Do I realize that John Smoltz is an old, old man? Of course. Do I advocate the acquisition of hordes of 42-year-old pitchers with lengthy histories of arm trouble? Not at all.
But if the Mets are really interested in Smoltz, and the old-timer isn’t really looking for much more than a few million in base salary, laden with incentives, I say do it.
Smoltz stunk with the Red Sox last season — that much is irrefutable. He allowed eight home runs and and posted a miserable 56 ERA+ in his time in Beantown.
But once he got to St. Louis, Smoltz pitched something like the old John Smoltz. Maybe not quite the young John Smoltz of his Cy Young season, but certainly similar to the old John Smoltz of the John Smoltz post-bullpen renaissance from 2005-2007. Check it out:
In those three seasons, Smoltz allowed 8.5 hits per nine innings, 0.9 home runs per nine, 2.1 walks per nine, and struck out 7.8 batters per nine. In his seven starts with the Cardinals, Smoltz allowed 8.5 hits per nine, 0.7 home runs per nine, 2.1 walks per nine, and struck out 9.5 batters per nine.
Seven starts is a small sample, mind you, and it’s not fair to entirely dismiss Smoltz’s totals from Boston. Certainly, pitching in the American League East is tougher than anything he’d be asked to do with the Mets, plus he was coming off shoulder surgery so it’s reasonable to wonder if he was still building up his strength, but Smoltz took his worst shellings in his last four starts with the Sox, so it’s not as if he was quietly getting stronger and they just gave up on him too soon.
Plus it’d be silly to mention all Smoltz’s rate stats with the Cardinals and not note that his ERA+ from 2005-2007 was a sterling 135 and was a meager 96 with St. Louis in 2009. Since the rate stats were so similar, as mentioned, and the strikeout rate actually improved, I’d say that’s most likely do to a small sample and a run of bad luck, but I’ll allow the possibility that Smoltz was getting hit a lot harder. Still, according to baseball-reference he only allowed a 17-percent line-drive rate in those starts, which is actually lower than his season rates in the 2005-2007 span.
In other words, I say do it. I don’t know that Smoltz will continue to pitch like he did with the Cardinals, or that he’ll stay healthy, but if he’s willing to be had for so little money, why not? The upside is a guy who could be a very good starter, plus he comes with the built-in hedge of being willing to pitch out of the bullpen if he somehow is healthy but can’t cut it in the rotation.
For a long time, I was convinced the Mets just needed innings, and so should go out and pick up innings-eaters like Jon Garland. But the more I think about it, I realize that what happened last year forced the Mets to acquire a slew of guys who can eat innings in unspectacular fashion. The Mets can probably get Jon Garland innings out of Nelson Figueroa. They can’t get John Smoltz innings out of Jon Garland.
I think if the Mets want to even hope to contend in 2010, they need to take small risks on upside plays like Smoltz and Ben Sheets and hope they pay off. Frankly, they’re already putting a lot of stock in Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana returning healthy, and David Wright returning to form, and Jeff Francoeur’s Citi Field success not being a small sample size fluke. Simply put, they’re going to be relying on a whole lot of things falling their way.
But that’s what happens to the teams that win championships — it’s what needs to happen. Sometimes, everything just falls your way, and then you win. And when you’re operating with a limited budget, one of the best ways to make it actually come to fruition is to take bets on guys with big upside.
As I write this, I know there’s a large fraction of Mets fans who’ll say, “Smoltz!? F@#$ Smoltz! That guy’s a Brave, and I couldn’t bear to see him in a Mets uniform.” And I realize the way the Tom Glavine thing ended in Queens doesn’t bode well for his longtime teammate. But guys like Smoltz can help the Mets win, and I promise if he does, you’ll be more than happy to forgive his tenure in Atlanta.