Atlanta Braves: 1 of these is not like the others

Will Smith #51 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after Joc Pederson bails out his team with a game-ending circus catch. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Will Smith #51 of the Atlanta Braves reacts after Joc Pederson bails out his team with a game-ending circus catch. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

For a lot of this season, broadcasters have been going out of their way to put Atlanta Braves closer Will Smith up on a pedestal.  Now things are getting out of hand.

When it comes to our Atlanta Braves players, we want them to excel.  As fans, we want to cheer for them… even supporting them when they falter.

What I don’t like to see is reports or stats that are so obviously cherry-picked that it insults the intelligence of all those who have been following the team this season.  I would imagine that the rest of you recoil at such things, too.

Such was the case today when Bally Sports dropped this tweet:

If the graphic doesn’t appear directly for you, then I’ll describe it:  it’s a photo of Will Smith with this caption:  “Will Smith joins Craig Kimbrel, John Smoltz, and Billy Wagner as the only Braves pitchers with at least one 30-save season since 2000.”

As suggested in the title, one of these things is not at all like the others.

Not exactly an Atlanta Braves milestone

Wanna talk about 2000 to the present? Okay…  the feat has now been done nine times — by those aforementioned pitchers:  Smoltzy 3 times, Kimbrel 4, and Wagner once during the lone season he was a Brave.

The biggest difference?  The number of saves:

  • Smoltz:  55, 45, and 44 save seasons
  • Kimbrel:  50, 47, 46, and 42
  • Wagner:  37

Smith might reach that 37… 40 if he’s really lucky… but 30 isn’t exactly keeping good company with those that Bally has chosen to compare Smith to.

But that’s 9 times over 22 seasons (really just 21 considering the shortened 2020 campaign), with 8 of them at 37+ saves.  So a 30-save season happens more than 40% of the time these days… and there were some bad Braves teams that wouldn’t have exactly helped a closer get to that level.

Going back further, though, these are the rest of the Atlanta Braves pitchers who have reached the 30-save “plateau”:

  • Mark Wohlers 39, 33
  • John Rocker 38
  • Gene Garber and Kerry Lightenberg 30

Of course, this is also reaching back into the era before closer became “a thing” in baseball.  That duty was often spread around the bullpen or extended over multiple innings, both of which reduced the number of save opportunities.

Here are the Braves save leaders for 1975-1980, for example:

  • 1980 Rick Camp (22 over 108 innings and 77 appearances)
  • 1979 Gene Garber (25 over 106 innings and 68 appearances)
  • 1978 Garber (22 — 78 IP; 43 apps)
  • 1977 Dave Campbell (13 — 88.2 IP; 65 apps)
  • 1976 Adrian Devine (9 — 72.1 IP; 47 apps)
  • 1975 Tom House (11 — 79.1 IP; 58 apps)

Heck, just taking the last 5 full seasons (2015-present) across major league baseball, 30 saves has been done seventy-four times.

4 relievers have done it this season already… and 8 more have between 24 and 29.

So as you can see… thirty saves… not that special, really.

Wanna Cherry-pick a stat?

I’ve got one for you:  losses charged to a Braves reliever since 2000.  You might think this would be safe territory for a closer since they typically are used in games with the team either tied or leading…. but check this:

  • 2005 – Dan Kolb:  8
  • 2009 – Rafael Soriano:  6
  • 2016 – Jim Johnson:  6
  • 2005 – Chris Reitsma:  6
  • 2008 – Blaine Boyer:  6
  • 2021 – Will Smith:  6

Sure, Smith has more saves than these guys, but he also has a chance to eclipse them all in pitching losses.  (excuse me – I’m shuddering at that thought)

If you’d like to add in blown saves to these losses, then Smith’s total of 10 is higher than all on the list except Kolb (15), Reitsma (15), and Michael Gonzalez (2009).  He’s tied with Soriano, Boyer, and Tyler Yates (2006).

That isn’t worth bragging over.  It’s certainly not worth comping Smith to the accomplishments of a Hall of Famer (Smoltz) and 2 other guys who are (or could be) on the cusp of membership in that museum.

Earlier today, I had thrown together spreadsheets about something I was going to call the “drama factor”… it involved the numbers of base-runners and runs allowed by a reliever and assigned points to each category of angst that the pitcher put the fans and his teammates through while on the mound.

I ended up shelving that project since it was too complicated to present in this forum, but I will say these things about that:

  • Among MLB relief pitchers with 30+ innings this year, Josh Tomlin came out as one of the worst
  • Smith — while considerably better than Tomlin — did not fare as well as most of his teammates (Minter, Martin, Matzek, Jackson, Rodriguez)
  • The chart did prove itself in the end:  Josh Hader was the #1 relief pitcher by that metric.
    • Andrew Kittredge, Ranger Suarez, Kendall Graveman, and Andrew Chaffin rounded out the top 5.

In short:  come ‘on Bally (and you too, Chip Carey)… don’t try to gaslight us.  We know Smith is struggling.  It’s okay to acknowledge that.

The best relief pitchers will mow down their opposition more often than not.  We’ve seen that firsthand.  They keep runners off the bases and the “drama” to a minimum.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been Smith’s method of operation for much of this season.

Next. Fate in their own Hands. dark

So it might be about time to see if another Braves reliever could do better.  Let’s find out before the playoffs get here.