One of the brightest stars in the entire Braves’ postseason run was elite closer Will Smith. Smith had an adequate first three-fourths of the season, but found much better stuff during the manic September push for the title; by the time the playoffs started, Will was pitching on another level entirely. His consistent ability to baffle hitters was instrumental to the World Series campaign. Although his contributions are often overshadowed by some of the Braves’ mammoth home runs, Smith was undoubtedly one of the most valuable components on the team.

The regular season was certainly a forgettable one for Will, as his performance was perhaps slightly above mediocre. Maintaining a .198 opponent batting average (OBA) and averaging 1.13 walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) landed Smith solidly in the middle of the pack for relief pitchers. Will’s 37 season saves places him fourth on the save leaderboard, but that number becomes less impressive considering that he also had six blown saves.

However, during the month of September, things started to take a discernible turn for the better. It’s very interesting to contrast Smith’s August with his September; in both months, he had 10 save opportunities, 8 saves, and therefore 2 blown saves. Both months also had an equal strikeout total of 17, and Will pitched 12.0 innings in August and one-third of an inning more in September. At first, these look like two nearly identical months; however, beneath the surface, they couldn’t have been more different. His opponent batting average more than halved, plummeting from .217 in August to .105 in September. In stark contrast to 10 hits surrendered and 8 earned runs in August, Smith only gave up four hits and two earned runs throughout September. Both blown saves in that month were unfortunate appearances in which he surrendered a single hit but failed to preserve a one-run lead—although in both cases, the Braves had an opportunity to win the game in extra innings, and succeeded in one of them.

After the success of September came the postseason, and a version of Will Smith that humanity had never before seen was unleashed. Through 11 appearances, he surrendered no runs—earned or unearned—and achieved a save in all six opportunities. That .198 regular-season opponent batting average plunged almost 60 points to a jaw-dropping .139 during the playoffs. (For context, the two best OBAs during the regular season were .126 and .148, from Josh Hader and Craig Kimbrel, respectively.) Of course, 11 postseason appearances is quite a small sample size compared to Smith’s 71 regular-season games, but it’s the only data we’ve got, and more importantly, the only data that’s relevant. Additionally, every playoff game is (by definition) against an opponent that’s proven themselves to be in the top third of the league in their ability to win games, so that more than makes up for the small sample size. Any way you slice the data, Will Smith dominated, completely and totally shutting down the high-powered offenses of the Dodgers and Astros, as well as the lukewarm Brewers hitters.

Smith is under contract for $13 million through the end of the 2022 season, with an additional club option for 2023. At 33 years of age, he’s still got a handful of good years left as a closer; with his continued reliance on the lower-velocity slider, his pitching performance will not be negatively impacted by age for quite a few seasons still. That slider averaged 82.2 miles per hour this season, and even his fastball only averages 92.8 mph—almost completely unchanged from his 2013 velocity. This is a great sign, because it means Smith is finding ways to improve without having to rely on raw athleticism. As pitchers age, it becomes critical for them to work on their mental game and their lower-velocity pitches to stay competitive on the mound; I would love to see Smith incorporate another off-speed pitch to help his longevity. Regardless, what he’s throwing now sure seems to be working, and barring anything unforeseen, we can expect to see big #51 taking the mound in the 9th for at least the next two years.