On June 8th, 2012, John Smoltz’s number 29 jersey will be retired as an Atlanta Brave. This will be the 4th in 4 seasons for the Braves. Reality is that Smoltz was one of the most underrated pitchers ever to pitch in the majors. He is not a 300 game winner (a number that every starting pitcher shoots for), but he was one of the most consistent pitchers to ever toe the rubber. Winning 213 games throughout his 21 year career, he had to be consistent. Also as a reliever he also saved 155 games in 4 seasons. Impressive stats to say the least.
As a rookie at the age of 21, he had a rough start to his career going 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA. As a pitcher, he learned from his mistakes and became an all-star in only his second season in the bigs. He went 12-11 on the year, but had 5 complete games with a 2.94 ERA.
The 1996 season was no doubt his best season in the majors. Racking up 24 wins in 35 games that is a tremendous season. This was also his best season for striking out hitters, by striking out 276. That season, Smoltz won the NL Cy Young Award. In my opinion this is one of the best seasons by a pitcher ever. With 8 players hitting over 40 homers in the National League that year, he still depended on hitting spots and getting guys out and only allowing 19 homers on the year.
Bad luck hit Smoltz in the 2000 season. He went down with Tommy John Surgery. It seems like every time you look at a pitcher, he has had Tommy John Surgery. The thing with Smoltz was that he didn’t throw very hard in the first place, so I didn’t suspect him to have arm troubles. He had to miss the entire 2000 season 2 years after he went 17-3. That is when everything went downhill for him as a starter.
Coming back from that type of arm injury is tough (especially for a starter), so the Braves put him in the bullpen to be a closer. It didn’t look like a great idea at first as he only saved 10 games. It could have been because he arm was weak and still needed time to recover, or it could have been the adjustment time between starting and closing.
In his second season as a closer John Smoltz knew what he had to do to close ball games and that is exactly what he did. In the 2002 season, Smoltz saved 55 games for the Atlanta Braves. His ERA wasn’t that great but he got the job done and that is the most important thing, winning games. It would be tough to come off of a 55 save season and do that again- but Smoltz came close. In 2003, he saved 45 games but his ERA was a shocking 1.12. WOW!
After the 2004 season, Smoltz believed his arm was strong enough to move back to the starting rotation. Manager Bobby Cox had trust in Smoltz and he won 14 games in 2005. At the age of 39 he won 16 games, striking out over 200 hitters for the 5th time in his career. In my opinion he should have retired after that season, going out with a bang. But you can’t blame a guy that doesn’t want to leave the game of baseball. Then he surprised everyone at the age of 40 by coming out and winning another 14 games by just spotting his fastball and changing speeds.
John Smoltz a first ballot hall of famer? There is no doubt in my mind that he should be. When you are the only player to win 200 games and save another 150 in MLB history, that should get you into the hall of fame automatically. I do not have a vote, so it is not up to me if he gets in or not. But based on my review of his stats, Smoltz should get in. He was elected to 8 all-star games and also won a Cy Young which I mentioned. Thank you for many years of great pitching John!
Ryan Ritchey is a MLB reports Baseball Intern. I am a high school senior, play second base and plan on studying sports journalism in college. I am a huge fan of Barry Larkin and Brandon Phillips. Have been a baseball fan my whole life and have been writing about baseball since freshman year. You can reach me on Twitter (@Ryan13Ritchey)
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