Closing Time: The lesson of Caleb Smith

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/10762/" data-ylk="slk:Caleb Smith">Caleb Smith</a> spins his Monday magic (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Caleb Smith spins his Monday magic (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It was hard to take the Miami Marlins seriously over the winter. They dismantled their entire outfield — 2017 MVP Giancarlo Stanton was gifted to the Yankees, mostly traded for salary relief — and basically flipped off whatever fan base they had. Even the one Marlins fan everyone knew about, the ultimate hey-look-at-me guy, decided to throw in the towel and do something else.

It was hard to take Caleb Smith seriously, too. Smith came to Miami in a different Marlins-Yankees trade over the winter, on the heels of a good Triple-A season and a brief but ineffective New York trial. As a 26-year-old non-prospect (never in any major Top 100) and on a bad team to boot, the left-handed Smith was ignored in the mixed-draft season.

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And now we sit on May 29, the day after Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer. It’s time to take stock in what you have. The Marlins, as expected, are bad — 20-33, the distant cellar in the robust NL East, the worst run-differential (minus-90) in the majors.

But maybe Smith is onto something.

Smith is on a tidy roll with four wins in six starts, including Monday’s seven-inning cruise at San Diego (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K). Obviously wins can be a fickle beast (empathize with your Jacob deGrom friends today), but Smith’s 3.51 ERA and 1.15 WHIP are rosterable. We’re 11 starts into the year, this could be a growth season.

Smith’s certainly missing enough bats, striking out 69 men in 56.1 innings. His control has generally been his big issue, and it’s obviously a concern at 4.15/9. He’s been a little lucky on home runs, nothing crazy. His xFIP, if that metric matters to you, is 3.91. I prefer FIP usually, and Smith’s is 3.20. SIERA checks in at 3.74.

Smith’s fastball is nothing special, but he’s getting plus results from his slider and change-up. The success of those pitches is driving surprising results against right-handed hitters (.155/.262/.303). His splits were more traditional at Triple-A last year, so any inroads Smith has made against RHBs is encouraging.

Pitchers are always the wild card of any fantasy baseball season. Pitchers get hurt and get healthy, they scrap pitches and they add pitches, they shift to different windups. They’ll move the rubber position, listen to a new coach or tune someone else out, try a new catcher. You never know when someone might figure it out. And you never know when that “figured it out” guy could crash on you. It’s like your golf swing; one second it’s great, then you can’t find it, then it gets back to you when you’re scarcely trying again.

Smith is at 44 percent in Yahoo ownership, so I concede he’s a borderline lede in this column. Once anyone gets over 50 percent, they’re mostly a waste of time as a pickup conversation. If nothing else, let’s try to stay open minded about pitchers, even the guys we know little about or have no expectations on. That’s the lesson of Caleb Smith.

• A guy with a better pedigree than Smith, but a lesser ownership tag, is Pittsburgh righty Nick Kingham. He’s posted mixed results in his three MLB starts this year — one excellent, one passable, one mediocre. The most exciting thing about Kingham is his 21 strikeouts against just two walks over 18.1 Pittsburgh innings. 

I regretfully dropped Kingham in the Friends and Family League earlier this month, as the Pirates — temporarily filled in the rotation — returned Kingham to Triple-A. One of my pesky competitors has since added him. But we all knew Kingham would be the next man up, and when Ivan Nova (ring finger) went on the disabled list, Kingham was recalled. He’ll start Tuesday against the Cubs. 

Kingham showed up on the prospect radar in 2014 and 2015; his elbow went down in early in the 2015 season. Tommy John surgery followed. He’s been handled carefully the last two years, and he was nothing special at Triple-A last year. But that strikeout/walk rate just sings to you, doesn’t it? Like Smith, Kingham is 26. 

The Pirates are quasi-contenders, so they should be using their best guys, not kissing any rings (or ring fingers). If Kingham can come through Tuesday, maybe he’ll get a longer-term endorsement from the club. He’s owned in 22 percent of the Y. 

• I’m a documented Matt Carpenter guy and it’s been fun most of the time, sometimes not as much. Thus far 2018 has been a horrible year for Carpenter, but he finally is coming around. He homered Monday and is on a .377/.421/.717 binge in the last two weeks, with three homers and nine doubles. 

Obviously guys get hot and guys cool off and often it’s just noise and randomness. Sometimes it’s a bunch of cheap hits. But when I see Carpenter getting this many extra-base hits in a short span, I start thinking he might finally be healthy again, over the shoulder issue from before the season. The bottom line, Carpenter’s almost like a pitcher to me these days — you have to guess when he’s healthy, try to time the market, hope for the best. 

He sure looks healthy right now. And he’s super-versatile in Yahoo leagues, three positions of coverage. His owner probably knows the story has flipped and perhaps the acquisition window is slammed shut. I know it’s silly to assume opponent ignorance, and if your league has it, you don’t need anyone’s help. But I thought we should have this discussion anyway. Carpe Diem

Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Kingham Vulture Dalton Del Don, and Scott Pianowski

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