John Smoltz Has Found His Voice

Kyle Koster
Detroit Tigers v Atlanta Braves
Detroit Tigers v Atlanta Braves / Daniel Shirey/GettyImages

Perception is not reality so it's entirely possible that John Smoltz is not carrying more of the World Series broadcast with Joe Davis than he did with Joe Buck. Perhaps his time-on-mike has not changed and the quantity of analysis has remained steady. So let's focus on the quality of that commentary, which has been high-grade and proactive. Never more so than in Game 4 when his ability to synthesize complicated pitching principles for a wide audience dovetailed with one of the most spectacular mound performances ever put forth in the Fall Classic — or playoffs for that matter.

The No. 1 analyst job in baseball comes with the baggage of being loathed and treating like a punching bag by the audience. Tim McCarver wore those inside fastballs from the public for decades and to his credit, never changed. Joe Morgan, well, the masses made some pretty good points. Smoltz has proven malleable and open, adapting and improving. Of tailoring his game to suit its strengths. Considering his one-of-a-kind playing career where he ascended to the top of starting pitcher and closing pitcher mountaintops, we shouldn't be surprised.

With the Houston Astros desperately needing a win, they sent Cristian Javier out to the mound. The right-hander's remarkable rise from $10,000 signing bonus to end-of-the-bullpen guy to starter to, gasp, perhaps the most unhittable hurler in baseball right now is a fantastic story. And though it feels a bit sacrilegious to say, if a person squinted hard enough they could see shades of Pedro Martinez as he hurled six of his team's no-hit innings last night. Neither his stature or fastball are imposing. Understanding why he's had success — the only player to throw five-plus innings while allowing fewer than two hits in postseason history — is a bit difficult.

Smoltz dipped into his bag and pulled out a relatable anecdote. When you're playing catch with someone and their throws jump at the end. How the ball seems to catch the glove as much as the glove catches the ball. Pitch data reveals Javier's fastball moves and grooves. It plays tricks on the eye and makes the prospect of solid contact a tall task. Smoltz walks a delicate line of accepting the existence of analytics without believing they are the only thing. He's exceptional at bringing the human side of the game to the forefront. There's some curmudgeonly old-school hues in his palate but they are necessary. Because baseball cannot be distilled down to a spreadsheet. Pitcher vs. hitter is a remarkably violent and aggressive explosion 300 times a night. Some stuff happens too quickly to care about the numbers.

Phillies starter Aaron Nola had no margin for error. Smoltz correctly pointed out that he made that margin non-existence with a few key missteps in pitch selection. He has the gravitas to first-guess and the evidence continued to prove his thesis. He was also on top of the biggest managerial decision of the game — Rob Thompson bringing in closer José Alvarado into a bases-loaded, no out jam in the fifth inning. An impossible situation that concluded with the game out of reach and the series destined to return to Houston.

It's possible that I underestimated Smoltz. It's also possible that he's gotten better. There's no doubt that he comes across more confident, that he's quicker on his feet, and that he's comfortable taking equal time with Davis. That too is a credit to a play-by-play announcer working his first World Series. This broadcast isn't necessarily better than it was with Joe Buck, it's just different. It's put a brighter light on Smoltz, who is making the most of his increased pitch count.