Carson Smith was acquired by the Boston Red Sox to be a part of the bridge to Craig Kimbrel in the late innings of games. In his one and only full season in the bigs (2015 with Seattle), Smith posted a 2.31 ERA in 70 IP, racking up 22 holds and 13 saves. Since then, he’s pitched just 17 innings to the tune of a 3.18 ERA, including a 5.87 ERA in 7.2 IP this year.
Smith underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2016, and the Boston Red Sox were perfectly content with giving him the time to fully heal and recover under the assumption that he’d return to be the elite reliever he was in 2015. That has not happened, and, to be blunt, Smith has been one of the biggest disappointments of the last few years for Boston. 2018 has been especially unkind to Smith, but the question is what’s different this year than in years passed?
For one, his velocity is down. His fastball is averaging 91.8 mph this year, his lowest average ever, and that problem has been exacerbated by the fact that he’s throwing more fastballs than he ever has (60%). Additionally, his slider has lacked the movement it once had, averaging roughly only 7 inches of total movement, compared to around 10 inches in 2015. This has all resulted in a lower K% (22.2%) and higher BB% (16.7%) than usual from Smith.
(Photo credit: Fangraphs)
As you can see from the graphic above, Smith is also having trouble locating his pitches on the corners of the plate. The darkest area within that graphic is where the highest percentage of his pitches have landed, middle-in/out between the waist and the letters. That’s a very bad spot to be grooving 91 mph fastballs.
He’s pitching especially poorly in high leverage situations, as well, carrying a 21.60 ERA, .286 OBA and and even 1.000 OSLG, according to Fangraphs. He also has a 13.50 ERA with RISP.
Now, there’s a lot of people who are crying that it’s still early, and that’s true, the season isn’t even 20% over yet, but as April transitions to May and May begins creeping towards June, those “it’s still early” calls will begin getting quieter and quieter until they ultimately fall silent. There’s still time for Smith to turn it around, no doubt, and he certainly hasn’t played his way out of the setup role yet, but he needs to start pitching the way he was back in 2015, when the Sox saw someone that they wanted.