The Angels added some variety to a bullpen filled with power arms and an effective weapon against left-handed hitters with last week’s signing of sidearm-throwing right-hander Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75-million deal.
Smith, the former Cleveland setup man who turns 30 in March, went 16-9 with a 2.42 earned-run average over the last three years. Relying primarily on a hard sinker and slider designed to produce more groundouts than strikeouts, Smith held left-handed hitters to a .203 batting average (59 for 290) and six homers in that span.
“We have a lot of hard throwers, but Joe brings a uniqueness with his arm angle,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said Monday. “He operates in that 89-92-mph area with good sink, and he keeps the ball on the ground. He’s done a good job of keeping the ball in the park and picking up inherited runners.
“More important is the stability we feel Joe brings. It’s a veteran know-how. He’s a proven commodity, and he’s done it in a high-leverage role. It’s a good feeling to have him at this point of the off-season, especially with the turbulence we’ve dealt with in the bullpen over the last two years.”
Smith should provide depth to a relief corps that ranked 26th in baseball with a 4.12 ERA and converted 41 of 58 save opportunities in 2013. If veteran left-hander Sean Burnett recovers from elbow surgery, Manager Mike Scioscia will have two solid setup options in front of closer Ernesto Frieri.
The Angels also have three power right-handers in Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn and Kevin Jepsen, the arbitration-eligible veteran whom Dipoto said will be tendered a contract before Monday night’s 9 p.m. deadline
“You never shut the door on anything,” Dipoto said when asked if he’d like to add another piece to the bullpen. “But we’re in a better position in terms of impact arms and depth right now. If we can help by adding to the group, we will. If not, I feel comfortable with the group we have now.”
Smith had offers from several other teams, including the Indians and Dodgers, but the Angels’ willingness to guarantee a third year and their location — his fiancee, Allie LaForce, recently moved to Los Angeles to work as an on-air reporter for the CBS Sports Network — pushed him to Anaheim.
“Everything worked out,” Smith said on a conference call. “My fiancee got a job out there, so that takes some stress off me. Being in the same city as her, having a chance to come to a club that not only can compete but has chance to win a ring … that’s obviously the goal for this team. I’m excited to be an Angel, man.”
Smith said his conversion from a more conventional overhand motion to a sidearm delivery — made in 2005 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, under the direction of then-pitching coach Greg Lovelady — was almost an accident.
“I was kind of goofing around, really,” Smith said. “Our pitching coach was walking around trying to find someone who threw sidearm, somebody with a different look, and for some reason, I said I could do it. He looked at me and said, ‘No, that’s all right.’ But I got up on a mound, and he liked what he saw.
“I had shoulder surgery a few years prior to that and was starting to feel good, to gain my velocity back, but I could never get my curveball back. I don’t know if I couldn’t get my arm up high enough. I was just trying for a different look, but somehow my velocity [throwing sidearm] kept getting better.”
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