In the wee hours of Sunday morning, MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the Toronto Blue Jays had agreed to terms with veteran relief pitcher Joe Smith.
Many Blue Jays fans likely woke up Sunday morning wondering who Joe Smith is. Well, let us provide you with a little introduction.
Smith throws sidearm
Smith has a reputation as having one of the most unique sidearm deliveries in baseball. As a rookie with the Mets, he told the New York Times that he learned how to pitch sidearm from studying former Met Chad Bradford in a video game. He became a full-time sidearm thrower in 2004 while pitching as a walk-on with Wright State, a D1 program in Dayton, Ohio. His coach there, Greg Lovelady, only needed to see Smith throw eight pitches sidearm to declare him the closer.
In 2013, he recalled that story to MLB.com and added what sold him on the style was that it made him throw harder.
“Somehow my velocity just ended up getting stronger, even though I dropped down,” Smith said. “It ended up working out pretty good.”
Smith will turn 33 before the season starts and in 2016 his sinker clocked in at an average of 88.39 m.p.h. But his real strength comes in deceiving batters into making weak contact, as the video below shows.
Smith projects to be middle reliever
Smith doesn’t have much experience as a closer (he has 18 saves in nine seasons) but that’s not a problem for Toronto. He projects to slot in alongside fellow newcomer J.P. Howell as someone who can bridge the gap between the starter and Roberto Osuna.
The signing still leaves two bullpen spots for pitchers to fight over during spring training.
Smith was teammates with current Blue Jays right-hander Jason Grilli with the Angels so that familiarity should help him settle in to his role with the team. He also has a reputation as someone who likes to teach younger players new things, which is something Grilli was credited with bringing to the team when he was acquired last season.
He’s played for Mark Shapiro before
Next season will be Smith’s 10th in the league, a majority of which was spent playing under Mark Shapiro with the Cleveland Indians. After two seasons with the New York Mets, he was sent to Cleveland in 2008 as part of a complicated three-team deal also involving the Seattle Mariners. In all, 12 players changed teams in the trade, including current Blue Jay Ezequiel Carrera, who went from Seattle to New York.
Smith would spend the next five years in Cleveland, pitching really well. His best year came in 2011, where he posted a 2.01 ERA in 67 innings of work. That same year he only gave up one home run and 15 total earned runs.
Shapiro and the Indians eventually parted ways with Smith in 2014 when he signed as a free agent with the L.A. Angels. His most successful year came in his first season with L.A., posting a 1.81 ERA with 68 strikeouts, both career bests.
Smith was then moved from the Angels to the Cubs at the 2016 trade deadline, making him a World Series champion.