Los Angeles Angels Joe Smith fills multiple roles.

The Los Angeles Angels hope to see Joe Smith back on the mound for them soon. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Angels hope to see Joe Smith back on the mound for them soon. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Los Angeles Angels reliever Joe Smith has filled many roles in his time in Anaheim.  This year Smith started out as a set-up man for closer Huston Street. However, when Street was injured Smith was pressed into the closer’s role.

Los Angeles Angels reliever Joe Smith, in addition to having the plainest name possible in the English language, has been a model of consistency throughout his 10-year big league career. The Mets, Indians, and now the Halos have known they had a reliable guy in the back end of the bullpen. He’s filled in at closer on multiple occasions, including this season with Huston Street on the disabled list.

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This season, Smith has struggled a little. He’s blown 2 saves in 8 chances, and his ERA is over 4.00 for the first time in his career, at 4.07. There are actually two statistics that suggest his overall numbers should be worse than they are:

  1. His FIP has skyrocketed to 5.00, and the difference between his ERA and FIP suggests that he’s gotten lucky quite a few times.
  2. His absurdly low BABIP allowed: .239, well below his career BABIP allowed of .272. That’s due for a regression.

What’s behind his struggles this season? There are two main red flags to look at:

Red flag #1: Home runs

Smith has allowed three home runs already this season, after allowing four in each of the previous two seasons. His home runs allowed per nine innings rate is 1.1, tied for a career high. He’s never allowed more than five home runs in a season, but if we assume he’s going to pitch somewhere around his average of 60 innings per season, he’s on pace to allow seven. That may not seem like a lot, but with how few innings he pitches, the effect is magnified.

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Red flag #2: He’s walking more hitters and striking out fewer

Smith has 19 strikeouts in 24.1 innings this season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.78 is his lowest since 2010 and the third-lowest of his career. His 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings are a career low. At the same time, he’s walking 3.3 hitters per nine innings, his highest rate since 2013.

Is there any good news? Street was activated from the DL today, which will push Smith back to his more familiar set-up man role. Sometimes there is comfort with a certain role within the bullpen, and players perform better when they are put back in roles they are used to.

He’s allowing 7.4 hits per nine innings, matching his career average, and his batting average against is .225, is also right in line with his career average of .224.

Next: Should Salas remain as the set-up man?

If Smith can find a way to miss more bats and give up fewer walks, he’ll be able to return to being the shut-down reliever Angel fans are used to.