Oct 12, 2021: Braves closer Will Smith planned to pitch the ninth inning at Truist Park, regardless of whether Freddie Freeman jumped a first-pitch slider from Brewers closer Josh Hader and smashed a ground-rattling go-ahead home run to left-center field in the bottom of the eighth.
Of course, Freeman did exactly that.
Freeman’s heroics did not change Smith’s mindset as he trotted from the bullpen to the mound in a 5-4 victory over Milwaukee in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Smith still needed to get three outs to clinch the Braves’ second consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series. But it certainly changed the mood in the ballpark as fans stood and cheered as Smith’s warm-up music blared.
“You see Freddie clip one and you’ve really got a job,” Smith said. “You lock it in and here we go.”
Smith allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Eduardo Escobar, but the lefty retired the next two batters before 2018 NL MVP Award winner Christian Yelich stepped to the plate. Smith struck out Yelich on three consecutive sliders. Smith placed the third one on the outside corner for a called strike three.
It capped a tremendous performance from the Braves’ bullpen throughout the best-of-five series. Atlanta started Charlie Morton on short rest in Game 4 for just the second time in his career -- and the first time in more than 13 years. The Braves expected Morton to pitch no more than four innings, meaning the bullpen had to be on high alert earlier than usual.
“We have meetings before the game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “With [bullpen coach] Drew [French] … because this time of year, we’ve used them in different pods or whatever … it’s like, 'Tell so-and-so to be ready earlier.' And things like, ‘Give them a heads up.’”
The bullpen posted a 1.23 ERA in the series. Smith saved Games 2, 3 and 4 with three scoreless innings. Jackson and Matzek pitched in all four games. Jackson did not allow a run in 3 1/3 innings. Matzek did not allow a run in 4 1/3 innings.
“They did an unbelievable job, as they have been,” Snitker said. “It’s like I told Luke and Matzek, ‘You get, like, four days off and I'm going to do it again to you.’ So those guys were unbelievable, how they take the ball and want the ball. Luke wanted to go back out if we didn't get down there and hit for him in the seventh. He wanted the ball in the eighth. He said, ‘I'm great. I'm good.’
"They all stick their head in the door: ‘I'm good to go.’ They don't want to be down. They like throwing. And they love competing. It's a great group. Like I said, I've ridden them pretty hard, too.”
By doing their jobs well, Atlanta's relievers earned an extra day of rest with no Game 5 needed in Milwaukee. Instead, they can prepare for Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday against the Giants or the Dodgers.(T Zolecki - MLB.com - Oct 13, 2021)
|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 Will at Gulf Coast Community College in Florida, signing him for $150,000 after persuading the club to pick him in the 7th round.
In 2009, Baseball America rated Will as the 12th-best prospect in the Angels' farm system. They had Smith at #15 in the spring of 2010. But a poor season in 2010 left Smith out of the book in 2011.
In the spring of 2012, he was rated 22nd-best prospect in the Royals farm system.
MLB.com: What's the one thing that 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 - 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 offense. 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' Willie Mac Award 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 (1959-1980). Smith thanked his teammates in brief remarks during a pregame ceremony.
"I love those guys to death," he 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."
In June, Smith replaced Hunter Strickland as San Francisco's closer and entered the current series against the Dodgers with 14 saves in 18 opportunities. Statistically, Smith has experienced broad success. His 1.90 ERA ranked second among NL 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 lefthander 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 in the American League’s 4-3 win over the NL at the 2019 All-Star Game.
Will is still just an average Smith from the small town of Newnan, Georgia, 38 miles southwest of Atlanta. He still calls his former coach, Greg Hamilton from Northgate High School, "Coach," and Hamilton admires how Swith donates money to his old school and other causes in town. If there's a promising player on the way up, Smith will pay for that person's workouts.
Will arrived at Northgate as a slightly chunky ninth grader, and his teammate dubbed him "Baby Huey."
His mother, Kay, says that Smith's grandmother—a wonderful Southern cook—lived with the family. And "if Will wanted mac and cheese and mashed potatoes, she made mac and cheese and mashed potatoes." He hit a growth spurt in high school, and his chunkiness evaporated.
Will grew up playing basketball, soccer and football as well, but always had the most fun playing baseball. His father, Charles, had been a state tennis champ and played baseball and football, and his sister was also a tennis star. (Dan Fost - Giants Magazine - June, 2019)
Smith's musical tastes include classic rock-and-roll, inspired by his father, Charles.
"I like country music, too," Will said. "My dad hates country music. But my mother likes it."
Will has taken his dad to see Bob Seger and Don Henley in concert.
Oct. 17, 2020: Something happened here, and it was beautiful: A 31-year-old man, born William Michael Smith, in Newnan, Georgia, stood on top of a 10-inch mound of dirt, 60 feet, 6 inches from a 25-year-old man named William Dills Smith, of Louisville, Kentucky. The Smith atop the pitcher's mound throws a baseball with his left hand. The Smith who stood in the batter's box swings a baseball bat from the right side.
In the annals of MLB postseason history, with thousands of games played, never before had two men with the same name faced one another. Will Smith, the pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, against Will Smith, the catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And it's important to note that they're both Will, because Will Smith vs. William Smith, or Will Smith vs. Will Smyth, or Wil Smith vs. Will Smith . . . those simply wouldn't be the same. They just wouldn't be history.
These are grown men, remember, men who choose to bear the name Will Smith, which happens to be shared by the person who, during their childhood, was arguably the biggest movie star in the world. Each could have remained William Smith, who's an accountant or a banker or a truck driver or cashier. Both instead chose Will Smith, who punches aliens in the face.
That the NLCS pitted them at perhaps its most vital moment made the confrontation that much more delicious. The Braves entered Game 5 of the series with a 3-1 advantage in games over the Dodgers. One Atlanta win would secure its first World Series appearance since 1999. The Braves led the Dodgers 2-1 in the top of the sixth inning when the dream of the tiniest niche imaginable turned into a meme for the masses.
The at-bat was magnificent. However plain their names, the two Will Smiths who play baseball are very good. The pitcher signed a $40 million free-agent contract with the Braves over the winter. The catcher earlier that postseason became one of nine players ever to record five hits in a playoff game.
Old Will threw a first-pitch curveball and bent it into the top of the zone for strike one. He benefited from plate umpire Dan Iassogna's friendly strike zone to get a called strike with a fastball on the inside corner. During at-bats in which he went down 0-2 that season, Young Will hit only .174.
He took two fastballs, at 94 and 95 mph, high and inside to even the count. He spit on a near-perfect slider—one closer to the plate than the pitch Iassogna called strike two. The count was full. The runners on first and second would be moving with two outs. As soon as the low-and-inside 94.5 mph fastball arrived, it exited precisely 10 mph faster. The ball soared into the night at Globe Life Field.
Smith the Dodger is not known for his expressions of joy. Ancient philosophers would marvel at his stoicism. So Smith's reaction illustrated the import of the moment. He bounded down the first-base line, caterwauling toward his dugout, rounding the bases having given the Dodgers a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Dodgers won 7-3. (Jeff Passan, ESPN) (Editor's note: The Dodgers went on to beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series.)
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 $1.5 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 $4.2 million.
Oct 31, 2019: Smith chose free agency.
- Nov 14, 2019: The Braves signed free agent Smith, 30, to a three-year, $40 million deal. It includes a $13 million option for 2023.
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.
- 2017: Did not pitch.
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.
2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 47% of the time; Change 1.8%; Slider 42.1%; and Curve 9% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 92.9 mph, Change 87.4, Slider 81.8, and Curve 77.5 mph.
2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 44.8% of the time; Slider 47.8%; and Curve 7.4% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.4 mph, Slider 82.2, and Curve 78.5 mph.
Smith is a big lefthander with a real feel for pitching. He works both sides of the plate and changes pitches very effectively. He has been one of the best set-up men in baseball for a few years, now, finishing among the league leaders in games pitched while consistently striking out more than 10 batters per inning. (July, 2019)
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: Smith struck out 30 of the 72 lefthanded 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, going a perfect 23-for-23 in save opportunities while logging a 1.98 ERA over 36 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.
Smith discusses his signature slider: “I was in Double-A with the Royals, starting, and was basically a two-pitch guy: I was fastball-curveball. They called me into the office and told me, ‘You might want to develop a third pitch.’ So I walked around the clubhouse that day and asked all of the left-handed pitchers if they threw sliders, and if so, how they held it. Kevin Chapman had the grip that felt best in my hand. I played catch with him for the next two or three weeks. We made it a cutter, and then we started shaping it and making it more of a slider.
“At first, Chappy was like, ‘We’re not going to make it be a slider to begin with; let’s try to make it move this much today; let’s make it move this much tomorrow.’ It was kind of a crawl-walk-run mentality. We weren’t going to come out of the gate firing.
“The way I grip it now is the same as what he showed me in Double-A. I’ve just become more consistent with the pitch over all these years. You learn your release points to make it be a strike, or make it be a ball. You learn how it comes out of your hand. That takes time. You have to play with it, just like with any pitch. You learn the shapes. At the same time, I’m not necessarily manipulating it; I’m just trying to get my hand in a certain spot and letting it to do what it’s supposed to do.
“I don’t like to overthink, or dig too much into the numbers or video, on my pitches. As long as something is working, I’m going to keep going with it. I like to keep everything simple. You know, keep it simple stupid. The KISS method is what I try to roll by.” (David Laurila -Fangraphs - July 8, 2019)
2019 Season: Smith was a reliable closing option for San Francisco throughout the season, saving a personal best 34 games in 38 chances. And finishing with a 2.76 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 96 strikeouts in 65 innings.
2020 Season: Smith missed the beginning of the season because of COVID-19 and then gave up four home runs in his first seven outings.
His ERA in eight August appearances was 5.87 with 5 runs in 7.2 innings on 7 hits and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts.
That carried over into September where he gave up a home run in two of his first three outings that month. But then he was lights out over his next six outings allowing just 1 hit and 1 walk over 4.1 innings with 4 strikeouts.
Smith ended the regular season giving up another home run making that 7 home runs allowed on the year in just 16 innings. Seven of the 11 hits he gave up on the year left the yard — that seems impossible. It seemed like he had turned a corner late in September though, and going into the playoffs. In his first five postseason appearances, he didn’t allow a single run over 5.1 innings with 7 strikeouts.
But he struggled mightily in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, allowing a run on a hit and 2 walks before getting pulled. And then he gave up the big home run to the other Will Smith in Game 5, which swung all the momentum to LA.
Brian Snitker didn’t give him another shot in Games 6 and 7. (Jake Mastroianni - Jan. 6, 2021)
- As of the start of the 2022 season, Smith's career record was 31-31 with a 3.55 ERA, having allowed 63 home runs and 423 hits in 494 innings. Will had also converted 86 saves out of 118 opportunities, (72.9%)
- 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–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 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 lefthander and absorbs the most impact.
February 22, 2017: The Giants learned that Will has inflammation in his throwing elbow.
March 23-Nov 3, 2017: Smith was on the D.L. after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
March 29-May 2, 2018: Smith was on the D.L. while recovering from the T.J. surgery.
July 4-Aug 6, 2020: Will was on the IL.