Joe Smith might have a generic name but his pitching mechanics are strange and unusual. The 29 year-old right-handed middle relief pitcher who recently signed a 3-year deal worth $15.75 million with the Los Angeles Angels has found much success with his unique style of pitching.
Smith has posted a career ERA of 2.97 and his has stayed healthy, having logged 63+ innings in each of the last three seasons. If these numbers are any indication of the future, then the Angels made a good move.
How much of Smith’s success in his career is based off his unusual side-arm sling is debatable. He has one believer, though, and that’s Angels GM Jerry Dipoto.
As Ben Lindbergh from Baseball Prospectus pointed out in his recent transaction analysis of the Joe Smith signing, Dipoto is a fan of varied arm slots. Here’s Los Angeles Times writer Bill Shaikin from a 2012 article quoting Dipoto:
"In the meantime, he is gently steering the Angels away from a bullpen dominated by right-handed power arms and toward a collection of arms with what he calls “different looks” — different arm angles, different out pitches, different velocities.“You want to try to create as much diversity as you can,” he said."
Diversity is the name of Smith’s pitching game. Just look at the changing nature of Smith’s release points for all three of his pitches over his career.
Smith has almost consistently changed the release point for each of his pitches every season of his career. To compare, here’s Ernesto Freri and his release points over his career.
While some variation exist, particularly with his change-up, it is hardly as dramatic as Joe Smith. Here’s three screenshots from 2013 of each of Smith’s pitch.
If Dipoto wanted variation in looks at release point, then he has certainly found it in Smith. Many have questioned the amount of money and particularly the years of Smith’s contract. And even Dipoto has called trying to solidify the back-end of a bullpen through free agency as a game of “Russian roulette.” Taking that all into account, Jerry Dipoto, a former pitcher himself, must feel particularly strong about Smith’s unusual release point. So much so that he was willing to go against his own belief that spending money on free agent relievers is a risky move.