I see this in comments sections and on Twitter all the time: Ron Roenicke broke Will Smith. The narrative is that Roenicke used him too frequently in the first half of the season and now something is wrong with Smith because of it. You'll be hard pressed to get an actual answer as to what exactly these people think is wrong, though. He is fatigued? Is he hurt? Are people just grasping for straws because it's easier and more comforting than actually trying to figure what if anything is actually wrong because the answer to what is wrong with Smith might be that nothing is, which could be the worst answer possible? You might be able to guess where I stand on this whole "argument."
I don't think Roenicke broke Will Smith because I don't think Will Smith is broken. It's true that Will Smith has been used a lot. He's appeared in the second most games out of the bullpen this year. But correlation doesn't imply causation. The leader in appearances out of the bullpen this year is Brad Ziegler. Last year he was second in appearances and obviously he's doing just fine. Like wise with last year's leader Joel Peralta (hit the DL due to an illness this year, not injury) and third place Cody Allen is having an even better season this year. Simply assuming Smith is broken because he was used aggressively for half a season is lazy and very likely inaccurate.
The other reason I don't believe Will Smith is broken is his velocity. One warning sign of an injury is decreased velocity. That hasn't happened to Smith. If anything he's hitting his peak velocity more consistently now than he did early in the season. We can't rely on velocity alone as an indicator of an injury, but we can use it as another point against the possibility.
The real reason I think Will Smith has been less effective lately is that he's regressed to what may very well be his true talent level versus right-handed hitting. That's not something any of us want to hear, but it's looking like the truth. You can view his year to year splits versus RHH here. It's not pretty. Opponent batting average and on-base percentage has gotten worse each year. His opponent slugging dipped last year, but it's now the highest of his three years in the major leagues. That's not encouraging and it might be time to reconsider his ceiling.
Against RHH his LD% is the highest it's ever been. That could be meaningful because those are typically the hardest hits to field. He's also walking an unacceptable 12.2% which in concert with his BAA has resulted in a horrendous 1.77 WHIP. That's pretty bad, but I'm not convinced yet that he is going to have to relegated to LOOGY status. He has increased his K% versus RHH each year. We have to hope that LD% is just a fluke and that he can lower that walk rate. If he can do that I think he could still develop in to an above average reliever considering his K% potential. He is still relatively young and this is only his first year as a reliever. I think there's room for optimism.
For right now we, though, have to hope that Roenicke stops being so bullheaded about his "eighth inning guy." That or we have to hope the eighth inning lines up perfectly where Smith sees more lefties than righties. I know that the Brewers are having internal discussions about what to do. Maybe we'll see a change sooner than later. I'm just worried their plan was to get a reliever by July 31st and now don't know what to do.
Barring an addition, I would switch Will Smith's role with Zach Duke. I mean, really I would just stop using set "roles" for these guys and play the match-ups more accordingly, but the reality is that RRR feels he has to have that eighth inning guy. The nice thing is, even though Will Smith isn't as electric as he was in April, Zach Duke is. Think of it this way: When we started the season we thought the Brewers had a left-handed reliever that decimates LHH and is fine against RHH and a second lefty who RRR could play match-ups with. That hasn't changed, the better reliever is just not the guy we thought it would be.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs