This past offseason, the Brewers needed to find room for Khris Davis in the outfield after he succeeded in impressing them during the 2013 campaign. To do so, they traded solid outfielder Norichika Aoki to the Royals. Aoki has a 638 OPS this year. Davis has a 779 OPS.
By that measure alone, you could practically say the Brewers won the trade by getting anything in return and still improving in the outfield. But the Brewers didn't just get anything. They got Will Smith. And so far, that is making it look like Doug Melvin and the Brewers absolutely took the Royals to school on this deal.
Smith has been absolutely incredible for Milwaukee this season out of the bullpen. He has made 28 appearances for the team, tossing 25⅓ innings. Over that span, he has 36 strikeouts (a 12.8 K/9) and 11 walks. He has a 1.18 WHIP and is allowing fewer than seven hits per nine innings despite a .322 BABIP. Oh, yeah, and he's allowed one earned run. All year. One. One earned run in over 25 innings.
Will Smith is pitching like an All Star. The only question is will he actually be named to the team?
Over the past five seasons, there have been 145 pitchers named to the All Star game between both the AL and NL. Of those, 56 (38.6%) of them were relievers. Of those 56 relievers, nine of them have been non-closers. Which means, of all the pitchers chosen to the All-Star Game in the past half-decade, just 6.2% of them have been non-closing relief pitchers.
That doesn't bode so well for Smith. The NL has brought either 13 or 14 pitchers overall to the ASG each of the last five seasons. In 2010 and 2011 they took six relievers, in 2012, five. In 2013, the NL had three relief pitchers on their roster.
Given a strong class of closers in the NL this year, it may be hard for a non-closer to break onto the team. Craig Kimbrel is a lock to be named for basically all of eternity. Francisco Rodriguez, with a 2.33 ERA and league-leading 17 saves is almost a guarantee at this point. Huston Street, too, with a 1.35 ERA and 0.8 WHIP. Jonathan Papelbon (13 saves, 1.86 ERA) will be up there. Steve Cishek (2.08 ERA, 11.2 K/9), too. Throw in Rafael Soriano and his sub-1.00 ERA for good measure, too. Hell, Mark Melancon has earned 10 saves for the Pirates while Jason Grilli missed time and has a 2.25 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.
That gives the NL seven strong candidates to be All Stars just from the closer pool alone. With non-closers traditionally getting the shaft for All Star bids, that may make things tricky for Smith.
Pitchers in the All Star game are all chosen by players and the league's manager. The players choose 16 players, overall. The manager, Mike Matheny for the NL this year, chooses nine. That means Smith may need to rely on Matheny for his nomination. Matheny tends to rely heavily on his closer, but when he doesn't necessarily have the privilege to choose players he trusts, it remains to be seen what he will do. He has had a couple of opportunities to see Smith for himself, so maybe he will have a bit more confidence in the Brewers' righty.
The good news for Smith is that if the National League does have a non-closer relief pitcher on their roster, it should be him. He's tied for first in holds. He is second in ERA among relievers, 0.01 behind the Giants' Jean Machi. His 1.63 FIP is tops among non-closers in the NL. Same with his 0.8 fWAR. His xFIP is third among non-closers, fourth overall among relievers. Strikeouts? First among non-closers, second overall among relievers.
Right now, it seems Will Smith should be an All Star this season. Unfortunately, the players that deserve that recognition don't always receive it. We'll see if Smith can make it to the Twin Cities in July.