Sunday Notes: Health in Mind, Joe Smith Climbs an All-Time List by David Laurila June 13, 2021 Joe Smith has quietly been a good pitcher for a long time. Now 37 years old and playing for his sixth team, the Houston Astros reliever has a 3.06 ERA over 14 big-league seasons. Moreover, his 804 appearances are the most of any active hurler — and that’s not even the eye-catching part. Smith recently moved ahead of Walter Johnson into 49th place on the all-time list, with another legend in his sights. Next up is Nolan Ryan, who logged 807 career outings. I asked Smith about his ascent in the pitching-appearances category. Could he have imagined this when he debuted with the New York Mets in 2007? “When I first got called up, I was just trying to figure out what the heck pitching in the big leagues was, “said Smith, who’d been drafted out of Wright State University the previous year. “That offseason, I wrote out some goals and things I needed to get better at, and I was able to accomplish them. At that point I felt like I could do it for a long time. But there’s so much luck in this game. Your health, right? Pedro Martinez was on the team, and everybody would wish him good luck. He’d be, ‘No, wish me good health. If I’m healthy, I’ll be good.’ That really resonated with me. Being able to answer the call is what it’s about, especially when you’re a reliever. You want to be able to post as many days as you can.” Right now he’s on the shelf. Smith went on the 10-day IL earlier this week, his return date uncertain. The sidearmer told me that everything is structurally sound, yet his forearm had been “grabbing” him (Astros manager Dusty Baker has reportedly referred to it as “elbow soreness”). Assuming a full return to health, Smith in line to leapfrog not only Ryan, but also the likes of Tug McGraw and numerous others. And while Jesse Orosco’s 1,252 games may be out of reach, Smith has had another number in mind. “I have seen the list,” acknowledged Smith. “When I had the five years in a row with 70 [or more] is when I first started looking at it. I was like, ‘Man, maybe I could get to a thousand?’ There have only been 16 guys in history who have done that. But then I lost half a year with my Achilles in 2019, and then there was the COVID season. So it’s hard. A lot of things have to line up to be able to do that sort of thing.” Smith opted out of last season, although COVID wasn’t the only reason. Right before spring training 2.0, his mother — already in a nursing home with Huntington’s disease — got increasingly sick. Smith reported to camp and went through intake testing, but a few days later he decided to return home. His mother subsequently passed away in August, and by the time he felt mentally ready to return it was already September. As much as he missed baseball, he felt it best to remain on the sidelines until this season. Which brings us back to Smith’s place in the record books. Ryne Stanek is the righty’s throwing partner, and to say he’s impressed with his teammate’s accomplishments would be an understatement. “It’s crazy,” said Stanek, who has pitched in 180 games over four-plus seasons. “When he hit 800, I didn’t realize, in the scope of baseball history, just how nuts it was. I was trying to figure out what it would take for me to get to 800. I’d need 10 more seasons of 60-plus games, and simply lasting a decade in this game is hard as hell to. So yeah, what he’s done — the amount of success he’s had over his career — is incredible. He’s been really good at what he does for a long time.” It goes without saying that what Smith has done can’t hold a candle to the accomplishments of The Big Train and The Ryan Express. Even so, I asked him if it blows his mind to sit squarely between Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan on an all-time list. “What blows my mind is that they’re there and were starters,” responded Smith. “Thinking about that kind of longevity from the starting spot… I mean, it’s absolutely amazing.” Smith’s longevity falls short of amazing, but it is pretty impressive — even if he doesn’t reach the 1,000 mark. And who knows, maybe he will. “Anything is possible,” said Smith. “I just have to get back out there and stay healthy.” ——— RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS Nomar Garciaparra went 10 for 19 against Dwight Gooden. Carlos Delgado went 10 for 19 against Tom Glavine. Todd Benzinger went 10 for 21 against Orel Hershiser. Quilvio Veras went 11 for 21 against Kevin Brown. Enrique Wilson went 11 for 25 against Pedro Martinez. ——— The Rockies bullpen took a big hit on Thursday when Jordan Sheffield landed on the IL with a lat strain. Acquired from the Dodgers organization in last winter’s Rule-5 draft, the 26-year-old right-hander has been one of Colorado’s most reliable relievers. In 10 appearances covering 19-and-a-third innings, Sheffield owns a 3.26 ERA, a number that jumped by over half a run in the outing where he incurred the injury. Coming into the season, Sheffield had the resume of a former first-rounder — 36th-overall in 2016 — who’d been underachieving. His command in question, the Vanderbilt product was no better than No. 31 on our Rockies Top Prospects list. Shortly before he went on the shelf, I asked Sheffield what was behind his step forward. “Honestly, just trying to go day-by-day and not try do too much,” the righty responded. “In years past, I tried to do too much. Here, I’m just trying to get the ball in the zone and let my guys play behind me.” Asked what constituted “trying to do too much,” Sheffield said that he tried to throw too hard, and to “make stuff nastier than what it needs to be, instead of just going out there to pitch.” Learning to not take the game too seriously has helped allow him to make that adjustment. “A lot of it was taking a step back and looking at the game from a different angle, a different perspective,” explained Sheffield. “Sitting back last year during COVID, and watching a lot of baseball, I realized that it’s just a game. I think that’s helped a lot. Now I just go out there and trust my stuff, and compete.” ——— A quiz: Per Baseball-Reference, a total of 1,225 big-league players have been born in the state of New York. Who among them has the most career hits? The answer can be found below. ——— NEWS ITEMS Mudcat Grant, a right-hander who played for multiple teams from 1958-1971, died this past week at age 85. Grant went 21-7 for the Minnesota Twins in 1965, becoming the first Black 20-game winner in the American League. Don Newcombe was the first Black 20-game winner in the National League, reaching that number with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, 1955, and 1956. Tim Tolman, a first baseman/outfielder for the Houston Astros and the Detroit Tigers in the 1980s, died earlier this month at age 65. Most recently a special assistant with Cleveland, Tolman had 33 career hits, including five home runs. Tyler Ivey, who made his MLB debut with the Houston Astros on May 21 before being returned to Triple-A, will reportedly be going on the 60-day injured list with an elbow injury. The 25-year-old right-hander was featured here at FanGraphs last summer. Longtime Red Sox TV analyst Jerry Remy suffered shortness of breath during Friday’s game and was brought to Massachusetts General Hospital where he is reportedly “resting comfortably.” The 68-year-old infielder-turned-broadcaster has dealt with health issues, including a battle with lung cancer, for several years. Dodgers broadcaster Tim Neverett is the author of a new book: COVID Curveball: An Inside View of the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers World Championship Season. Neverett was a guest on episode 926 of FanGraphs Audio this past Friday. University of Nebraska Press is running a sale, with many baseball books included. Information can be found here. ——— The answer to the quiz is Carl Yastrzemski, with 3,419 hits. The Boston Red Sox icon was born on Long Island, in Southampton, New York. ——— MID-JUNE NOTABLES Coming into the weekend, Colorado-born players had combined for 9,999 big-league hits. Kevin Gausman, a Centennial, CO native, logged number 10,000 yesterday afternoon. Miguel Cabrera hit his 584th career double earlier this week, moving him past Robin Yount into sole possession of 21st place on the all-time list. The two-bagger also moved Cabrera into a tie with Dave Winfield for the 22nd-most extra-base hits (1,093). Red Sox outfielders have 19 assists — seven by Hunter Renfroe — the most of any team. Angels and Padres outfielders outfielders have three assist each, the fewest in the majors. Aaron Civale and Julio Urías have each been credited with nine wins, the most in the majors. The Cleveland right-hander is 9-2 with a 3.17 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. The Dodgers lefty is 9-2 with a 3.56 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. Luis Castillo has been charged with nine losses, the most in the majors. The Cincinnati Reds righty is 2-9 with a 6.47 ERA and a 4.55 FIP. The Minnesota Twins are 8-1 in games started by José Berríos since the beginning of May. They’re 9-22 in games not started by Berríos. ——— Like many young pitchers, Max Kranick has turned to technology to help improve his game. I learned as much when I asked the 23-year-old Pirates prospect about that aspect of his development during a Zoom call at the outset of the minor-league season. “Last summer, during the quarantine process, my brother and I got a Rapsodo,” said Kranick, whom the Pirates took in the 11th round of the 2016 draft out of a Pennsylvania high school. “We really dug deeper into numbers. Pretty much every day during that time I was on TruMedia looking up other people’s numbers and watching videos of other guys — guys who made similar arm transitions to what I did. So it’s definitely playing a much bigger role than it used to.” What has he learned about how his pitches play? “I realized that when I shorten up my arm, I get more vertical on my fastball,” explained Kranick. “And now, adding the curveball, we’re trying to get more vertical break down. We’re trying to creep that lower and lower, so they play a little better off each other.” No. 38 on our Pirates Top Prospects list, Kranick has made six starts on the season, three with Double-A Altoona and three with Triple-A Indianapolis. In 30 combined innings, he’s walked seven, fanned 32, and logged a 3.60 ERA. ——— FARM REPORT Spencer Strider, a 22-year-old right-hander in the Atlanta Braves system, has a 1.50 in six starts split between low-A Augusta and high-A Rome. A fourth-round pick last year out of Clemson, Strider has 44 strikeouts in 24 innings. Mitchell Kilkenny, a 24-year-old right-hander with the low-A Fresno Grizzlies, has 36 strikeouts and just five walks in 31 innings. The 2018 second-round pick out of Texas A&M boasts a 1.45 ERA. Braxton Roxby, a 22-year-old right-hander with the high-A Dayton Dragon, has 22 strikeouts in 13-and-two-thirds innings and has yet to allow a run. Signed by the Cincinnati Reds as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Roxby has made 10 relief appearances and has three saves. Ken Waldichuk, a 23-year-old left-hander with the high-A Hudson Valley Renegades, has 55 strikeouts in 30-and-two-thirds innings and has yet to allow a run. A fifth-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2019, the St. Marys College product has made seven starts and allowed 12 hits. Levi Prater, a 21-year-old left-hander with the low-A Palm Beach Cardinals, has 50 strikeouts and 26 walks in 28-and-two-thirds innings. St. Louis’s third-round pick last year, the University of Oklahoma product has allowed 12 hits. ——— Yesterday, I ran a Twitter poll asking the following: “Which player would you rather have going forward?” The options were Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The results were lopsided. Acuña Jr. garnered 79.5% of the vote, while Guerrero Jr. — 15 months younger — received just 20.5%. With the caveat that a 60-game sample only says so much, here is a snapshot of their 2021 numbers to date: Acuña Jr.: .282/.391/.601, 18 home runs, 164 wRC+, 3.1 WAR. Guerrero Jr.: .338/.447/.676, 20 home runs, 200 wRC+, 3.9 WAR. ——— FOREIGN AFFAIRS Team Australia, which is ranked No. 6 in the world, pulled out of the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier earlier this week. Logistical challenges brought on by COVID-19 protocols prompted the decision. Crowd capacity at KBO games will increase starting June 14. Teams in greater Seoul and Daegu will go from 10% to 30% while other teams will go from 30% to 50%. Kiwoom plays in a dome, and thus won’t be impacted by the outdoor-events-only loosening of restrictions. (Per Jeeho Yoo) Casey Kelly is 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA with the KBO’s LG Twins. A first-round pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2008, the 31-year-old right-hander has been pitching in South Korea since 2019. The Hanshin Tigers have the NPB Central League’s best record at 38-19 with two ties. The Rakuten Golden Eagles have the NPB Pacific League’s best record at 32-24 with nine ties. Hanshin Tigers teammates Teruaki Sato (hitter) and Robert Suarez (pitcher) copped top-player awards in the NPB Central League for the month of May. The Pacific League awards went to Orix Buffaloes outfielder Masataka Yoshida and SoftBank Hawks pitcher Nick Martinez. (per jballallen.com) ——— LINKS YOU’LL LIKE At Beyond the Box Score, Steven Martano wrote about how Shohei Ohtani needs to be continuously celebrated. At cleveland.com, Linda Gandee told us about how SABR’s Baseball Memories is bringing Alzheimer’s patients to the batter’s box. MLB.com’s Sarah Langs tracked Jacob deGrom’s pursuit of history. The Des Moines Register’s Tommy Birch wrote about how 36-year-old catcher Jose Lobaton has played a meaningful role in Adbert Alzolay’s success with the Chicago Cubs. Tim Odzer wrote about a 1921 Negro Leagues game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Cincinnati Cuban Stars for SABR’s Games Project. ——— RANDOM FACTS AND STATS Rowdy Tellez is 31 for 90 with 11 home runs in his career versus the Red Sox. Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane had a .320/.419/.478 slash line over 13 big-league seasons. He won two MVP awards, one each with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Detroit Tigers. Pete Alexander had 373 wins, 436 complete games, 32 saves, and a 135 ERA+. Christy Mathewson had 373 wins, 435 complete games, 30 saves, and a 136 ERA+. Cy Young threw 380 innings for the Boston Red Sox in 1904. He walked 29 batters and was credited with 26 wins. Earl Whitehill had a 1.50 WHIP and walked more batters than he struck out over the course of his 17-year-career (1923-1939). His won-lost record was 218-185. On June 11, 1988, Rick Rhoden hit seventh in the New York Yankees batting order while being employed as the DH. He grounded out and hit a sacrifice fly, then was pinch-hit for in the fifth inning. All told, Rhoden appeared in 413 games, all but one as a pitcher. On today’s date in 1998, Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones hit back-to-back home runs in both the second and third innings as the Atlanta Braves beat the Montreal Expos 9-7. On today’s date in 1999, Cal Ripken Jr. went 6-for-6 and homered twice as the Baltimore Orioles beat the Atlanta Braves 22-1. Mike Mussina got the win, John Smoltz took the loss. Players born on today’s date include Billy Williams, an outfielder whose big-league tenure comprised 10 hitless at bats for the Seattle Pilots in 1969. Not to be confused with the Hall of Fame outfielder of the same name, Williams made his MLB debut at age 37 after a long minor-league career that included 14 seasons in the Cleveland system. Also born on today’s date was Jason Thompson, a left-handed-hitting first baseman whose career comprised 13 games with the San Diego Padres in 1996. Not to be confused with the left-handed-hitting first baseman of the same name who homered 208 times while playing for four teams from 1976-1986, Thompson logged 11 hits and went deep twice.