The return of Joe Smith

Zach Britton, Brad Hand, Justin Wilson, and Joe Smith were all potential relief pitching trade deadline targets of the Cleveland Indians. One of those names is not like the others. One of those names just does not belong. Can you tell which name is not like the other by the time I finish this song?

You might have guessed the player that is different is Joe Smith, whom the Indians acquired near the trade deadline on Monday as first reported by Ken Rosenthal. The reason that he doesn’t fit in with the other three on this list is that Smith is a right-handed pitcher when the Indians biggest need was for a southpaw out of the bullpen. However, over-use worries of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw coupled with a season-ending injury to Boone Logan might have prompted the Tribe to grab the best reliever available at a reasonable price.

Cleveland.com writer Paul Hoynes reported that Indians send minor leaguers left-handed pitcher Tom Pannone and shortstop Samad Taylor in return for the relief pitcher who was finishing out a one-year, three million dollar deal.

Joe Smith has been a fine reliever in 2017. Over 35.3 innings pitched (38 appearances), Smith has a 3.28 ERA, 2.31 FIP, 1.121 WHIP, and a staggering 51 strikeouts. His 35.4% strikeout rate and 28.5% K-BB rate puts him only below Corey Kluber (35.8%, 29.8%) and Andrew Miller (37.9%, 31%) on the Indians. The numbers are all career highs, so there is warranted skepticism of if he can sustain them.

There are some other concerns with Smith as well. He was activated on July 22 from the 10-day DL (that he had been on since June 15) for shoulder inflammation, but he has had no issues with it in his rehabilitation efforts or relief stints over the past three weeks. In 2016, Smith had a 3.46 ERA / 4.99 FIP as he had an uncharacteristically poor year striking batters out and allowed a career high in home run rate leading to a negative WAR (-0.4), which means he was worth less than a replacement player.

Smith has definitive value even if the rest of his season returns closer to his career norms. Maintaining his 2017 pace would change the entire outlook of the Indians relief corps and turn it into one of the more formidable weapons in MLB.

One local scribe believes that Smith will welcome the opportunity to return to the Progressive Field bullpen he called home from 2009 to 2013.