Player highlight: John Smoltz

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry, again, for the gaps between posts. Don’t you just love it when you go on vacation and your resort’s internet service stops working for a week? I know I do. Whatever. It’s working now (although it keeps dancing on and off), so today I thought we’d look at the 2008 fantasy baseball value of John Smoltz.

Numbers


YEARAGELASTFIRSTTEAMLGGGSIPERALIPS ERAWHIPDIPS WHIPK/9BB/9K/BBxGB%LOB%BABIPHR/FBLD%
200436SmoltzJohnBravesNL73081.72.763.001.081.049.371.436.5446.6182.030.31510.5317.33
200537SmoltzJohnBravesNL3333229.73.063.381.151.216.622.083.1949.2075.800.2848.6521.47
200638SmoltzJohnBravesNL3535232.03.493.791.191.198.192.133.8446.5976.320.30610.2220.00
200739SmoltzJohnBravesNL3232205.73.113.461.181.168.622.064.1944.8677.120.3128.7019.21
07-1H39SmoltzJohnBravesNL1717105.73.073.421.231.178.181.874.3644.1380.400.3197.8918.77
07-2H40SmoltzJohnBravesNL1515100.03.153.551.131.149.092.254.0445.3578.130.3039.6819.71

I’ve heard every year since Smoltz rejoined the starting rotation how he is getting too old and how “this will be the year he finally breaks down.” Well, Smoltz’s 40th birthday passed this year and there’s still no sign of this colossal breakdown I’ve been hearing about for three years. He struggled a little bit in his first year back in the rotation (2005), but since then has put up two very good years in a row. In addition, his strikeout rate was actually better in the second-half of this year than the first.

Still, I’m hearing rumblings that people think Smoltz is too risky for 2008, and that’s why I chose him today. Let’s now see if his arsenal can explain his continued dominance or give us reason to believe a collapse could be coming.

Arsenal

John Smoltz
Percentage of Total Pitches Recorded by Pitch f/x — 62%


PITCHSPEEDTOTALPERCENTSS/BALLBIP/SWGSWINGING%BALL%CALLED%FOUL%IN PLAY%
Fastball93.586046%0.160.475%34%23%17%20%
Curveball78.91438%0.480.3917%35%17%13%19%
Slider88.070537%0.920.2825%28%10%19%17%
Changeup85.01789%0.270.5210%35%14%15%26%

League Average
Percentage of Total Pitches Recorded by Pitch f/x — 44%


PITCHSPEEDTOTALPERCENTSS/BALLBIP/SWGSWINGING%BALL%CALLED%FOUL%IN PLAY%
Fastball91.6145637N/A0.170.426%36%19%20%19%
Curveball76.627369N/A0.250.4110%40%20%13%17%
Slider82.751762N/A0.370.3814%36%15%16%18%
Changeup82.739797N/A0.360.4314%38%10%16%22%

I think these numbers paint a great picture of Smoltz and offer a possible explanation for his continued dominance into his 40s. Look at his fastball. While he can still consistently crank it up to 93, it isn’t really a great pitch. He has good control over it — although we see this across the board — but he doesn’t miss many bats… fewer than average, even.

While this might not sound like a good thing, I think this could be a big contributor to Smoltz’s continued longevity. Because he doesn’t rely upon his fastball to get batters out, I would think that he is the type of pitcher who can continue being effective even as he ages.

To look just a little bit further, let’s consider that some pitchers rely on the fastball as a way of setting up their changeup, but Smoltz’s change doesn’t miss many bats either. Again, I think this is great news for Smoltz’s future because he doesn’t need that fastball (or its effect on the changeup) in order to continue his success.

Smoltz instead relies upon his slider (which actually tops all major league starters in Swinging% and SS/Ball) to get batters out. And while he doesn’t use it all that often, his curveball is also quite good.

Furthermore, it is great to see that Smoltz realizes that these are his two best pitches. I hear it all the time, although I don’t like to say it myself unless I have some real data to back it up, but it seems like Smoltz really “knows how to pitch”. Check out how he uses his pitches in certain counts.


CountFastballSliderCurveballChangeup
0-228%54%13%5%
1-233%51%12%4%
2-228%54%13%4%
3-233%56%11%0%

While our first chart shows that he uses his fastball the most overall, he uses the slider the most when he needs to get guys out. He also uses the curve more often in these situations.

Judging by this data, I see no reason why Smoltz can’t continue to be successful, even if age takes a couple of MPHs off his fastball.

Braves defense


TEAM+/-RKRZRRKOOZRKIF RZRRKIF OOZRKOF RZRRKOF OOZRKBABIP
Braves-4110.839138860.7231619890.8711220120.297


POSLASTFIRSTINNINGSRZRLG AVGOOZOOZ/(BIZ+OOZ)LG AVG
1B Thorman Scott R 6080.7200.741230.1870.135
1B Teixeira Mark 4740.7460.741130.1630.135
2B Johnson Kelly A 11530.8130.830340.0850.104
SS Renteria Edgar 10190.8150.816490.1420.128
3B Jones Chipper 10800.6620.680570.2020.139
LF Diaz Matt 6780.8690.855420.2440.147
LF Harris Willie 6200.8720.855290.1880.147
CF Jones Andruw 13460.9210.888800.1890.137
RF Francoeur Jeff B 14400.8930.877620.1720.141

The Braves defense was pretty good in 2007, although there will be some changes made in 2008. Mark Teixeira should play for them the entire year, but Edgar Renteria, Andruw Jones, and Willie Harris are no longer with the team. Yunel Escobar will take over short and Matt Diaz will probably find regular time in left, but center looks pretty wide open right now.

In 363 innings, Escobar posted an .847 RZR and a .133 OOZ/(BIZ+OOZ). Both are above average and would likely be an upgrade over Renteria, although we are looking at a small sample size. Still, Escobar is young and learning and could easily prove to be the superior option defensively. Guys like Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur are also young and could see improvement in 2008.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in center, but I could see Smoltz posting a BABIP around .295.

2008 outlook

While Smoltz has had two very good years in a row, 2005 still looms as Smoltz’s downside. I really would like to chalk it up to him getting reacclimated to the rotation, but his monthly strikeout rate breakdown doesn’t show much progression. He had a whole off-season between 2005 and 2006, but I would be much more confident if he had stepped it up in the second-half of 2005.


MonthIP K/9
April29.210.01
May38.15.17
June50.16.08
July44.05.93
August35.17.90
September32.05.63

Seeing this, his 8.19 K/9 in 2006, and his 8.18 K/9 in the first-half of 2007, I’m going to assign him an 8.20 K/9 for 2008. His control has been consistently good and doesn’t show any real signs of regression, so a 2.10 BB/9 seems fair.

His expected ground ball rate has been dropping for the past three years, but I have a hard time seeing Smoltz falling from a near-extreme ground ball rate in 2005 to a below-average one in 2008. Let’s put him down for a 45% rate.

Given these stats, we could expect an ERA of around 3.75 and a WHIP in the 1.15-to-1.20 area (probably closer to 1.20). Given 200 innings, Smoltz would end up with 182 strikeouts.

The Braves offense is a bit of a question mark, but they scored the third most run in the NL last year with Andruw’s 4.26 RC/27 and Teixeira around for just two months. They will likely downgrade at shortstop, but I could still see the Braves having a potent offense in 2008. Given the same 200 innings, I think 14 or 15 wins sounds about right.

Market value

MLB Fantasy 411: 6th SP
FOX Sports: 8th SP
Yahoo!: 8th SP
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft: 8th SP
ProTrade: 11th SP
Sports Fanatics: 11th SP
CBS Sportsline: 18th SP
The Fantasy Man: 19th SP
Fantasy Gameday Mock Draft: 20th SP
CBS Draft: 21st SP
Mock Draft Central ADP Report: Not in Top 13
Average Rank: 13th SP
Standard Deviation: 5.8 spots

Conclusions

While Smoltz will one day fall out of the top echelon of pitchers (unless he retires first), I just don’t see it happening in 2008. We do have to dock him a little for the age increase (as we do with all players), but he should still be a worthwhile investment. I don’t see him as a top 6-8 starter, but he would likely be a great value if the rest of your league thinks he belongs around #20.

Concluding thoughts

That’s all for today, but the content should start coming at a much quicker pace now. I’ve had a couple new articles posted at MLB Front Office since my last mention of it, dealing with the concept of luck and line drive rates for pitchers, if you’re interested. Anyway, if you have any questions (as always) feel free to e-mail me.

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