The Braves made a somewhat surprising splash in free agency a year ago when the inked Will Smith to a 3-year deal worth $39M (with the possibility of a fourth year, too). Smith, at the time, was regarded as one of the game’s top left-handed relievers and was expected to be yet another weapon in the Braves’ revamped bullpen. Let’s take a look back on the past season and what to expect moving forward.
What went right in 2020?
To be honest — not much. It was a rough season from the very beginning as Smith never quite looked like the guy he was in San Francisco. He finished the season with a 4.50 ERA but absurd 7.38 FIP (4.22 xFIP) fueled by a sky-high home run rate.
If we’re looking for positives, Smith pitched well when called upon towards the end of the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs, often working the 7th or 8th innings to set up Mark Melancon and Chris Martin. Smith’s strikeout and walk rates (29 K%, 6 BB%) were much more in line with his career normals, which is a good indicator that the stuff is still there. But ultimately, the shortened 2+ month season was one to forget for the 31-year-old lefty.
What went wrong in 2020?
It feels like Smith was behind the eight ball from the very beginning. Once baseball resumed operation in July, Smith tested positive for COVID-19 and missed nearly a month before resuming regular baseball activities. He quickly ramped up his workouts and joined the big league roster on August 6.
It was a struggle early on, giving up runs in 6 of his first 11 appearances. Again, the home run ball was a serious problem, allowing seven of them across 16 innings of work during the season. And in the playoffs, there was a Will Smith vs. Will Smith battle we do not want to live again.
Outlook for 2021
Just one season into the 3-year deal the Braves signed him to, we can only hope 2020 was an aberration chalked up to a weird schedule and delayed start due to COVID. Smith is too talented and owed too much money to realistically move on or consider alternatives. Assuming Smith is able to put this past summer behind him, look for Brian Sntiker to utilize him once again in the later innings in 2021.