Josh Smoker, LHP
Player Data: Age: 28, B/T: L/L, Free Agency: 2023
2017 Primary Stats: 1-2, 5.11 ERA, 54 G, 56 1/3 IP, 1.704 WHIP, 5.1 BB/9, 10.9 K/9, -0.1 bWAR, -0.2 fWAR
2018 Salary: Pre-arbitration
After the 2017 season, it is hard to know what exactly Josh Smoker is as a player because, frankly, Terry Collins wasn’t sure. As a result, Collins used Smoker in a variety of ways including long-man, set-up man, LOOGY, and forgotten man. The one constant through each of those roles was that Smoker struggled mightily in them.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of Smoker’s season was on April 13 in the 16-inning game against the Miami Marlins. In that game, Smoker pitched three scoreless innings striking out five batters. His three scoreless innings from the 12th to the 14th kept the Mets alive long enough to set up Travis d’Arnaud‘s dramatic 16th inning go-ahead homer.
That game was a change for Smoker. In 2016, he had allowed a homer every time he went an extra inning. This certainly seemed like a new Smoker; one that was truly ready for that breakout season many had anticipated. Certainly, with a high-90s fastball and a devastating split, it seemed only a matter of time before he became a late inning set-up reliever.
Things never quite turned out that way. After seeing how he performed that night, and with the early struggles of the Mets rotation, Collins made him his de facto long man. From that April 13 game until his demotion after May 7, Smoker made 10 appearances, pitching in multiple innings in five of those games. Over that stretch, his ERA rose from 3.38 to 7.88 leading to his demotion to the minors.
In three minor league appearances, Smoker was stretched out. Supposedly, the main reason for the decision was to have him work on his secondary pitches. After three appearances where he allowed one run over 9 2/3 innings, he was recalled only to struggle in the majors again.
As demanding as his workload was before the demotion, it was even worse when he was recalled. In a three week span, he made seven appearances. In that stretch, he would twice reach a career high for pitches thrown in a game. The breaking point came on June 13 when he threw 81 pitches over four innings of relief. It should come as no shock that a pitcher with a history of shoulder problems landed on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain.
When Smoker came back on July 22, he was a better pitcher. In 32 games, he would pitch to a 2.63 ERA, 1.537 WHIP, and a 10.5 K/9. It should come as no surprise that over this stretch, Smoker was used more than an inning just one time.
What was a surprise was how effective Smoker was against left-handed batters. For much of his career, minor and major leagues, Smoker has had reverse splits. With a refined and improved slider, especially over the final month of the season, Smoker finally had the weapon to get left-handed batters out. Whereas left-handed batters have hit .295/.381/.504 off of him for his career, left-handed batters hit just .226/.258/.345 off Smoker in the month of September.
Overall, this was just a lost season for Smoker. He struggled to pitch while the Mets struggled to find the right role for him. Overall, the one bright side is he just might have honed the pitch that will allow him to become an effective Major League pitcher.
Did You Know:
Smoker was originally a first-round draft pick by the Washington Nationals before shoulder injuries led to his release. He has not exacted revenge upon them going 0-1 with a 10.29 ERA and an 1.857 WHIP against them this season. Part of that is Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper going a combined 3-for-9 against him with two doubles.
After the season Smoker just had, he risks being designated for assignment to permit the Mets to add a more effective reliever to the 40-man roster in his stead. Ultimately, his saving grace might just be how well he pitched to left-handed batters during the month of September. If he does in fact keep his 40-man spot, look for him to compete for one of the last spots in the 2018 bullpen with him likely ticketed to begin the year in Las Vegas.