While the Houston Astros have battled in-house COVID-19 issues to injuries among the pitching staff and in the field, there seems to be an early season struggle in every category. After a hot start, the team is cooling off immensely, but out of the bullpen, no one is having a tougher start than Joe Smith.
The sidewinder currently leads all active pitchers in appearances, but after opting out of the 2020 season, Smith hasn’t been welcomed back kindly by opposing bats. Through 3.1 innings pitched thus far, the right-hander has surrendered five runs on eight hits. While being granted one loss this season, Smith hasn’t been getting out of jams like usual in his 14-year career.
Joe Smith’s season is off to a rough start, but why?
Smith, now 37-years-old, is on the last year of a two year deal with the Astros, and by the looks of his early season struggles, the right-hander will need to turn it around to keep his career alive. While carrying a four pitch arsenal, the right-hander mostly relies on his slider at 43.8% of the time, and although this isn’t a change in his game, velocity is.
His slider has dropped in velocity by more than three MPH since 2019, and while missing all of 2020, this could be hurting the production of the right-hander. Smith’s pitching graphs have showed that his overlaid spray is all over the strike zone, and in the case of 2021, his slider is sitting in on left-handers and away from right-handers out of the zone.
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While Smith’s sinker is his second pitch behind him, it also hasn’t benefited him in the end. With a drop in velocity of around three MPH as well, Smith’s sinker is sitting in on right-handers and not in the lower middle part of the strike zone like it did in 2019. Smith’s fastball and changeup haven’t seem much love thus far, as he mostly relies on off-speed.
Although appearing in six games this season, Smith has had two outings where he left without recording an out. While entering Wednesday game with the bases loaded, he left the game with the bases loaded, after relieving Lance McCullers Jr.
Smith hasn’t been walking batters though, although command could still be an effort to early season struggles. With only one walk thus far, the right-hander has pelted two batters and isn’t hitting his marks. The Astros are 12 games into the season, but with the upcoming off days, Smith like many other players will get the chance to regroup. While a pitcher like Zack Greinke has proved that high velocity pitches aren’t the only thing needed to get by, it would behoove Smith to hit the strike zone like he did in 2019, when his ERA was 1.80.