Will Smith is faltering and the Atlanta Braves only have themselves to blame

Will Smith of the Atlanta Braves pitches during a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds on June 25. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Will Smith of the Atlanta Braves pitches during a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds on June 25. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /
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For the second time in a week, Atlanta Braves closer Will Smith gave up a key home run that gave new life to an opponent.  Coincidence or poor team support?

Last Saturday vs. Washington:  the Atlanta Braves held a 2-run lead against a sleepy Nationals offense.  Suddenly, they emerge with 3 hits and a walk against Will Smith —  the big blow being a homer that ultimately won the game for the visitors.

Wednesday night vs. the Reds was nearly a repeat.  Smith struck out 2 batters (one was a still-rusty Mike Moustakas; but after a hit batsman, Joey Votto drilled a ball to right field that tied the game.

Maybe it was the pitches… the shot by catcher Riley Adams on Saturday was a center-cut fastball (and the first of his career).  Votto, however — in a “left on left” matchup — had to bend a knee to reach the low slider he golfed toward the Chop House.

So maybe it’s something else?

In this medium, it’s difficult to post enough videos to support the claim made above, but some of our writers started looking at it last night, and they concur:

Stephen Teal:  “It does look like he was tipping his pitches slightly. Very subtle difference but you can see it.”

This would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?

So this topic brings up a few reasonable questions:

ISN’T THIS LIKE HOUSTON’S SIGN-STEALING ALL OVER AGAIN?

Nope.  Not even close.  If there’s something that’s directly observable by the naked eye, then it’s deemed to be publicly available knowledge for all to use.

If a police officer is told to watch out for signs of a stolen panda suit and — during an unrelated traffic stop — notices a panda suit sitting in plain view in your car’s back seat… you’re busted and it’s your own fault.  Next time keep your contraband in the trunk.

The Astros crossed the line when they used video and other electronic means to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents by communicating pitch calls to hitters in real-time.  That’s a very bad thing.

ISN’T THIS SMITH’S FAULT?

Kinda, but definitely not entirely.  While pitchers are taught to try and repeat the same things over and over for every pitch, it doesn’t always work out that way, and veterans (especially) can develop bad habits without even knowing it.

Heck, even Craig Kimbrel was tipping his pitches — in the World Series, no less.  It clearly happens to the best of the best.

But that’s why all pitchers need some help.

IT’S ACTUALLY THE ATLANTA BRAVES FAULT

There is such a thing as “defensive scouting”… a team must scout itself to see if there are tendencies that opposing clubs can exploit.  If Smith is indeed tipping (which seems likely), then this is more of a failure on the Braves at large to keep their own house in order.

The onus for this is normally on the catchers and the pitching coach, but especially the catchers, given their unique view of their battery mates.

However, think about what’s been happening with the Braves catching corps this year:  Travis d’Arnaud has been out for most of the year, and he would have been at the first line of defense.

In his stead have been a parade of hole-fillers:  Alex Jackson, William Contreras, Jeff Mathis, Jonathan Lucroy, Kevan Smith, and Stephen Vogt.

These guys have been scrambling just to figure out who they are catching and what they like to throw.  One of their jobs is to watch for pitching tendencies, but under the circumstances, that’s been rather difficult… and likely a really low priority.

In theory, a catcher who isn’t playing should be playing the “observer” role, which would include watching his staff and what they do.  But in one or two months’ time, it’s still hard to discuss tendencies, particularly for relievers who only pitch a single inning every other day or so.

Still, there are players who pick up on stuff like this:  MLB Network Radio commentator Eduardo Perez considers himself an expert at such things, for example, and Chipper Jones has been known to have such a keen eye as well.  So the Braves hitters might also have been on the lookout on behalf of their teammate.

Ultimately, the failure lies with the Braves as a team:  if opponents are noticing such things, then they should have as well… somebody, at some level, should be paying attention.

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Hopefully, this news now gets their attention… and helps out a closer who’s been running into too many bat barrels lately.