- Rating: 4.56
- 2022 stats: 44 G, 70.0 IP, 4.11 ERA, 5.57 FIP, 1.371 WHIP, 1.67 SO/BB, 98 ERA+, 0.1 bWAR
- Date of birth: July 28, 1991 (31 years old)
- 2022 earnings: $2,000,000 (second year arbitration)
- 2023 status: Designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks, now a free agent
Caleb Smith, in his 2nd year with the D-Backs, was a roller coaster to say the least. If you had to pinpoint a day when the switch was flipped on Caleb Smith's season, it was probably July 30. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's begin at the beginning of the year, where Caleb started off as the team's number five starter.
Just as in the 2021 season, he was a member of the rotation for one start, then was once again moved to the bullpen. He made his first appearance of the season April 10, vs the Padres, the fourth game for the D-backs and his only start. A quick glance at the game log for that explains the short appearance, “1.0 IP, 2H, 5R, 3BB, 2K” Smith had a clean first inning on April 3rd, but after a lead-off error in the second, fell apart completely. The next five Padres also reached base, on three walks and a pair of home-runs, including a grand-slam to Jurickson Profar. The D-Backs went on to lose the game 10 to 5 and Caleb Smith began his season with an ERA of 36.00.
Moving to the bullpen did not initially help matters. Five days later he came on in relief in a Zach Davies start, and allowed five more runs over three innings. While it wasn't a close game when he entered, the Mets already 5-1 up, Caleb certainly didn't improve things. He again allowed back-to-back homers, this time a three-run and a solo shot. After four innings, he had given up nine earned runs on four home-runs, and had also walked six batters. Something was very clearly not right, and it wasn't any surprise when Smith was optioned to Triple-A on April 17, with an ERA of 20.25.
He came back twelve days later, but the team had moved on, giving the starting job to Humberto Castellanos. Smith came out of the bullpen instead. He said, somewhat grumpily, of the change in form and role: “Really, it was just a matter of getting the reps off the mound. It kind of got me back to where I wanted to be and helped build confidence. But I think I would have gotten there if I had maybe one or two (more) starts. But who knows? I didn’t get that opportunity. So I guess we can’t really dwell on the what-ifs, just go with the hand that I’ve been dealt.” In the light of subsequent events, the hand comment was somewhat ironic!
He became the D-Backs long relief guy, or at least someone who could go more than an inning. 22 of his 43 bullpen appearances consisted of more than one frame, and he held opponents scoreless in 13 of those 22 appearances. Roughly half the time you could count on Caleb Smith giving up a run during an extended appearance. Although these stats aren’t too nice to look at, he was able to perform decently over stretches of the season, never having a month where his ERA went over 4.00 after that disastrous April. He had a 2.87 ERA across 15.2 innings in May; June and July proved similarly effective for Caleb. He came into the game on July 30 with a sub-three ERA as a reliever, across 42.1 innings.
This was something of an illusion, with his fielding independent ERA over that time almost two runs worse (4.96 vs. 2.98), due to too many walks and home-runs. But he had generally been getting the job done. July 30? Not so much, as Smith literally hit the wall in a 6-2 loss to the Braves, where he allowed three hits, a walk and two runs across two innings. Unfortunately, when he was pitching some of his best ball of the season, he decided to take out his frustrations over the bad outing, breaking his right hand and keeping him out for nearly all of August. This prompted one of my favorite quotes from manager Torey Lovullo this season: “Caleb broke his hand by punching something that he shouldn’t have been punching.”
At least Smith used his non-pitching limb: it still needed surgery on his pinky, and he missed four weeks of action. He returned for the final month, although the season ended for Caleb on a concerning note. With only four outs left on the year, Smith had to be lifted from the game after experiencing an issue in his left elbow. Despite the disastrous beginning, Smith ended the season with a 4.11 ERA across 70 innings of work, though the 1.46 gap between his ERA and FIP ranked =6th largest among the 188 pitchers with that much work. The season he had didn’t end the way he or the team wanted - although in terms of overall performance it’s likely around about what most fans expected.
The elbow issue proved a serious one. Three weeks after the end of the season, it was announced Smith had suffered a ligament tear in his throwing arm. However, he opted to try and repair this with rest and rehab, rather than going the Tommy John surgery route, which would certainly have cost him the entire 2023 season. However, the outlook is uncertain, and the operation remains potentially necessary. Smith was projected to earn $2.7 million in his final year of arbitration, and the potential risks proved to be just too much for the Diamondbacks to accept.
Arizona decided to clear roster space, and rather than offer Smith a contract, designated him for assignment on November 15, getting Caleb off the 40-man roster. He chose instead to become a free agent this offseason, though any contract elsewhee will be heavily dependent on what happens with his elbow. Best of luck to Smith - and here’s hoping he tries something softer than a wall, next time he feels like punching something...