Fantasy Baseball Deep Dive: Caleb Smith

A Deep Dive Into Caleb Smith and Rest Of Season Outlook

By Mike Kurland/ @Mike_Kurland on Twitter

What if I told you that this year you could draft a pitcher from the Miami Marlins and actually be excited about him. Would you have believed me? What if I further went on to say that not only would he be good but he’d be a SP 1 for you a month into the season. Would you believe that? I am talking about the one, the only, Caleb Smith.

I’m a Marlins fan and I can say I never would’ve believed any of that had someone told me this would be the case before the season started. I just realized, I said a pitcher you could draft. You didn’t even have to draft Smith to start the year. He was just about completely available off the waiver wire entering the fantasy baseball season.

Well I’m coming to you with a break down and deep dive into Caleb Smith. It is time to see if the underlying numbers are in line with his actual output at this point in the season. He’s been a waiver wire darling and been a huge boost to all pitching staffs this year. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some bad pitching to start the year and he’s definitely been a big boost to my teams where I have him. Let’s take a look under the hood.

Current Production

He is off to an absolutely wonderful start. Yes I said wonderful. You could also describe it as glorious, magnificent, awesome or just plain dominant. Smith is currently ranked as the 4th best pitcher in Roto leagues and 7th best pitcher in points formats. Did I mention he’s been absolutely dominant?

He is currently owned in only 74% of Yahoo leagues, 91% of CBS leagues and 71% of ESPN leagues. He needs to be universally owned and is a MUST START pitcher until he shows us otherwise. Lets just make that clear before we continue.

He is currently 3-0 in 6 starts on the young year. He has pitched 36 innings, has 45 strikeouts, a 2.00 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. It is amazing he is able to get any wins while playing for the Marlins. He has been lights out on the surface but lets explore a little deeper.

A Deeper Look Into The Success

Source: Baseball Savant

This is the part I really enjoy. It is time to see how the advanced stats and metrics measure up to the current production. He is sporting a 11.25 K/9. This has led to a 33.6% K rate. This is tied with Carlos Carrasco and Blake Snell for 6th best K rate in the league among starting pitchers at the moment. It is better than guys like Trevor Bauer (29.1%), Tyler Glasnow (27.7%), Chris Paddack (28.7%) and many more. He has managed to pair a top K rate with an amazing walk rate as well.

K-Rate Ranks
Source: Fangraphs

He is showing solid control limiting his walks to only 2.25 BB/9. This has led to a walk rate of only 6.7%! To put this in perspective, it is better than Blake Snell (7.4%), Jacob deGrom (8.5%), Gerrit Cole (8.7%) and many others as well. He is pairing top notch K and walk rates and the results speak for themselves. These have led to Smith having the 5th highest K-BB% among starters, which is 26.9%, and is better than just about every previously mentioned name.

A few other contributing factor include his strand rate (LOB%) of 90.2%, his great swinging strike rate (SwStr%) of 16.8%, an above average chase rate (or O-Swing%) of 33.3% and his above average ground ball percentage (GB%) of 37.5%. As a matter of fact, he is above average, in a good way, in just about all plate discipline metrics.

Plate Discipline Metrics
Source: Baseball Savant

Now let’s take a look at his pitch mix and its effectiveness.

Pitch Mix and Results

Caleb Smith has a 3 pitch arsenal. He utilizes a 4-seam fastball, a change-up and a slider. There has been a change in usage in his pitches from 2018 to 2019 and his new found pitch mix could be part of the reasoning for his success. It’s a tangible change and with it has come positive results. The most notable change has been a reduction in usage of the 4-seamer and an increase of usage of change-up from 2018 to 2019.

2018 Pitch Use Percentages VS 2019 Pitch Use Percentages
Source: Brooks Baseball

Any time there is tangible change followed by solid production there is reason to believe it is sustainable to a point. Not to mention the new pitch mix speaks for itself when you see how hitters are doing against them. This chart below shows statistics against each pitch. You will see its obviously impressive how well he is doing.

Results & Averages For Each Pitch
Source: Brooks Baseball

I am very excited for Caleb Smith this year but to say he will sustain a 2.00 ERA would be foolish. There will likely be some regression. Lets look into some possible reasons for regression.

Regression Is Due, But How Much?

Unfortunately, it is NOT all sunshine and rainbows. There is some regression coming his way. As much as I’d love to believe this current pace is sustainable, I know there is very little chance. So this is where i bring up the bad news. There are some indicators suggesting regression. These indicators include FIP, xFIP, SIERRA and his strand rate. But there is also good news. Even with the suggested regression he will still likely be a stud!

Smith’s FIP is 2.81, xFIP is 2.96 and SIERRA is 3.03. All of these basically suggest he has been slightly lucky and his actual ERA should be closer to a high 2’s or a low 3’s. If his ERA regresses to that, you’re still getting a great pitcher. Especially with what appears to be a juiced ball. His strand rate is also due to regress. League average is 72.9% and his is 90.2%. Even if it comes down around 80% it will be a great strand rate still. The regression should come eventually but it does not appear as though it will be a huge amount of regression and we are likely going to have a solid player the rest of the season. This actually leads into my final thoughts on his rest of season outlook.

Rest Of Season Outlook

As I already alluded to, there is obvious regression coming. He is currently ranked top 10 in points and roto formats. If he sustains this level of success, he will be a CY Young candidate. However, I don’t believe he will take such a leap. More tape is becoming available for hitters to study and although he has been nothing short of amazing, its is more than likely the league will catch up with him to a point. It will be on him to adjust back to the hitters adjusting to him. If you take his hot start and pair it with the underlying metrics you are likely ending up with a SP 2 for the year. Don’t forget the tangible change in pitch mix and usage along with the great control and increase in K rate which suggests the early season break out appears to be pretty sustainable. I have Caleb Smith as a top 25 SP as of now. I would be very happy and excited to have Caleb Smith on my team and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.