Maybe it's the generic name. Maybe it's the fact that he only pitched 11 2/3 innings. Maybe it's because we want to forget everything about the Tigers' bullpen. Whatever the reason, Chad Smith was not very memorable in 2014.
A 17th round selection by the Tigers in the 2011 amateur draft, Smith had a solid 2013 season at Low-A West Michigan. He made 43 appearances and pitched 72 innings, allowing a 2.12 ERA and 2.77 FIP. He made a pair of starts, but the other 41 appearances he made were out of the bullpen.
Smith skipped a level at the start of 2014, heading straight to Double-A Erie. He got off to a rocky start, allowing a pair of runs in his first outing of the year. To his credit, he struck out five of the 12 batters he faced and ultimately picked up the win n a 5-2 Seawolves victory. After that, Smith was all but untouchable. He gave up just one run in his next six outings, spanning 10 1/3 innings. This brought his season-long ERA down to 2.08, with 14 strikeouts to five walks in seven appearances.
The solid April performance earned Smith a trip to Triple-A Toledo. He got off to a better start this time, working four scoreless outings to begin his Triple-A career. A rocky outing against the Syracuse Chiefs did not shake him, as Smith allowed four runs in 18 innings from early May to mid-June. Smith's peripherals matched up with the solid 1.64 ERA; he struck out 19 batters and walked just three while holding opposing batters to a .545 OPS.
After an impressive half season at multiple levels, the Tigers finally called Smith up to the big leagues. With a 1.80 ERA and 4.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors, Smith was a reasonable bet to provide some decent innings, right?
Unfortunately, it didn't work like that. Smith made his MLB debut on June 22nd against the Cleveland Indians. With the Tigers up 10-1 heading into the ninth, Smith was called upon to close out the easy victory. He eventually got through the inning, but allowed three runs on four hits in the process. Things did not improve much in his next outing. Smith gave up a run in another mop-up appearance two days later, an 8-2 win over the Texas Rangers.
Smith settled down after that, but it was clear that the Tigers were not going to trust him in a high leverage situation. He made eight more appearances, but only one came in a one-run game. He did not factor in a decision, and pitched the ninth inning of a blowout game on three more occasions. To his credit, he was better; he allowed a 2.79 ERA in 9 2/3 innings, dropping his MLB ERA to 5.40 for the season.
Smith was sent down to Triple A shortly after the All-Star break, but he was unable to regain his previous form. He gave up eight runs in his first three outings and 11 in just five total innings over the next month. He only struck out three of the 36 batters he faced and allowed an astronomical 1.520 OPS during that stretch. His season would end on a bittersweet note. He was demoted back to Double-A Erie in mid-August, but closed out the year with five scoreless appearances for the Seawolves.
It's tough to put a grade on Smith given the lack of confidence that the Tigers showed in him during his short stretch in the big leagues. He did not pitch very well, but tallied nine strikeouts to three walks resulting in a 3.47 FIP. His two stints in Triple-A were polar opposites, so it's tough to say whether Smith will be an asset for the Tigers going forward. He got a fair number of whiffs with his mid-90s fastball at the MLB level, but his slider will need to be more effective in the future. Smith will likely start the 2015 season in the minors, but expect another mid-season call-up for the 25 year old right-hander.