at least one more prospect to make it work.

  23. @30 I’m sold on that deal! The Cubs ain’t doing it, though. Lol. I guess they’re thinking it’d be fair though because Bryant is such a sure bet to jet in FA?

  24. @29 Rob, I totally, and completely disagree with the notion of closers being “nineties”. That’s what teams try to sell their fanbase on when they either don’t have one, or our too cheap to buy one. I think an entire relief crew benefits when they slot into roles. The rules and roles don’t have to be hard and fast, but at least somewhat defined.

  25. The Braves basically gave Kimbrel money plus a draft pick for Smith. Does that say what they thought of Kimbrel?

  26. @34 I’m assuming you were asking me with the @ here.

    I really wasn’t accusing them of being cheap here, though. Last season, yes.

    I’m just saying when you have guys capable, I’m in favor of identifying a true closer. I hate the closer by committee thing. I feel like that’s a measure teams take when they lack an option.

  27. @31 I tried it without Schwarber and the site wouldn’t accept it. Riley, apparently, has a huge value in a trade. Part of the deal would be a willingness to extend Bryant long term.

  28. Even at 140MM, Braves are going to have to “cheap out” at one of SP, 3B, OF, or C. My choice would be the OF. If the Braves went into the season with platoons at both RF and LF, I would be completely fine, and it would allow them to pursue the other 3 positions wholeheartedly (with exception being the extreme top-tier). If Braves go with a Kakes/Duvall platoon in LF, they could go grab a Calhoun/Joyce/Dickerson/Miller type and use Camargo if they wanted to stay in-house, or someone like Pence or Maybin on the FA market (both guys terrify me).

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