Let's Find a Role for Devin Smeltzer in 2020
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsSmeltzer was able to cruise through the minor league system in 2019 and eventually make his MLB debut thanks in part to the two characteristics mentioned in the previous paragraph. The majors proved to be another challenge in itself for Smeltzer but he was able to pitch to the tune of a 3.86 ERA and 4.58 FIP over his first 49 innings.
Unfortunately for Smeltzer, however, is the fact that this upcoming offseason will likely push him out of the major leagues. The starting rotation is as barren as a bar at noon but the Twins have talked up their plans to step on the gas and acquire impact arms. Whether that happens or not will be seen in time but each starter gained will be another obstacle in the way of Smeltzer in 2020.
If the Twins decided to stay in-house for a rotation spot or two then Smeltzer finds himself in trouble yet again as his 2019 performance was behind Randy Dobnak and he doesn’t have the prospect status or strikeout potential of Lewis Thorpe. Throw on top the likely inevitable move back to a starting spot for Brusdar Graterol and well, you see the obstacles in Smeltzer’s way.
Where Smeltzer may find a niche is in the bullpen in a relief role. Now, I have always been a fan of teams getting creative with how they use relievers and I believe that Smeltzer has a unique opportunity to become a multi-inning threat out of the bullpen. What draws me to this is his splits when going through a lineup for the first time. As a starter, he had a 20.4 K-BB% when going through the lineup for the first time and as a reliever, he had a 17.1 K-BB% when going through the lineup for the first time. For context, a 20.4 K-BB% would put him above names like Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin and a 17.1 K-BB% was exactly the same number José Berríos had on the year. Granted, the starters I’m comparing him to did this over all situations, but doesn’t it sound nice to say that Smeltzer was as effective as Patrick Corbin*?
*Actual statisticians can still be damned
He’s great when going through the lineup for the first time, which is nice, are there any downsides? Yes there are, voice in my head, thank you. Smeltzer was one of those weird pitchers who actually had reverse splits at the major league level. Lefties slashed .316/.395/.474 against him with a wOBA of .373, that isn’t good. I know just about nothing as far as pitching goes but if I had to guess what the issue was, I would narrow it down to two things:
1. His sequencing to lefties needs to be adjusted
2. He possibly needs to better develop his slider which he only threw 5.6% of the time at the major league level
Either way, his ability to mow down hitters when facing them for the first time makes me believe that Smeltzer can be a powerful weapon out of the bullpen in a multi-inning “Andrew Miller” role. Rosters will expand to 26 players next season and the added man may prove to be helpful for a pitcher on the cusp like Smeltzer. If he is to be a big part of the 2020 Twins, it would not surprise me if it is in a creative role out of the bullpen. No matter what, expect some silky smooth changeups and Jack Morris to say that Smeltzer is “pitching, not throwing” ... whatever that means.
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