Pittsburgh Pirates add left-handed relief option in Josh Smoker

The Pittsburgh Pirates have added another low-cost, high-strikeout bullpen arm in Josh Smoker, newly acquired from the New York Mets

The Pittsburgh Pirates have shown a clear direction in building their bullpen for 2018, and that trend continued when the club acquired John Smoker today from the New York Mets.

Smoker is a 29 year old left handed reliever who finally broke into the majors in 2016 after a nine year minors oddyssey that started off in the Washington Nationals system, where he reached high-A ball after six years of toiling away, followed by a brief pit stop in Independent ball in 2014. He broke back into affiliated ball with the Mets in 2015, where he started to put things together.

It’s been a difficult road for Smoker, so let’s highlight the entirety of his professional baseball career to this point:

That’s quite the journey, but one notices that Smoker found another level of effectiveness when he was moved to the bullpen full time during the 2015 season. Already showing a potential for a ton of swing and miss, Smoker realized that potential, and has posted exceptional K/9 figures ever since. His control and ability to keep the ball in the park is concerning, but he may be the perfect arm for the Pittsburgh Pirates to take a flyer on.

Putting it together?

Though his final stat lines for 2017 look ugly — 10.2 H/9, 1.6 HR/9 and a 5.1 BB/9 rate serving as the “highlights” — Smoker started to figure a few things out at the major league level in late 2017, specifically as the Mets were playing out the string in September:

 K/9HR/9BB/9Hard %xFIP
2017 - total10.861.605.1133.54.38
2017 - September12.710.792.3825.92.49

How much stock can be put in to Smoker’s September? That’s difficult to say, but what can be said is that Smoker is not just a LOOGY. Though he has been deployed as such at times, 34 of his 54 appearances in 2017 were one full inning or greater, with 11 of those coming in at 1.1 IP or more. Thus, he brings some versatility to a bullpen that is still learning to utilize said versatility.

Checking off boxes..but is Smoker still a flyer?

The Pittsburgh Pirates also check off a much-needed box in their bullpen construction. With the addition of Smoker, the club now carries three left-hand relief options on their 40-man, with Steven Brault and Jack Leathersich already in place. Brault seems destined for a long-man, rotation depth role, perhaps leaving Leathersich and Smoker to duke it out for the club’s other left-handed relief arm not named Felipe Rivero. Leathersich performed well in his short — just 4.1 IP — audition for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, and the club has already added a couple of solid relief arms in Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz.

Assuming that one of Joe Musgrove and Tyler Glasnow will head to the pen as well, suddenly there are quite a few options for only a few open bullpen slots. But with the addition of Smoker, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ modus operandi in bullpen construction could not be more clear. The club is loading up on high strikeout options with proven swing and miss capability.

That’s not a particularly bad way to go about structuring your relief unit, especially when the cost to acquire such options is minimal.

The addition of Smoker may still end up as the Pirates taking a flyer on an imperfect arm, but it is exactly the type of additions the club can surprisingly hit on.

Photo credit – Flickr Creative Commons

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)