Message to Cardinals: Put Smoltz in 'Pen
Kudos to the St. Louis Cardinals for adding an intriguing, low-risk, potentially high-reward piece to their roster. But why are they trying to botch the signing of John Smoltz by putting him in their rotation?
Apparently, the Cardinals are undecided as to how Smoltz ultimately will fit in over the next 2 1/2 months. For now, they plan on using him as a starter, beginning Sunday in San Diego. But I'll tell you right now: He's going to pitch himself into a bullpen job, which is where he belongs in the first place. Used properly -- which is to say, in specific late-game situations where the opposing team has plenty of right-handed hitters due up -- Smoltz could be one powerful weapon for a contender such as the Cardinals. The sooner they realize it, the better.
Most folks looked at Smoltz's awful overall numbers as a starter for the Boston Red Sox this season (2-5, 8.33 ERA) and assumed he must be washed up and useless. But a closer look at the numbers shows something very interesting: He only had serious trouble against left-handed hitters. Against right-handers, he was utterly dominant:
Smoltz's 2009 splits (BA/OBP/SLG):
vs. LH batters: .444/.490/.767
vs. RH batters: .232/.259/.390
OK, it was a small sample size -- only 40 innings pitched. So let's extend the study out to include his injury-shortened 2008 season:
Smoltz's 2008-09 splits:
vs. LH: .355/.407/.625
vs. RH: .233/.267/.357
It's still a small sample size -- 68 innings pitched -- so let's keep going back to include Smoltz's last full season as a starter, 2007, when he pitched 205 2/3 innings:
Smoltz's 2007-09 splits:
vs. LH: .289/.350/.451
vs. RH: .236/.261/.366
Obviously, the lefty-righty splits are less dramatic, but over the course of those 273 2/3 innings the past three seasons, Smoltz is still holding right-handed batters to an OPS that is 175 points lower than he has allowed to lefties. Neither of the Cardinals' current top right-handed set-up men -- Kyle McClellan (.265/.356/.382) or Jason Motte (.232/.313/.434) -- can match Smoltz's success against right-handers. (Intriguing rookie Blake Hawksworth, who has gone .182/.217/.250 against right-handers in very limited action, is a different story.)
Combine Smoltz's ability to shut down right-handed bats with his vast experience as a postseason force (15-4, 2.65 ERA in his career) and as a lock-down closer (144 saves in 157 chances from 2002 to '04), and the Cardinals may have just gotten themselves the type of "secret weapon" pitcher who helps win championships -- as long as they use him the right way.
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