I remember when the Brewers traded Nori Aoki to the Royals for Will Smith. Tons of people were plenty salty. Looking back though, it was a great move by Doug Melvin. Aoki had just one more year left on his contract. Khris Davis turned out to a be a pretty solid offensive player that recently netted the Brewers a top catching prospect and intriguing young right handed pitcher. And of course they got Will Smith who has turned into one of the best left handed relievers in baseball.
Originally developed as a starting pitcher, it became clear he wasn't best suited for that role after the 2012 season. He started 16 games for the Royals that season with a 14.9 K%, 8.3 BB%, .307 BAA, 1.61 WHIP, 5.32 ERA, and 4.66 FIP. The Royals are well known for turning Wade Davis from a terrible starter into arguably the best reliever in baseball. But they actually used that trick with Will Smith a year earlier. In 2014 they moved him to relief and in 33 innings he pitched with a 32.8 K%, 5.3 BB%, .195 BAA, 0.93 WHIP, 3.24 ERA, and 3.53 FIP. Smith is just now starting to get the national recognition he deserves, but if he had remained with the soon to be World Series bound Royals, many more people would realize he's one of the best relievers in baseball.
In his time with the Brewers he's pitched in a total of 129 innings. In those innings he's had a 32.2 K%, 10.0 BB%, .232 BAA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.21 ERA, and 2.87 FIP. That's pretty good all around production. The walk rate and WHIP is a bit high though. However when we break it down by year we see a marked improvement:
That 2015 season was very impressive. His 34.5 K% was the 7th best mark in all of baseball. It was ahead of the likes of David Robertson (34.4), Zach Britton (31.2), and Wade Davis (31.1). The walk rate was still a bit high, but his 25.4 K%-BB% was still the 13th best in baseball. Will Smith doesn't even have to improve on last year to solidify his place among the top 15-20 relievers in baseball. All he has to do is continue producing like he has been.
For now Smith will share closing duties with Jeremy Jeffress. And that's a good thing. Teams should play the match-ups instead being a slave to the save. But in my opinion Will Smith is easily the Brewers best reliever--no knock to the other members of what I think is an underrated bullpen. The only question I have is how long will Smith remain with the team?
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs