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Breaking Down the Rotation - #5 - Greg Smith

In the following month or so here leading up to...well, the middle of spring training, I'm going to go ahead and start giving statistical projections of our starting 5 man rotation. Most of these are going to be pretty obvious, and if you listened to the most recent RockiesCast, you already know who they are and what order they're in, but you're gonna get a week-by-week rundown of who they all are.

Starting off as our #5 starter, we have

Greg Smith

#23 / Pitcher / Colorado Rockies





Dec 22, 1983

Drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2005, and then traded to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade, and then traded to Colorado in the Matt Holliday trade, Smith was looked at as almost a low point of the deal by many. He did put up a decent season in Oakland, putting up the following line:

2008 32 32 7 16 190.1 111 87

Just looking at his production, it looks like we took everything from Oakland from Matt Holliday: a top prospect, a proven closer, and a good starter to boot. Seems too good to be true when looking at his peripherals:

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP
2008 5.25 4.11 0.99 34.2 .258

Take all of that, and then add in the fact that he pitched half of his starts in McAffee Coliseum, and we might have trouble. Going from the 5th best park in run suppression to the 3rd highest run scoring park, things might not look so good when Mr. Smith goes to Denver.

Fangraphs agrees.

User lizardlad01 brought up the topic of Smith. I'm sure many other readers (myself included!) figured that Smith was going to be an immediate washout in Coors Field. The most pessimistic see his HR rate skyrocketing, his change not breaking, and him being a soft-tossing lefty bound for Colorado Springs, and eventually the waiver wire.

But before we bury Smith, as Dave Cameron was so ready to, let's take a further look at Smith's numbers.

Join me after the jump.

For starters, let's go to The Baseball Cube.

The first thing I typically go for on TBC is down to the minor league stats, rates, etc etc, but this time, I stopped at the big yellow box at the top.

Smith's scouting report shows him as a Control rating of 74, a K-rating of 63, and an efficiency of 91. Now, according to the Help section, these scouting reports are really just based on statistics of those around him, almost like an ERA+ kind of situation. The point is, those ratings looked awfully familiar, and I poked around until I found someone who looked similar.

I'm not overly thrilled about the Rockies having two soft-tossing lefties in their rotation, but we've seen Francis make it work for 3 seasons before getting hurt, and he's a big changeup pitcher as well. Changeups for lefties are a must, and I'm sure more people can comment on this. If you can't throw a sinker in Coors, you'd better have a mean changeup. It's a good thing that Smith was scouted to have the best changeup in the Arizona system.

Anyhow, back to the stats. Smith's major league debut with Oakland went very well for him. As I pointed out above, however, he didn't show a very impressive K-rate, his BB-rate was above average, and his HR/9 wasn't really BAD, but one could argue it was deflated by McAffee. But how much?

I went and pulled up his splits for the season, and they looked a little like this:

Home 13 78.1 1.27 .266
Road 19 112 0.80 .253

Now, his BABIP is low in both places, and I don't think he's going to be able to maintain that, but if you look back before this year, he's carrying a .296 career BABIP through the minors. Honestly, that's about fair. I maintain that his BABIP is going to rise in Coors, but we can touch on that later. The part that really surprised me is his HR/9 splits. 1.27 in pitcher friendly McAffee? Something can't be right here. Smith had a 0.80 HR/9 on the road, and a 0.66 HR/9 throughout his career in the minors. Did Smith suddenly become a different pitcher in 13 starts in Oakland? He did have 4 multi-HR games, all in Oakland.

Looking at Hit Tracker to see where and how his dingers were hit, we find out that every home run on the Road that was hit (minus 1 in Tropicana) was rated as "Plenty" or a "No Doubter", both of which would be a home run in every park (excepting gimmicks like the Green Monster, etc). That pretty much means that the homers he gave up were left up, were down the middle, or were all hit by Adam Dunn, and are very indicative of his propensity to give up home runs. However if you go back to McAffee and look at his homers there, 6 were "Plenty" or "No Doubter"s, and 5 were "Just Enough". So despite McAffee's run-suppressing nature, it's only a shade below average for dingers hit there, Smith had a few crawlers leave the park.

Now, the nature of the crawlers is debatable. You could look at Alexi Casilla and Maicer Izturis and say "well if those guys hit a homer, then pitcher effects have no bearing" or you could say "Dang, if they hit a home run in such a pitcher's park, they must've clocked those things." The other 3 "Just Enough/Lucky" home runs were from Miguel Olivo, Taylor Teagarden, or Jose Guillen. Those guys are notable power hitters, so you could rationalize that they could get a cheap home run just about anywhere.

The reason I bring all this up is just to try and evaluate the types of HRs Smith gave up over the course of 2008. Is he really a dinger-prone flyball machine? Or is he getting just enough spin on those balls to get the batters to just miss their spot, but they're such sluggers anyhow, it was just muscled over the fence? It's hard to distinguish between the two of them. Looking at numbers over the course of a season, it's going to be pretty hard to distinguish which homers were "real" and which were "luck".

The reason I'm running all these is that I need to know the HR rate that Smith has. We know he's going to be giving up more hits in Coors, period, but how much will his HR/9 increase? We have so many questions about the HRs hit in McAffee; let's just look at the road splits for the moment. I'm working with Road numbers on the assumption that they just play as an aggregate 1.000 effect. Not prone, not preventative, just average. Even if this weren't 100% true, I'd wager that you wouldn't even waver by 1 HR in either direction for a given pitcher.

Anyhow, Smith's road splits were pretty favorable in terms of HRs allowed. Again, all but 1 of the road dingers were "Plenty" or "No Doubt". I think we can trust the numbers all of being accurate, as they're pretty much all indicative that he left the ball where it needed to be to leave the park.

If we assume the 0.80 HR/9 on the road is completely neutral, we can adjust this for Coors Field by multiplying it by the Coors Field HR factor, 1.299 (gotten from ESPN's Park Effects). This results in a 1.04 HR/9 in Coors Field. Not fantastic, but far from problematic. In fact, if we look back at 2007, we find ourselves coming back to a similar result.

Now, the problem with trying to find an equivalent level of park-neutral HRs hit is those 3 dingers hit in 08 by Olivo, Guillen, and Teagarden. They were "just enough" homers, which leads me to believe that they were more or less fisted over the fence, not "real" home runs of you follow my reasoning. We can't just discount those homers though, because they counted as runs which led to potential wins for the teams that hit them, well hit or no. So what I'm saying is that whether or not we like them, they all count.

So the conclusion I'm really drawing from this is that Smith got a bit unlucky with the homers in McAffee, somehow, but his road homers were all pretty legit. He basically has the upside of looking like Jeff Francis circa 2007, the downside of looking more like Josh Fogg in 2006.

Finally, and to wrap this up, we have projections. The 3 projections I'll be citing are CHONE, Marcel, and Bill James. I'll then be following it up with my take on the projections; I'll just call them RMN.

Now, I use 2 different metrics to predict ERA. I use FIP, and xERA. I'm also playing with Voros McCracken's DIPS, but that is still in progress.

So without further ado,

CHONE 7 9 143 98 65 1.51 1.13 6.17 4.09 1.56 .314 4.91
Marcel 7 11 155 100 65 1.54 0.99 5.81 3.77 1.34 .271 4.60
Bill James 9 12 190 121 79 1.53 0.99 5.73 3.74 1.44 .294 4.60
RMN 9 10 163 99 72 1.37 1.30 5.50 4.00 1.47 .297 5.16 4.83

Even trying to be a bit more understanding with regard to HRs, Smith projects to be a decent back end starter. He looks to be following Jeff Francis' development pretty closely, albeit a few more walks and few less strikeouts, he's looking to be at least a decent inning eater. However, he does share the same birthday as me, to the year, so we know that at the very least, he'll end up as awesome as I am.

One thing to bring up, and I'll leave it at this, is the Verducci Effect. Now, the Verducci effect basically says that if a pitcher under age 25 pitches 30 more innings than he had before in his career, there's a big chance to get hurt or regress the following season. Ubaldo actually dodged this effect last season, as the linked article makes reference to. Now, Smith pitched 186 innings in 2005 between LSU and the Missoula Osprey in Arizona's system, but in his strictly professional career, he pitched 148 innings in 2006. At the very least, we can infer that Smith is going to be an inning eater if his stuff keeps coming around.

Anyhow, that's all for this week. Next week, we'll be examining the #4 starter on the Rockies staff.

Oh, and for those of you who are sick of long articles, Smith, being a young pitcher with questionable upside coming in the Holliday trade, also switching parks from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park, there's a lot to talk about here.

Thanks for reading, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what more we have to say about Mr. Smith.