Cleveland Nets Relief Help in Joe Smith

Cleveland’s bullpen has been very good this season, but it could still be improved upon. Some of the members at the back end — or the front end, depending on your perspective — could be upgraded. Enter Joe Smith, who was acquired from Toronto as we entered the final hour before the trade deadline this afternoon.

Here’s the deal, with details from’s Paul Hoynes:

Cleveland Receives

  • Joe Smith

Toronto Receives

For Cleveland, Smith — who pitched for Cleveland from 2009-2013 — automatically becomes their second-best reliever, by 2017 FIP-.

Cleveland Indians Relief Pitchers, 2017
Name IP K% BB% K-BB% ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Andrew Miller 53.1 37.9% 6.9% 31.0% 34 45 58
Joe Smith 35.2 35.4% 6.9% 28.5% 74 52 56
Boone Logan 21.0 30.8% 9.9% 20.9% 106 71 71
Nick Goody 39.1 31.3% 10.0% 21.3% 52 73 86
Cody Allen 42.2 30.9% 8.3% 22.7% 62 74 86
Zach McAllister 44.0 29.1% 9.1% 20.0% 51 79 85
Bryan Shaw 49.2 19.1% 9.1% 10.1% 65 79 90
Dan Otero 40.1 14.3% 5.1% 9.1% 80 102 76
Shawn Armstrong 20.0 20.0% 9.4% 10.6% 91 123 117
Minimum 10 innings pitched

Well, by a couple of stats, actually. You can see though that there is a bit of a disconnect between the ERA- and FIP- for some of these pitchers, and as such, you could argue that some of Cleveland’s relievers have achieved better results than they should have, and thus were prudent to get some help before the roof collapsed on them. This trade eases the burden on Bryan Shaw, who you may remember from not being able to keep the Cubs off the board in the extra innings of Game 7 of last year’s World Series. It also allows them to part ways with one of the relievers at the bottom of this table — my guess would be Shawn Armstrong. If that’s the case, you can further see the wisdom in the trade.

Joe Smith is a member of the Cleveland Indians once again. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Armstrong is simply not a pitcher that Cleveland manager Terry Francona trusts right now. He has just a 0.16 gmLI, which is easily the lowest gmLI for a reliever who has thrown at least 20 innings this season. In his place, Francona now insert Smith, who had a 1.36 gmLI in Toronto this season, and who is at 1.32 for his career (Armstrong is at .29 for his career). So, not only does Cleveland get a better pitcher, but one who they can trust in higher-leverage situations. This will in turn give Francona more freedom to deploy his greatest bullpen weapon, Andrew Miller, however he likes.

In exchange, Toronto gets a couple of interesting players. One of them, Pannone, has been written about a few times here this season, even though he didn’t make the Cleveland Top Prospects list. He actually almost was never even a pitcher. He told David Laurila the following back in April:

“I thought I could potentially play one year of JC and then get drafted again as an outfielder,” Pannone told me. “That was my main goal. Things just went a little bit of a different way. I got up on the mound and was throwing pretty hard, and I guess scouts liked that I was left-handed and was missing some bats. That got me drafted within the first 10 rounds, whereas I probably would have fallen to a later part of the draft as an outfielder.”

He also had this to say about the type of pitcher he is:

Whether he’s more of a power pitcher or finesse pitcher is a question without a simple answer. The numbers suggest the former, while his ability to mix and match suggests the latter. He isn’t sure himself.

“I’m getting strikeouts like an overpowering guy, but I’m a left-handed pitcher, so I want to be a little bit crafty,” rationalized Pannone. “I want to be able to throw three pitches for strikes and change speeds. I guess I’m probably somewhere in the middle? I’d like to say I have finesse to my arsenal, but I have some power in it, as well.”

Eric Longenhagen looked at him a week later:

Pannone was the subject of one of David Laurila’s recent interviews and has now allowed just 10 hits and seven walks in 27.2 innings this year while striking out 39. He’s throwing a bit harder this year, mostly 88-91, and working his fastball up and curveball down effectively. At 23, it’s prudent to be skeptical of performance in Single-A, but if Pannone gets promoted and continues to throw well at Double-A, it will be time to re-evaluate.

He has since been promoted to Double-A, and is holding his own just fine. In 14 starts/82.1 IP, he has an 18.1% K-BB%, a 2.62 ERA and a 2.94 FIP. It does indeed appear that it’s time to re-evaluate him.

Taylor is much further from the majors, but the 2016 10th-round pick is already playing short-season ball at age 18, and holding his own. He has slashed .300/.328/.467 in his first 130 PA this season, good for a 133 wRC+. That’s a pretty tasty line for a second baseman, and if he keeps it up, he too may find his way onto prospect lists this winter.

This July we have often seen trades with the format of “rental player nets two or three players who may be intriguing but are at the bottom of/aren’t on top prospects lists, and are as such long shots to reach the majors.” This trade between Cleveland and Toronto fits that description perfectly. It helps reinforce an already-strong Cleveland bullpen, and it allows Toronto to get something to dream on for a player who was otherwise going to net them nothing.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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6 years ago

This acquisition is getting no attention, but given the prices for other relievers, Cleveland did extraordinarily well here.