Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Carson Smith.
Obviously, Smith didn’t really play all that much for the Red Sox in 2017, but considering how important he eventually became and how important he is expected to be moving forward, I figured he was still worth mentioning in this series. Although we didn’t see much of him, there were still some positives for Smith on the year. For one thing, him getting back on the mound in the first place was a good thing. We wished it’d been earlier (we’ll get to that), but you never know how any individual pitcher will respond to Tommy John surgery. Smith eventually got back to something reasonably close to his old self, and that was never a guarantee, particularly in 2017. This was always something of a wildcard year for the righty in the first place, so what he was able to provide will do.
It wasn’t just the fact that Smith came back that we can be happy about, either. When Smith was back in the majors, he was a solid performer out of the bullpen. He was only able to make eight appearances and covered just 6 2⁄3 innings in that span, but he gave a glimpse of the reliever he can be. He had seven strikeouts and just two walks in that time and allowed one run on seven hits, none of which went for extra bases. He also didn’t allow a run until his final appearance of the year against the eventual-champion Astros.
Just watching him was encouraging, too, as he looked a lot closer to his old self than at least I expected. Smith is not a big-time velocity pitcher, though it’s worth noting that his two-seam fastball was a bit behind where it was in 2015. It was still sitting around 92 mph, though, just a tick or two behind where it was a couple years ago. The pitch was still extremely effective in inducing ground balls, too, as he kept the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time in 2017. He paired that with his same old slider, that at times just looked utterly filthy. This was his swing-and-miss pitch, and it certainly worked for that purpose in September.
While Smith showed a lot to be encouraged about in 2017, it certainly wasn’t all positive for the righty who spent most of the year on the disabled list. For one thing, there is the fact that he wasn’t back as early as we would have liked. Heading into the year, there seemed to be an outside chance he could be back on a mound by July and possibly back in the majors by early August, but that wasn’t the case. He suffered a few setbacks, and while that is to be expected with major injuries, it’s still nothing to be happy about.
In addition to the setbacks, he really wasn’t encouraging in the postseason or in his minor-league rehab. The latter really isn’t much of a big deal, as those appearances are just to get his work in. He performed well in the majors in the regular season, so those minor-league outings don’t matter in hindsight. At the time, it was mildly worrisome, though. The postseason is a different matter, although we should mention that this is only two outings and they came against the Astros. Smith didn’t allow a run in the appearances, but he got into trouble both times out. In Game Two, he walked two of the three batters he faced while in Game Three he allowed two singles against four batters.
The Big Question
Smith was a solid pitcher in September, but it’s hard to say he ever became a true weapon for the Red Sox. In fact, against all odds, David Price was the guy who became the second-half bullpen weapon in Boston. Smith simply didn’t pitch enough to be considered a weapon. If he came back earlier I think he was good enough that he could have gotten to that level, but he simply never had a chance to earn that kind of trust.
Looking ahead to 2018
Next year is going to be a fascinating year for the Red Sox bullpen between Smith and Tyler Thornburg. Smith in particular has a chance to play a big role in Boston’s relief corps after gaining some trust in 2017. We’ll see how he looks in camp, but there’s at least a chance that he can be his old, elite self this year and provide the set-up duties behind Craig Kimbrel that the team is looking for right now. We still haven’t seen enough from him that I’d be comfortable in making any sort of hard prediction on the righty’s performance, but if I was pressed I’d certainly lean more towards him being a positive contributor than a negative one.