Fixing Will Smith- Why the Astros Made This Trade

When people asked what the Astros would get for Jake Odorizzi, I simply would tell them he had negative trade value and they could not trade him. When pressed, I would say nothing you want. On Twitter Spaces THIS WEEK, I said cash considerations and/or a PTBNL (that would end up being no one). I joked they would get a dollar. That's it- a dollar.


What the Astros did was trade one bad contract that had a PLAYER option for next year (Odorizzi- Trade Value- Negative 7.5) FOR an even worse contract that has a CLUB option for next year (Smith- Trade Value NEGATIVE 5.7). If Odorizzi declines the option, he will be owed a MINIMUM of $3.25M next year. If the Astros decline Smith's option for next year, he will be owed $1M next year.


This is where you learn the sport you love is a BUSINESS, and team's ultimately make decisions based on value. The truth is the Astros save money next year.


BUT


The Astros can fix Will Smith. Either they fix him with what I am about to propose or they decline the option. Here is how the Astros CAN fix Will Smith.


I have said many times the Astros are making decision based on EXPECTED performance which factors in things like swing and miss rate, barrel rate, launch angle, and exit velocity. The belief is that EXPECTED stats are more predictive to true talent and future results than are the actual stats which have a strong luck and sample size component in them. This is ESPECIALLY true for relief pitchers.


When I wrote the article

https://www.larrythegm.com/post/what-the-astros-should-really-do-for-a-left-handed-relief-pitcher, I searched for LHRP that met these factors:


  • Have pitched at least 100 pitches to both LHH and RHH (I wanted at least some sample size)

  • Have a GOOD wOBA and xwOBA vs. LHH (Set at <0.260)

  • NOT be terrible in wOBA and xwOBA vs. RHH (set a <0.320)

  • Relief Pitchers only

Notice I was looking for wOBA (actual results) AND xwOBA (expected results).


At this point you may be getting frustrated and say


"Will Smith has pitched HORRIBLY this year! His ERA is 4.38 and his FIP is 5.23. His WHIP is 1.51. That is terrible for a RP and he is making $13M for that terrible pitching!"


All true and none of those were the factors I used as a screen for who the Astros should get as a LHRP. Here are MY numbers.

Notice first that that pitcher is probably not as bad as the ERA indicates. Also, the gap to the target is worse in the actual performance than it is in the expected performance.


But it is still not good, so let's suggest some easy fixes. Let's look at the data by PITCH TYPE.

Will Smith is 33 years old. The velocity on his pitches is close to his career average. Others can discuss spin and inches of break on his pitches. My fix is simpler than that.


Notice the relative wOBA and xwOBA of the pitches. Versus LHH the slider is FAR more effective. Versus RHH the same is true and the curveball is HORRIBLE.


Here is my fix

- Will Smith becomes a primarily Slider Pitcher (70% Slider, 30% Fastball)

- They drop the curve ball completely


That's it.


IF Smith does this and the pitches remain as effective as they currently are (they probably won't), he projects to be a VERY different pitcher. Notice the numbers in the box.

Smith nearly meets the filters I set up to define a LHRP TARGET. His EXPECTED stats project to be EXCELLENT IF (and I repeat IF it works.)


You may ask does any other pitcher pitch this way? Yes there are- Steve Okert (71% Sliders), Amir Garrett (67% Sliders), and Tanner Scott (66% Sliders). All three of those players are LHRP. They have a mix of results. Will it actually work? I don't know, but it is worth a try.


The Astros turned an essentially surplus SP that is likely to not return the value they would have had to pay him next year into a pitch usage experiment of a LHRP that could return him into a highly effective RP vs. both LHH and RHH. It is truly a low risk potentially high reward shot they are taking.


I say congratulations to the Astros front office. Now do the pitch usage experiment.


The truth is folks, I do not know if this is what the Astros WILL DO with Will Smith. I do know this is what they COULD do. It COULD work.


I gave an interested friend on Twitter (@TexasSportsTV) the chance to read this early and this is what he told me and I think it summarizes the situation perfectly.


The Astros pitching philosophy has been "pitch what works." You got a pitch that is effective at getting swings and misses, and you have one pitch that doesn't work as much. Use the first pitch much more often. This will be the first true test of the new pitching coach. I'm excited to see if we still have the best staff in baseball.


Note: Trade values from baseballtradevalues.com


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