John Andrew Smoltz (born May 15, 1967 in Detroit, Michigan) is a Major League Baseball player. While he is predominantly known as a starter and former Cy Young Award winner, in 2001 he became a closer. In 2002 he became only the second pitcher in history to have both a season with 20 wins and a season with 50 saves in his career (the other being Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley). Smoltz is also one of only two pitchers with 150 wins and 150 saves (the other again being Eckersley). Smoltz throws a four-seam fastball that tops out in the low- to mid-90 MPH range, a 91 MPH slider that has long been considered one of the best in the league, and a 92 MPH split-finger fastball that he uses as a strikeout pitch. He mixes in a curveball on occasion as well.
Before his debut, Smoltz developed in the Detroit farm system for a few years until August 12, 1987 when one of the most important trades in Major League history sent him to the Atlanta Braves. On that date, the Tigers and New York Yankees were chasing the Toronto Blue Jays for the division lead. In need of more pitching help, Detroit sent their young prospect, Smoltz, to the Braves for proven veteran Doyle Alexander. Alexander responded by pitching the best baseball of his 19-year career going 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA down the stretch. Detroit overtook Toronto narrowly winning the division but Tigers fans have not celebrated since: The Tigers were beaten easily by the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs, Alexander retired two years later, and the franchise degenerated from playoff-caliber to average, to below-average and eventually into the worst franchise in the Majors.
On the other side of the trade, Smoltz would become a likely Hall of Famer for a 14-time division winning team while winning five pennants and the Braves' first championship in 38 years.
In 1989, Smoltz had the first of what would be many exceptional seasons at the Major League level. In 29 starts, he recorded a 12–11 record and 2.94 ERA while pitching 208 innings. Together with teammate Tom Glavine, who also had a break-out year in 1989, there was plenty of reason for optimism about the future of Atlanta's pitching staff.
Smoltz made his first of many postseason appearances in 1991, pitching well in a losing cause. Over his postseason career, he has a 12-4 record and 2.72 ERA as a starter (14-4 overall). He has more postseason career wins than any other player in history. The Braves won the World Series in 1995 – but with little help from Smoltz, who had the worst postseason of his career.
Before the 1993 season the Braves signed renowned control pitcher Greg Maddux, completing what many consider to be the most accomplished starting trio ever assembled on a single Major League team. During the period of 1991 to 1998, Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine won seven National League Cy Young Awards (six with Atlanta – Maddux won in 1992 with the Chicago Cubs). All three are strong possibilities for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Maddux being a near certainty.
Smoltz's best personal year came in 1996, when he went 24–8 with a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts. He won the National League Cy Young with 26 of the 28 first-place votes.
Adjustments to convert Smoltz from a starter to a closer began in 2001 after several seasons of increased fatigue and fewer innings pitched, culminating in Tommy John surgery after the 1999 season. In his first full season as a closer, in 2002, Smoltz broke the National League saves record with 55 saves (the previous record was 53; Eric Gagne would equal Smoltz's new record the next year). In 2003, injuries limited Smoltz to 45 saves but he posted a minuscule 1.12 ERA – only 8 ERs in 64.3 innings pitched.
In 2005, Smoltz returned to the starting rotation. The change in roles came as a result of the Atlanta Braves losing starting pitchers Paul Byrd to the Anaheim Angels, Russ Ortiz to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jaret Wright to the New York Yankees, and the acquisition of reliever Danny Kolb, who was the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003 and2004 (Kolb was ineffective in 2005 and lost the closer role to Chris Reitsma). Smoltz had also lobbied for a return to the rotation since his conversion to closer, citing evidence by his doctors that starting games would be less stressful on his pitching arm.
Smoltz's revived career as a starter began inauspiciously. He allowed six earned runs in only 1 2/3 innings--matching the shortest starts of his career--as the Braves were blown out on Opening Day by the Florida Marlins. Because of poor run support, Smoltz would lose his next two decisions despite pitching well. After these initial difficulties, things would fall into place. At the All-Star break, Smoltz was 9-5 with an ERA of 2.68, better than his career average. As a result, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa selected Smoltz as a member of the 2005 NL All-Star team. Smoltz gave up a solo home run to Miguel Tejada in the second inning of the American League's 7-5 victory and received the loss. He is 1-2 in All-Star games, putting him in a tie for the most losses.
Smoltz won a championship with the Braves in 1995 but also lost four World Series (with the Braves in 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1999) which ties him with Glavine and Roger Clemens for tops among active players.
- Seven-time All-Star (1989, 1992-93, 1996, 2002-03, 2005)
- National League Cy Young Award winner (1996)
- National League Championship Series MVP (1992)
- National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award winner (2002)
- Finished 8th in National League MVP voting (2002)
- Finished 3rd in National League Cy Young Award voting (2002)
- Finished 4th in National League Cy Young Award voting (1998)
- Led the National League in wins (1996, with 24)
- Led the National League in saves (2002, with 55)
- Atlanta Braves (1988–present)