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On Thursday, John Smoltz will dawn the uniform of a team other than the Braves for the first time in 21 years when he takes the mound for the Red Sox. He will face off against the league’s worst team, the Washington Nationals and there is a lot for Red Sox fans to be excited about. For one, they are adding a first-ballot hall-of-famer, who has recorded over 3,000 career strikeouts and is the only pitcher ever to win 200 and save 150 games. Also, with Dice-K landing on the DL for the second time this season, it does not look like Smoltz is going away any time soon.
But what about fantasy baseball owners? Should they be getting excited about a 42-year old starting pitcher who is coming off major shoulder surgery? The answer is yes.
There is a lot to like about the starter turned closer turned starter and Smoltz has shown that despite his old age, he can still deliver at a high level in the major leagues when healthy. After three stellar seasons at closer, Smoltz returned to starting in 2005 and for three seasons he showed that he still had what it took to be a fantasy ace. From 2005-2007, Smoltz pitched 667.1 innings and posted a 44-24 record with a 3.22 ERA and 7.78 K per nine. Just last season, before injuring his shoulder, Smoltz started five games and struck out 36 batters in 28 innings for a K per nine over 11.
So how does this all translate to his performance this year? Well, first you have to realize that the Smoltz you are getting this year is not the Smoltz of old. Due to the shoulder injury, you probably will not see him strike out eight batters per nine or post any crazy inning totals, but that does not mean he cannot be a useful and important part to your fantasy team in the second half of the season. It is not unreasonable to expect seven K’s per nine and a WHIP in the 1.15-1.20 range from Smoltz. His career numbers in these two categories are 7.98 and 1.17, respectively, and in six minor league rehab starts (27.1 IP), he showed that he still has his control with a 21 K to 4 BB rate. He also posted a 0.81 WHIP, which points to him being close to 100 percent healthy.
He will also benefit from being backed by a great lineup and defense, which will help him win more games. Given the team’s starting pitching depth, the Red Sox will also be able to give Smoltz the occasional extra day’s rest if needed. You may need to be patient as Smoltz gets acclimated back to the MLB, and look for the Red Sox to limit him to 5 or 6 innings in his first couple of starts, but he is a competitor and will give you good numbers when on the mound. If you have the space to stash him away for a strong second half run it would be wise to do so. A pitcher with this much upside is tough to come by this far into the season.