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Looking into John Smoltz, circa 2009

By Ian Walton

I for one am quite pleased with the Cardinals’ signing of John Smoltz. Now granted, I also happen to be a Vikings fan, so I may simply be in an optimistic mood when it comes to the arms of old men, but I do have a few reasons to be hopeful.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The Red Sox didn’t just release Smoltz on a whim. The man does sport a 8.32 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP behind a fully justified 2-5 record on the season. Dustin Mattison summed up his weaknesses quite well over at The Cardinal Nation when displaying his line against left-handed hitters (.440/.490/.758) and his line when facing batters the second time through a lineup (.388/.397/.657). These numbers scream situational right-handed relief, so despite his initial role as a fifth starter, we all know where he will end up by the time the post-season rolls around should the Cardinals qualify. And heck, with their play of late, why shouldn’t they?

Let’s take a look at Smoltz’ performances start by start this season:

6/25 5 5 5 1 0 7
6/30 4 1 2 1 0 3
7/6 6 5 3 1 0 10
7/11 5 1 7 1 0 4
7/20 5.2 6 5 0 3 9
7/26 5 6 6 1 1 9
7/31 6 5 2 0 2 8
8/7 3.1 8 3 4 2 9
Total 40 37 33 9 8 59

His strikeout to walk ratio seems right on pace with his career numbers at approximately 3:1. His problems clearly lie in his hits and home runs allowed and those numbers clearly point to some bad luck. Opposing hitters have swung to a tune of a .343 batting average propped up by a .386 batting average with balls in play. Over his career, Smoltz has given up steady .237 and .287 marks respectively so things should start to even out soon.

I can offer no explanation for why he gave up so many home runs in his last four starts after giving up none in the previous four, but a move to Busch certainly won’t hurt in that department. I can offer an explanation for why he gave up nearly half of his walks this season in his final start, however. Take a look at his release points from the view of the catcher:

The green points were thrown for balls and it is very clear to see that at least seven of them were due to faulty mechanics. I didn’t see this wildness in any of his other starts, so hopefully it is something that Dave Duncan can address in short order.

Smoltz holds a career ERA of 3.32 and a career WHIP of 1.18 and I don’t see anything to suggest that his complete inability to match those numbers in 2009 is due to anything other than bad luck and some poor mechanics in his final start that caused him to be designated for assignment.

The Cardinals have made a number of mid-season additions that have really helped to spark their team to new heights and I see no reason to doubt this addition either. On the other hand, I do see every reason to question the Red Sox’ patience after seeing them recently acquire the mighty Alex Gonzalez (.209/.255/.295) following their dump trade of Julio Lugo (.307/.367/.443).

Thanks for financing my team’s playoff run, Boston!

Release point graph courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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