After too many blown saves early in the Angels’ season, Joe Smith has replaced Ernesto Frieri as the team’s closer. This was announced by manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday, and seems to be a move that was a couple of weeks in the making. A lot of close analysis shows that the Angels’ bullpen is actually better than their ERA shows, and many would agree that putting Smith in as closer would help the Halos put teams away late, which is pretty much the difference between being 11-13 and 14-10. So we’ll raise the question.
Can Joe Smith save the Angels’ bullpen?
He can. All by himself. He’s a dominant pitcher. And he has better stuff than Frieri. Ernesto has good stuff himself, but Smith also has the mental toughness required of late inning relievers. Like I said, Frieri’s failures in the closer role have been the number one difference so far. The rest of the bullpen has put up goose eggs over the past two weeks.
In fact, Kevin Jepsen has not given up a run since his first outing of the season. Fernando Salas has dropped his ERA to 2.79. Michael Kohn is at 1.50. Nick Maronde is at 1.93. How is this bullpen blowing leads?
A 7.59 ERA from Frieri is an easy reference point. Switch him out of the ninth inning role with Joe Smith’s 3.60 ERA, and the Angels are probably 14-10, or 15-9.
Remove Frieri all together, and on paper the Angels’ bullpen ERA drops to 3.42, which would have them 6th in the American League.
The Angels are actually 4th in the AL in overall ERA at 3.88, because of the excellent performance from their starting rotation. Remove Frieri, and on paper the team’s overall ERA drops to 3.53, and 3rd in the AL. They would only jump one spot, but that’s still about one-third of a run for the season, which can be a lot.
So why are we talking so much about Frieri?
Well, it just shows the context of Frieri’s struggles, and just how valuable having Smith in that role could be, and possibly would have been if he were the closer already.
So there is a good chance that Joe Smith could save the bullpen, at least in terms of putting teams away. There are some options at AAA, more than in the past few seasons. A trade could be made. But I think Joe Smith just needs to be Joe Smith in the ninth. And the rest of the Angels relief corps will have to just do what they’ve done over the past two weeks, with Frieri settling down with less pressure.
As that scenario plays out, I think we’ll see the Angels finally getting over .500. They’ll pull away as soon as they get through this really tough stretch of contenders. And then we’ll see the Angels right smack in the middle of said contenders.