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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #14: Caleb Smith

“But if I start something, I like to finish it.” — Caleb Smith

Caleb Smith’s First game with the Diamondbacks.
Caleb Smith’s First game with the Diamondbacks.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
  • rating: 5.63
  • age: 29
  • 2020 D-backs stats: 0-0, 3 GS, 2.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, positive 0.3 bWAR, negative 0.1 fWAR
  • 2020 salary: League Minimum (Pre-Arb)
  • 2021 status: in the Diamondbacks’ rotation

Perhaps it could be said that Caleb Smith is a Diamondback because of Starling Marte. The Diamondbacks’ went for it in the 2020 season (although less than ‘all in’), including acquiring Starling Marte for two top prospects (#5 prospect shortstop Liover Peguero, and #10 prospect pitcher Brennan Malone).

When an awful losing streak re-defined the 2020 season, Starling Marte was traded away to acquire Caleb Smith (with 252.1 innings pitched in the Majors), #8 prospect pitcher Julio Frias, and #30 prospect Humberto Mejia (with 10 innings pitched in the Majors in 2020).

Will history repeat itself?

“The lefty [Caleb Smith] emerged as the Fish’s [Marlins’] number one starter at the beginning of 2019, their true ace.” — Juan Páez.

In April and May of 2019 Caleb Smith’s ERA was 3.10; he truly pitched like an ace. The odds are more likely than not that his pitching will return to that high level. You could ask, “Why were the Diamondbacks able to acquire him?” Injuries, and the Marlins were dealing from depth in pitching.

He had two significant injuries. On June 24, 2018, he suffered a grade 3 lat strain. Surgery was followed by seven months of rehab.

“On June 7 [2019], left hip inflammation sent him on a trip to the injured list. When he came back to the Marlins rotation exactly a month after his last outing, it wasn’t the same.” — Juan Páez

His first game as a Diamondback was September 11. He pitched 3 innings. The only hit was a homer, which was the only run allowed.

  • “Smith showed a little frustration when he got the news he was coming out.” — Torey Lovullo
  • “But if I start something, I like to finish it. That’s just my mentality. I’m always going to ask for more, but at the end of the day, it’s not my call.” — Caleb Smith
  • “He loves to compete. I like it when guys don’t want to come out of the game. That means they got that extra gear and that extra ingredient. It means they want to go out there and do things for as long as they possibly can.” — Torey Lovullo

His country boy personality. “He wears his cowboy boots before and after every start..” — Jordon McPherson

“He’s got a little country boy in him. But the thing that I liked about him is when he wasn’t competing, he’s kind of silly. He’s quiet, but he’s silly. I think people gravitate toward him because he’s a fun kid.” — David Pierce

This season, how well did he pitch?

He improved his ERA to 2.57, which is a career best. Caleb Smith stood out with two statistics that were better than all Diamondbacks starting pitchers.

  • His wOBA of .236 ranked #1. The next best were Merrill Kelly’s wOBA of .270 and Zac Gallen’s wOBA of .271.
  • His 0.11 hits allowed per plate appearance ranked #1. The next best was 0.19 (Zac Gallen and Taylor Clarke).

More comparisons are shown in the following table, which excluded one game Caleb Smith pitched for the Marlins in 2020.

Diamondback Starting Pitchers.
Data from Baseball Savant. 2020 Season.

Caleb Smith’s fastball and slider have excellent movement due to their above league average Bauer Units(BU). For details see the following (4S-FB is 4-seam fastball and CP is complimentary pitch):

Caleb Smith has star power.
Caleb Smith has star power.
Data from Baseball Savant

Preview of 2021.

“Caleb Smith has star potential that was not in evidence in my previous article about projected ERAs. In 2020, he hugely increased the spin rate on his slider from 2297 rpm to 2526 rpm. As a result, his slider whiff rate increased from 31% to 46.2%. For the Diamondbacks, his overall ERA was 2.45.” — Makakilo

FanGraphs shows Steamer projects an ERA of 5.11. Baseball Reference projects an ERA of 4.33. These two projections were too pessimistic because:

  • They wrongly assumed his performance in the last half of 2019 was typical when instead he was recovering from an injury in June, and perhaps he returned too soon.
  • They wrongly assumed regression from 2020 results, when his improvements (like improved spin rate on his slider) are unlikely to regress.

My projection is Caleb Smith will be in the rotation and his ERA will be 3.00 making him an ace.

One of Caleb Smith’s thoughts on reaching success is similar to Daulton Varsho’s thought:

“When you are practicing, that’s when your approach kind of needs to translate to the game.” — Daulton Varsho

“If you want to throw hard, you have to practice throwing hard.” — Caleb Smith