Pirates Trade Deadline Target: Joe Smith

TORONTO, ON - MAY 30: Joe Smith
TORONTO, ON - MAY 30: Joe Smith /

The Pittsburgh Pirates currently sit four games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers.  They could use some help in the bullpen.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are making things interesting in the National League playoff race again.  After taking the first three against the Brewers, the Pirates look like they could be in buy mode, though if they drop the series finale and two of three to the Colorado Rockies the picture changes.  But for now they can look to buy, but also have to be reasonable in terms of who they acquire.  Their shot at the playoffs is 9.4 percent according to Baseball Prospectus, and if they do make the playoffs they’ll be without Starling Marte.  The team has to be smart when truly evaluating the teams chances.

The area that needs the most help is the bullpen, like every other team that is in contention.  You can never have too many power arms to shut down opposing lineups.  The Pirates could certainly use some help.  Juan Nicasio has struggled lately, giving up his first two home runs this week, but he is still missing bats and striking hitters out.  Wade LeBlanc doesn’t strike hitters out, but he is fine in a long relief role.  AJ Schugel has been a Pirate for a week, and the trio of Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson, and Jhan Marinez have all been playing with fire.  The only three relief pitchers striking out greater than 20 percent of hitters are Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, and Daniel Hudson, and league average for a relief pitcher is 23.4 percent.

The lack of strikeouts is concerning, and pitching to contact is not the best strategy for the team that provides the biggest threat to their chances of winning the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs.  There’s always a surplus of relief pitching at the deadline, and the names that have been floated out the most are left handers Justin Wilson and Brad Hand because of the years of control, but the Pirates are better off going the rental route with relief pitchers because of the volatility.

One of the best rental relief pitchers is current Toronto Blue Jay Joe Smith, who won the World Series last year with the Chicago Cubs.  The Jays have just a 3.4 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus, currently sit 5.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, still having to jump eight teams, and they have the fourth worst run differential in baseball and are tied for the worst in the American League.  The Jays are going to be selling their expiring contracts, if not more, and that’s why the Pirates should look to pick up Smith.

Joe Smith is on a one year deal making $3 million, which is about $1 million from August through the end of the season.  The side armer would come at minimal dollar cost, and likely minimal cost all together when including prospects and other pitchers the Pirates could look at.

Smith on the season has appeared in 31.2 innings in 34 games.  He’s posted a 3.41 ERA, which adjusted for the Rogers Centre and American League is a 77 ERA-, 23 percent better than the league.  But relief pitcher ERA is rather bad, and his 2.25 FIP (51 FIP-) and 2.81 DRA (60 DRA-) will both play.  What makes Smith different this year than previous years is his ability to miss bats.  He’s striking out 36.7 percent of hitters and getting a swinging strike 13 percent of the time, both career highs, and regression will kick in eventually.

However, when regression does kick in for Smith, his ability to generate weak contact will be helpful.  His estimated wOBA based on contact with his strikeouts and walks is .259, while his actual wOBA is .283, meaning he is on the wrong side of random variance.  Steamer projects him at a 9.44 k/9, but that has its flaws.  To find his projected K percentage I took his projected numbers for each strikeouts, whip, and innings and did (K/9*IP)/[(WHIP*IP)+(3*IP)], which will provide close to projected percentage, and in this case Smith’s rest of season projection is 25.09 percent.

Next: Kevin Newman Promoted To Indy

Joe Smith would provide an excellent addition to the Pirates bullpen with his ability to strike hitters out this season, and with his ability to generate weak contact.  He is affordable, making only roughly $1 million the rest of the season, and he is on an expiring contract.  The Pirates have to be careful because the odds are still low, and if by chance they make the playoffs, their odds will still be super low.  Buy smart.  Buy Smith.

*Numbers from fangraphs and baseball prospectus