Joe Smith and the curious case of his side-arm pitch
By Michael DiStefano
Canadian Baseball Network
ANAHEIM, Calif. _ One of the Toronto Blue Jays’ new bullpen arms doesn’t look like the others.
Joe Smith uses a uniquely slotted sidearm pitch he learned in college to get outs in the big leagues rather than the traditional over arm throw.
Smith learned the new throwing style at Wright State University after pitching coach Greg Lovelady asked for volunteers to convert to a sidearm thrower.
“We got new coaches at Wright State and they were looking for someone to throw sidearm,” Smith said. “I wanted to try it just goofing around.”
Smith goofing around turned out to be a perfect accident that transcended his career.
“I had shoulder surgery when I was 16 in high school and I couldn’t get my arm totally back on top, but I [really] couldn’t get my curveball back,” he said.
“I threw one [sidearm] bullpen and [the coaches said] why don’t you stay that way,” the Jays right-hander explained.
Lovelady told Smith it would be beneficial for his career if he made the conversion to the sidearm delivery and wanted to use him as the team’ closer.
“[The coaches] were saying hey you’ll be our closer and you’re going to be really good this way. You’ll probably end up getting drafted, but you need something to stand out,” Smith said.
After deliberating the mechanical overhaul, Smith finally decided to give it a chance.
“But when I get hit I’m done and I’m going back to throwing overhand” he told Lovelady before he converted.
Lovelady definitely saw something special in that mini bullpen session because Smith didn’t get hit much after making the switch. In his final season in college Smith collected 13 saves and had a 0.98 earned-run average with 63 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched.
Smith was drafted by the New York Mets in the third round in 2006, and has enjoyed a decade long career in the majors as an effective sidearm reliever for the Mets, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, and is currently crossing up batters for the Blue Jays.
The former Wright State Raider still maintains a relationship with Lovelady and constantly teases his coach about his career.
“If I’m throwing 94 from my hip I’d probably be throwing 100 from over the top,” Smith said jokingly.
“So [Lovelady] didn’t really excel my career, [he] keeps holding me back,” he laughed.
After years of throwing sidearm, the former Wright State closer still thinks about what may have happened if he continued to pitch conventionally.
“I’ve always wanted to go out there and throw overhand for an inning and see what happens,” Smith chuckled. “[But] I don’t know what would happen, I might hurt myself.”