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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.

By Dave Sheinin  |  August 20, 2009; 9:01 AM ET
Categories:  Cardinals  
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Good points. I think they want to use him as the #5 starter because Wellemeyer and Boggs have been pretty bad. Then, if they make the playoffs, he will be ideal in the bullpen.

Posted by: slewis1 | August 20, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Wow. That's good research.

Posted by: Hobes | August 20, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

if you looked at what smoltz said when he was released by the red sox, he wants to be a starter. he wasn't going to sign somewhere unless he had the chance to start. so the cardinals decided he'd be ok as a #5 starter for the regular season and you know they have already talked about him moving to the pen for the post season.

smoltz knows that only the top 3 starters normally get work in the post season, and he knows that he's not going to be in the top 3.

Posted by: adampschroeder | August 20, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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