Around the MinorsMay 08, 2007
No Ordinary Joe Smith
By Marc Hulet

Every time I look at a New York Mets' box score, rookie reliever Joe Smith's name seems to be present. The 2006 third round draft pick - and 94th overall - out of Wright State appeared in 17 games during the Mets' first 29 games of the 2007 season.

That means Smith has appeared in just under 60 percent of the club's games. If he were to continue on this pace, Smith would finish the year with about 94 appearances. Rubber-armed Mike Marshall he's not, but it's enough to make me nervous.

When you look back at the list of most appearances in a rookie season by a reliever, you see a lot of names of players who burnt out very quickly - and often due to arm or shoulder problems. Keep in mind it's not just the innings pitched and pitches thrown in the game; the constant warming up in the bullpen can also wear on a pitcher's body.

Rookie relief pitchers (post 1980) with 75 or more games pitched in rookie season:

  • Sean Runyan, Detroit
    Debut Season: 88 games
    Last MLB Game: 26-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 103/3
    Major Injuries: shoulder surgery

  • Oscar Villarreal, Arizona
    Debut Appearances: 86
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: elbow - nerve transposition

  • Kelly Wunsch, Chicago
    Debut Appearances: 83 games
    Last MLB Game: 32-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 258/6
    Major Injuries: shoulder/hip

  • Mitch Williams, Texas
    Debut Appearances: 80 games
    Last MLB Game: 32-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 619/11
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Tim Burke, Montreal
    Debut Appearances: 78 games
    Last MLB Game: 33-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 498/8
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Ed Vande Berg, Seattle
    Debut Appearances: 78 games
    Last MLB Game: 29-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 413/7
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Javier Lopez, Colorado
    Debut Appearances: 75
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Greg McMichael, Atlanta
    Debut Appearances: 74 games
    Last MLB Game: 33-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 453/8
    Major Injuries: rotator cuff

  • Kenny Rogers, Texas
    Debut Appearances: 73
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: blood clot (shoulder)

  • Doug Corbett, Minnesota
    Debut Appearances: 73
    Last MLB Game: 34-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 313/8
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Aquilino Lopez, Toronto
    Debut Appearances: 72
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: None

  • Kevin Walker, San Diego
    Debut Appearances: 70
    Last MLB Game: 28
    Total Games/Seasons: 122/6
    Major Injuries: Tommy John surgery

    Both left-hander Sean Runyan, a Rule 5 draft pick by Detroit from Houston, and Arizona right-hander Oscar Villarreal, now with Atlanta, are the poster children for abused pitchers. Luckily for Villarreal he is still pitching, whereas Runyan never recovered from surgery and threw his last major league pitch at the age of 26. Throw in the White Sox' Kelly Wunsch and the top three rookie pitchers in terms of games pitched all suffered significant injuries to their elbows or shoulders. And Smith is on a pace to surpass all three in terms of appearances, should he continue on his current pace.

    But are the Mets really doing a disservice to Smith and the longevity of his career due to a dogged determination to win the World Series? If they are, then a lot of teams are guilty of abusing relievers early on in 2007. As of May 6, five relievers had appeared in 18 MLB games and nine more - including Smith - had pitched in 17 games. Another 12 had pitched in 16 games.

                         IP    H  BB-K  Pitches-Ks
    NYY Brian Bruney    16.0   9  7-16   248-152
    NYY Luis Vizcaino   17.0  16  11-8   247-133
    NYY Scott Proctor   16.0  13   8-6   243-146
    CIN Todd Coffey     15.2  19  6-17   230/149
    WSH Jon Rauch       15.1  15   1-9   220-151
    PIT Jonah Bayliss   14.2  20  7-11   207/128
    OAK Huston Street   17.0   9  7-18   195-123
    WSH Micah Bowie     14.0  11  1-10   193-117
    OAK Alan Embree     14.0  19  4-11   187-124
    PIT Matt Capps      16.0  13   2-9   181/129
    DET Todd Jones      16.0  11   5-7   175-114
    NYM Joe Smith       15.1   8  7-18   173-108
    BAL Chad Bradford   12.1  14   5-6   170-110
     TB Shawn Camp      10.1  20   3-8   132-82

    As you can see above, of the 14 pitchers who have appeared in 17 or more games, Smith has thrown the fewest number of pitches, save for Tampa Bay's Shawn Camp. If you really want to look at abuse, take a look at the Yankees, who have the three relievers with the highest number of pitches thrown.

    Another positive sign for Smith is that he has only thrown more than 20 pitches in a single game once (37 pitches on May 2 against the Marlins). I can't say that I'm thrilled with the number of games Smith has appeared in early this season but things don't look as bleak as they did when I began researching this column. And really, how much can you complain about a pitcher who had an ERA of 0.00 through his first 17 major league appearances?

  • Comments

    Joe Smith threw 37 pitches in his May 2nd appearance against the Marlins. Prior to that game the most he threw were 20 pitches (twice). I don't know where you came up with the 25 pitch number?

    When last I looked at MLB's official stats (twice), Smith's pitch counts were vastly differently and it appears they have been changed.

    You are right, he is no ordinary Joe Smith. He is the 14th reference on Google under the search "Joe Smith". If he were ordinary you would have to look harder to find him in the 867,000 entries. Pretty good pitcher too.

    A well-written and informative article as usual, Marc.

    I like that at a similar workload and pitch-K level as Chadford, the guy he has replaced, Smith has a much better BB-K ratio and 6 less hits. Nice.