July 8, 2019: Giants closer Will Smith took a trip to Cleveland with his friends in November to watch his hometown Atlanta Falcons take on the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. One of Smith’s buddies is a big Ohio sports fan, so they settled on a wager: The loser had to jump in Lake Erie.
The Browns went on to defeat the Falcons, so Smith dutifully dived into the frigid waters.
“It was not fun,” Smith said Monday. “It was freezing.”
Smith probably didn’t expect to return to Cleveland so soon, but eight months later, he’s back for his first career Midsummer Classic.
“It was a pretty big rush of emotions, for sure,” said Smith, who will be the Giants’ lone representative at the 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard today at Progressive Field. “It’s taken a long time to get back to this, so I was excited. I was thrilled.”
A year ago, Smith was still in the early stages of his comeback from Tommy John surgery, which cost him the 2017 season. He returned to the Majors last May and pitched so well that he was elevated to the closer role by the end of June. Despite having limited experience pitching the ninth, Smith continued to thrive for the Giants.
Smith has been one of the best relievers in the National League this year, going a perfect 23-for-23 in save opportunities while logging a 1.98 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. Smith’s streak of 23 consecutive saves to start the season is the club’s longest since Rod Beck converted 28 straight in 1994.
“He’s been a joy,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We put him in that role last year, and he did a really nice job. He’s even done a better job this year. He’s been flawless. You look at what this man has gone through, with Tommy John. He really hasn’t been a closer before, up until last year when we gave him that role. He’s run with it this year. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Smith, is averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest rate of his career, and he has held opposing batters to a .486 OPS, the fourth-lowest mark among NL relievers. His slider has been a wipeout pitch for him this season, as opponents have hit only .100 (6-for-60) against it with a .200 slugging percentage, according to Baseball Savant.
|Birth City:||Newnan, GA|
|Draft:||Angels #7 - 2008 - Out of Gulf Coast C.C. (FL)|
|2017||-||DL - Tommy John||$2,500.00|
- Smith was discovered by Angels scout Tom Kotchman. (Casey's Kotchman's Dad, who also is a manager for the Angels' short season team in Orem, Utah.) Tom has a knack for finding fine talent at small colleges. In 2008, he found ill Wat Gulf Coast Community College in Florida, signing him for $150,000 after persuading the club to pick him in the 7th round.
In 2009, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Will as the 12th-best prospect in the Angels' farm system. They had Smith at #15 in the spring of 2010.A poor season in 2010 left Smith out of the book in 2011. But in the spring of 2012, he was rated 22nd-best prospect in the Royals farm system.
MLB.com: What's the one thing that Brewers fans might not know about you that they should know?
Smith: They might not know I'm a big Michael Jackson fan. I was listening to Michael Jackson before you called. I
like a little MJ now and then; I couldn't pick a favorite song but I could tell you I was listening to the "Number Ones" album.
Will Smith’s given name is a good fit because he has the “will” to win, the “will” to work hard, and the “will” to make two people who shaped his Major League career proud.
“I like to be outside a lot, so to be able to go play golf, you spend most of the day outside. I’m a competitive person, so it’s nice to get out there and compete against something that’s not baseball. I enjoy hunting and fishing too,” Smith said.
Smith actually beat teammate Kyle Lohse in a golf match, and Lohse is a top flight player. Of course, Will had a little help from fellow pitcher Tyler Thornburg and Brewers Director of New Media Caitlyn Moyer. The threesome outlasted Lohse on the 17th hole.
Like most world-class competitors, Smith can’t get enough of the me vs. you. “You could say that. There’s just something about—there’s always got to be something on the line to play for, whether it be bragging rights. We just got done playing cards inside. It’s something as simple as that that keeps that clubhouse fun, keeps guys on each other. It’s fun to be competitive—whether playing cards or dealing pitches on the mound. What kinda motivates me and pushes me is just the man-to-man competition. It’s my best stuff vs. your best stuff, you know? Let’s go get it, that type of attitude,” Smith said.
In 2014, Smith went and got it—especially before the All-Star break. The 25-year-old Georgia native went one-and-three with a .370 ERA in a career-high 78 relief appearances. Smith came to the Brewers in the trade with Kansas City for outfielder Nori Aoki in December 2013.
“I had an absolute blast. The city was awesome. The fans were awesome. We started off so hot. The team gelled so well together. The older guys opened up their arms and accepted me. It was awesome. I had a great time my first year and looking forward to the second one,” Smith said.
Smith says, “Look, I’ll do anything. I’ll even take batting practice in the cage.” The main thing for the big lefthander is that he just wants that baseball as often as Ron Roenicke needs to use him—no complaints and no criticism.
“It was just kind of a joke with Ron saying ‘I don’t think you overused me’ because last year, a lot of guys asked me ‘were you tired? Were you tired? Were you tired?’ I wasn’t tired. I just wasn’t very good".
Smith saying he wants the baseball even more this season has to have a great ring to it. Speaking of rings, the one Smith wears around his neck belonged to his late grandfather.
“Him and my dad were the two guys—my dad would come home from work after working at Delta all day and I was like ‘Dad, can we play catch?’ And then my granddaddy, he wouldn’t sit in the bleachers. He would sit right there by the dugout and he’d sit there the whole game and he absolutely loved it,” Smith said.
Smith says he senses his grandfather’s presence when he’s pitching. “Obviously he’s up there in a better place and he’s got the best seats in the world right now,” Smith said. (April 1, 2015, by Tom Pipines )
May 21, 2015: Smith got tossed from a game for having a foreign substance on his arm during a game he was pitching. He had rosin and sunscreen on his right forearm.
The next day, MLB suspended Will for eight games.
He was only the fourth pitcher in 10 years suspended for the offence. Smith joined a select club this spring—pitchers ejected for using a foreign substance on the mound.
September 28, 2018: Will Smith's steady ascent toward winning the Giants' 2018 Willie Mac Award actually began one year earlier. He spent 2017 recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, which he underwent March 30, 2017.
The dignity and diligence that Smith maintained during his recovery and ultimate return to San Francisco's bullpen gained the respect of teammates and coaches, who cast the most significant votes for the award that represents the franchise's highest honor.
The award is named for Willie McCovey, the Hall of Fame first baseman whose determination and competitive spirit inspired teammates throughout his 22 Major League seasons (1959-80) -- most of which were spent with the Giants.Smith thanked his teammates in brief remarks during a pregame ceremony.
"I love those guys to death," the left-hander said.After the Giants' 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, Smith added, "I don't know if [winning the award] has sunk in yet -- to be in the same breath as Willie McCovey and the past winners."
Smith replaced Hunter Strickland as San Francisco's closer in late June and entered Friday night's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers with 14 saves in 18 opportunities. Statistically, Smith has experienced broad success. His 1.90 ERA ranked second among National League relievers, trailing only Milwaukee's Jeremy Jeffress (1.33). His strikeout rate of 12.12 per nine innings and .179 opponents' batting average were seventh-best in the league in both categories.
"When he went about his rehab last year, he was always around and always positive," Giants left-hander Ty Blach said. "He worked his butt off to get back here. He wanted to come back and help the team, and that's what he did." (Chris Haft - MLB.com)
July 2019: Smith represented the Giants at the All-Star Game. Despite spending the bulk of his career in the National League, Giants closer Will Smith has developed a special affinity for Cleveland. In 2012, he earned his first Major League win at Progressive Field while pitching for the Royals.
Seven years later, the city proved to be the site of yet another key milestone for Smith, who made his first Midsummer Classic appearance Tuesday in the American League’s 4-3 win over the NL at the 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard.
June 2008: The Angels chose Will in the 7th round, out of Gulf Coast Community College in Florida.
July 22, 2010: The Royals sent INF Alberto Callaspo to the Angels, acquiring Smith and RHP Sean O'Sullivan.
December 2013: The Brewers sent OF Norichika Aoki to the Royals, acquiring Smith.
January 15, 2016: The Brewers and Smith avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract for $1.475 million.
August 1, 2016: The Brewers sent LHP Will Smith to the Giants for C Andrew Susac and RHP Phil Bickford.
Jan 13, 2017: Smith and the Giants avoided arbitration, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal for $2.5 million.
Jan 12, 2018: Will and the Giants avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
- Jan 11, 2019: Will and the Giants avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $4.225 million.
Will has a 90-96 mph four-seam FASTBALL, an 88-92 mph two-seam SINKER (he rarely uses), and a fine 77-80 mph big-breaking CURVEBALL that he can add and subtract velocity from. He doesn't have feel for a CHANGEUP.
Smith also has an 80-83 mph SLIDER as his super weapon vs. righthanded hitters. (Spring, 2018)
2016 Season Pitch Usage: Four-seam Fastball: 49% of the time; Sinker .5% of the time; Slider 36.2%; and Curve 14.6% of the time.
Smith is a big lefthander with a real feel for pitching. He works both sides of the plate and changes pitches very effectively.
He is not flashy, but he controls the strike zone well. And he is equally effective against both righthanded and lefthanded hitters.
Will comes at hitters from a good downhill plane. His crossfire delivery gives him some deception.
Smith is a fast worker. He gets the ball back from the catcher and throws it again. He has good composure on the mound. It is something you either have, or you don't have it; and Will has it.
Smith's best pitch is his so-called "Slider of Death." "It's saved my career," Smith said. "I wouldn't say I was stalling out, but every start was an absolute grind."
He had briefly thrown sliders in high school, but they hurt his arm, so he stopped. Royals pitching coordinator Bill Fischer and Northwest Arkansas pitching coach Larry Carter thought he'd grown enough by 2011 to try again.
Smith was game, and he canvassed the clubhouse asking other pitchers about their grips. He found one he liked from lefthanded reliever Kevin Chapman.
"It was probably 2013 that I was finally comfortable with it," Smith said. "Going to the 'pen probably helped me throw it sharper and harder. I'm pretty confident now, whether it's a lefthander or a righthander." (McCalvy - mlb.com - 5/1//14)
2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 46.1% of the time; Change 1.1%; Slider 36.5%; and Curve 16.3% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.3 mph, Change 87.9, Slider 81.8, and Curve 78.1 mph.
2018 Season: The southpaw struck out 30 of the 72 left-handed batters he faced in 2018 and is plenty tough on righties, who went 5-for-52 (.096) against his slider.
- July 8, 2019: Smith has been one of the best relievers in the National League this year 2019, going a perfect 23-for-23 in save opportunities while logging a 1.98 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. Smith’s streak of 23 consecutive saves to start the season is the club’s longest since Rod Beck converted 28 straight in 1994.
Smith, is averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest rate of his career, and he has held opposing batters to a .486 OPS, the fourth-lowest mark among NL relievers. His slider has been a wipeout pitch for him, as opponents have hit only .100 (6-for-60) against it with a .200 slugging percentage, according to Baseball Savant.
As of the start of the 2019 season, Smith's career record was 20-22 with a 3.67 ERA, having allowed 35 home runs and 317 hits in 345 innings.
- Will does a great job of controlling the running game, keeping the stolen bases against him way down.
April 20, 2009: Smith was on the D.L. with the Cedar Rapids (MWL-Angels) Kernels for about a week with a left hamstring strain.
July 12 through mid-August 2009: Will was on the D.L. with a lower back strain.
March 25-June 1, 2016: Will suffered a torn ligament in his right knee while taking his spikes off after a game.
Smith said he was getting ready to shower after pitching in a minor league game Thursday and was standing on one leg to take off his other shoe when he lost his balance and twisted the knee.
"I pulled hard [on the shoe] and it stayed on," he said. "My knee just went up and popped. Everyone tells you there is nothing you can do about it, but you still feel like you are letting people down."
Smith tore his lateral collateral ligament, which is on the outside of the knee and connects the femur to the lower leg. The right leg is the plant leg for the left-hander and absorbs the most impact.
Manager Craig Counsell said Smith will miss "significant time," and the Brewers are expected to find out exactly how long when he is examined by team physician Dr. William Raasch in the coming days.
February 22, 2017: The Giants learned that Will has inflammation in his throwing elbow, which is expected to sideline him for more than a month.
March 23-Nov 3, 2017: Smith required Tommy John surgery.
March 29-May 2, 2018: Smith is still recovering from the T.J. surgery