I'm going to be honest: I love John Smoltz. He's probably my all-time favorite Brave, even though it feels like an eternity since he last took the mound. Demetrius had a couple of great writeups about his well-deserved ascension to Cooperstown, but I want to focus on something a little less purposeful and just talk about a few things over his long career that I think are just plain awesome.
John Smoltz once lost a playoff game while posting a 0.00 ERA
Yeah, yeah, rabble rabble, "you used ERA in the section heading of your post," and so on. But it's true, he did! With the Braves up in the 1993 NLCS two games to one against the Phillies, Smoltz took the mound in Game 4 (side note; it's weird when you think of a guy like Smoltz being used as the fourth starter in a seven game series... and yet, that was the early 90s for the Braves) against some guy named Danny Jackson, who as far as I can tell, is most famous for appearing in a Fangraphs article about worst final seasons. Upon further review, however, Danny Jackson should be famous for being Dan Uggla's 1980s/1990s doppelganger. Anyway, Mark Lemke struck off of Jackson in the second to score the Crime Dog with a double, but then booted a ball in the fourth off the bat of Darren "Alliteration" Daulton. Two batters later, Smoltz allowed an extra-base hit to Milt "Not Alliteration" Thompson, who would score on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Then, Danny Jackson broke the tie with a roller up the middle resulting in another unearned run (because the inning would've been over had Lemke gotten Daulton out to start it). The rest of the game was kind of a reprisal-from-the-past of the Braves' 2014 season, with not much happening because Smoltz/Mercker/Wohlers were awesome, and the bats could do nothing against Jackson. The bottom of the ninth was a fairly exciting affair: Bill "Projection System" Pecota reached on a pop fly, Otis Nixon reached on an error by Mitch Williams, the Phillies' closer, and then Barves happened. Jeff Blauser's bunt resulted in Pecota being thrown out at third, and then Ron Gant knocked a 1-0 pitch into a double play. The Braves would go on to lose that series, saddling Smoltzie with an NLCS record of 0-1 with a 0.00 ERA. Baseball! John Smoltz!
Smoltz's 1996 season was ridiculously good
Smoltz won a Cy Young for putting up a 2.94 ERA (2.64 FIP, 8.2 fWAR) in over 250 innings. 8 is a large number. That's more than Mike Trout put up last year. Here's a list of pitchers that, since Smoltz's debut in 1988, have had pitching seasons better than Smoltz's 1996:
- Pedro Martinez;
- Roger Clemens;
- Randy Johnson;
- Curt Schilling;
- Zack Greinke; and
- Kevin Brown.
No Verlander. No Kershaw. Those guys dominated the game in a way we haven't seen since, and Smoltz was right there with 'em. That season, Smoltz led all of baseball in strikeout rate (27.7% of all batters faced), was top 10 in not allowing walks (Maddux, of course, was the champ at this once again), and also was top 10 at suppressing homers in terms of HR/9. He was awesome, and that Cy Young was well-deserved.
Smoltz hits like 2013 BJ Upton and wins Silver Slugger; Smoltz hits like 2014 Tommy La Stella and doesn't win Silver Slugger
This is kind of like the Bad Luck Brian of pitcher hitting statistics, but it amuses me to no end. John Smoltz won the Silver Slugger in 1997. His slash line was .228/.307/.266, for a 57 wRC+. He failed to impress any chicks that dug the long ball by not going deep, though he did steal a base, and walked at 9.6 % rate, which is a better rate than almost everyone on the 2014 Braves (including Justin Upton... but not including his brother). Now, 1997 wasn't a banner year for pitchers hitting or anything like that. But Todd Stottlemyre put up an 83 wRC+ that year with a .236/.333/.345 line (fun fake fact: this is the same line put up by every Braves infielder with a non-alliterative name last year) and was snubbed. There should've been an outcry; Silver Sluggers for pitchers are serious business. Anyway, Smoltz collected his hardware, but wasn't content to rest on his laurels. He actually put up a Silver Slugger-worthy season two years later, putting up an 87 wRC+ with a .274/.338/.387 effort. Unfortunately for him, his quest to get any more hardware was spoiled by future Brave Mike Hampton, who made the 2014 Braves lineup feel bad retroactively by putting up a 111 wRC+ as a pitcher (.373 OBP, .432 SLG!). Smoltz did manage to put up a .485 BABIP in his 72 PAs that year, which is kinda absurd. Who did he think he was, Yasiel Puig?
By the way, Smoltz's career wRC+ is 15. Glavine was the career champion of the Big Three in hitting with a 22 wRC+, and Maddux, always the clown, managed to post exactly a -1. Probably on purpose. Glavine also had four Silver Sluggers, even though his last one came when both Smoltz and Hampton posted way better batting lines than him. And you know when you beat Hampton out for a Silver Slugger, that the entire voting committee needs to be replaced by sentient wolves or something.
John Smoltz is that new guy that shows up for work at your office one day and is already better than you at your job
In his first full season as a closer (2002), Smoltz set the National League single-season save record. And during your first full week at work, you probably learned how to fill out your timesheet or something. Then, in 2003, he outdid himself by posting Craig Kimbrel Video Game Numbers (patent pending): 1.12 ERA, 1.54 FIP, 30% K-rate, 3% BB rate, and about 3 fWAR in just 60 innings. A lot of guys have a 3 WAR season and that's pretty great for them, but Smoltz had amazingly never posted a sub-3 WAR season as a fulltime starter. And then when he went back to starting, he picked up right where he left off, with three consecutive seasons of around 5 WAR (4.9, 5.2, 5.2).
Smoltz was the last remaining member of the 1991 worst-to-first squad on the team
I don't have more to say about this one, I just think it's kind of cool in a nostalgic way. Chipper stayed with the team past 2008, but he wasn't around in 1991.
Smoltz beat up on Maddux and Glavine head-to-head, at least a little bit
Smoltz first faced off against Maddux before they were teammates, on May 16, 1990. Smoltz threw a complete game shutout, and Maddux wasn't Maddux yet, getting roughed up and exiting in the 5th. Rematch #1 came on July 5, 1992. This time the Cubs shut out the Braves: Maddux pitched 7 scoreless while Smoltz allowed 3 solo homers to take a loss. But five days later, in the rubber game of this clash of eventual titans, Smoltz once again shut out the Cubbies for nine innings. Maddux fared better, allowed only two runs in eight frames, but it wasn't enough. Then, in 2007, during what was essentially an old-timers' rematch between two former teammates, Smoltz once again bested Maddux in May 2007, this time as Maddux was pitching for the Padres. Smoltz allowed just 2 solo homers in 7 innings. Maddux actually departed in the 6th with a lead, but Cla "Missing a Letter" Meredith gave up the lead and then let the Braves go ahead. Smoltz: 3, Maddux: 1.
Glavine and Smoltz, meanwhile, only faced off after they had been teammates, and the occurrences were more concentrated since they both pitched in the same division. The first showdown was on July 15, 2005. The Braves edged the Mets 2-1 and Smoltz got the win after pitching seven frames. Glavine didn't get the loss, though: he had departed a tie game and the Braves scored one more off of Roberto Hernandez after Smoltz's last inning. The most remarkable thing about this game? That Dan Kolb and Chris Reitsma pitched back-to-back scoreless innings (though each pitcher was aided by a double play after allowing the leadoff man to reach). Smoltz would face Glavine three times in 2007, which is kind of a lot if you think about it, just in terms of rotations matching up and all. He beat him on April 7 (5-3 Braves), handing the Mets their first loss of the season, they both got no-decisions in a 9-6 Braves win (Smoltz got roughed up in the 6th but the Braves scored six runs in the 7th and 8th to come back and win it) on April 22, and then Smoltz outdueled Glavine with seven shutout innings on May 24 in a 2-1 win. However, I'm sure he's still kicking himself for losing the consolation bout, as he finally dropped a game to Glavs on September 2, as the Mets won 3-2 with Glavine finally grabbing a W and Smoltz taking the loss despite quality starts from both hurlers.
John Smoltz, man of impeccable timing
Oh yeah, about that May 24, 2007 game where Smoltz beat Glavine by shutting out the Mets for 7 innings. That was Smoltz's 200th win. Guess when Smoltz recorded his 100th win? May 24, 1996. Exactly eleven years of difference.
And to cap it all off, here's one more. On June 27, 2007, Greg Maddux outdueled Matt Cain in an afternoon game in San Francisco. Later that night, rain in Flushing gave Tom Glavine a sneaky, six-inning complete game shutout win over the Cardinals. Smoltz, of course, rose to the occasion: five shutout innings in a 13-0 laugher over the Nationals, to complete a trifecta where each member of the Big Three grabbed a W on the same day.
Enjoy eternity in Cooperstown, Mr. Smoltz. It's certainly deserved after all the joy you've brought to us as fans. And may you broadcast well into the future, your jokes are... awesome.