Sometimes a correlation sticks in your head and sets up shop permanently. These can be common, shared experiences, like knowing that “peanut butter and *blank*” should conclude in jelly. Other times the correlation is less reasonable, like the way my mind instantly conjures the image of a donkey whenever John Mabry is mentioned. Another such connection I have is between two righty relievers; one is former Mariners closer Carson Smith, while the other is Shae Simmons, a recently traded for reliever with intriguing potential in 2017 and beyond.
There are plenty of differences between the two pitchers, but the most notable is obviously size.
As José has so helpfully outlined, Simmons lacks Smith’s impressive verticality, but that is where the major differences cease. Both Smith and Simmons display sinking fastballs with extreme groundball tendencies and sliders that fall off the table with a dramatic velocity difference. Simmons developed a reputation as a guy who missed bats while avoiding walks, and works a fastball that ranges from 93-98 mph. Smith is a bit lower on velocity, but lives in the 91-95 range comfortably. Each has a sidearm motion that has drawn criticism for being unsustainable, and both have suffered accordingly, undergoing Tommy John surgery in the past two years (late 2014 for Simmons, early 2016 for Smith).
If the written word doesn’t satisfy, the visual is striking as well.
In the darkness of the 2015 season there were a few shining performances: Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-hitter, Ketel Marte’s inspirational walkapalooza down the stretch, and Carson Smith. After Fernando Rodney and Tom Wilhelmsen failed to provide consistency in the closer role, Lloyd McClendon answered one of our lesser prayers and promoted Smith to the job. Smith’s 2015 emergence was, as fellow writer Isabelle Minasian described it, the “first time all season it felt like we had a real baseball player pitching for us consistently.” Since Smith’s trade, the Mariners have been blessed with several dependable relievers, but watching Simmons evokes a bit of nostalgia for something he was never involved in, fairly or not.
Simmons debuted well in 2014, and was seen as Atlanta’s likely closer of the future. Pitching is terrible, however, and Tommy John surgery cut his rookie season short. After missing the entire 2015 season with continued discomfort, Simmons returned in 2016 with plenty to prove. The Southeast Missouri State graduate who has drawn Craig Kimbrel comps looked good as new upon his return. Simmons actually saw his average fastball velocity rise from 95 mph in 2014 to just shy of 96 in 2016. Sadly, forearm discomfort caused Atlanta to end his season early. Health, it seems, is the only major question remaining for Simmons, however, as his performance at every level has been excellent.
Simmons has posted K/9 consistently exceeding 10 at every step of the minors. His command has fluctuated at times, but he’s shown an elite capacity to elicit groundballs. Elite, in fact, is a disservice to Simmons’ skill in keeping the ball out of the air. In 158.2 IP as a professional, combining the minors and majors, Simmons has allowed just one home run. His repertoire is such that he should compete with Dan Altavilla and Tony Zych for late-inning work as Steve Cishek works back to health. If Shae is healthy, it’s easy to envision him working the 7th or 8th inning early in the season. It’s easy to see Carson Smith doing the same in Boston. They just have to be healthy.