One of the more reliable relief pitchers during the 1980s, Dave Smith was the closer who always had a trim ERA. His career ERA of 2.67 is superior to recently enshrined firemen Goose Gossage (3.01) and Bruce Sutter (2.83) and even eclipses heralded closers Rollie Fingers (2.90) and Dennis Eckersley’s (3.50) career marks.
An 8th Round selection out of San Diego State, Smith joined the Astros in 1980 and helped them capture the NL West flag with a brilliant rookie showing. As a freshman, Dave posted a terrific 1.92 ERA with ten saves in a Houston bullpen that also boasted the likes of Joe Sambito, Frank LaCorte and swingman Joaquin Andujar. In the NLCS, Dave won Game III as he fanned four batters in 2.1 innings of work.
Able to miss bats with the best of them, Dave averaged a stingy 0.72 hits per inning pitched in 1981–superior to Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter who averaged 0.78 hits per inning. Th Astros had a strong bullpen in the early 1980s as Dave was lost in the shuffle with Sambito, Frank DiPino, Bill Dawley and Mike LaCoss for a while until he established himself as an elite fireman in 1984. That year Dave posted a 2.21 ERA.
Skipper Bob Lillis named Dave the fulltime closer in 1985 when he passed DiPino and Dawley on the depth chart. He rewarded Lillis with 27 saves and a terrific 2.27 ERA. Unlike many firemen who possess electric stuff but minimal control, Smith was able to showcase a decent amount of accuracy. In the ’85 season, Dave issued 17 walks in 79 innings of work.
The Astros copped the NL West flag again in 1986 as Dave saved a career high 33 contests. Houston took part in an epic NLCS against the Mets, losing the final two games in extra innings. At his peak in ’87, Dave posted an amazing ERA of 1.65 with 24 saves. His peripheral stats were all amazing. He worked 60 innings, fanned 73 batters and coughed up just 39 base hits.
Dave saved 27 games in 1988 and then added another 25 saves on a 2.64 ERA in 1989. He trimmed his ERA down to 2.39 in 1990 and posted his sixth consecutive season with 20 or more saves. In his mid 30s in 1991, the Astros rolled the dice after the 1990 season and let their proven closer test the free agent market. The dice roll worked well for the Astros but not so well for the Cubs, his new employers. His tenure with the Cubs was plagued with injuries as Chicago got just 17 saves in two seasons from their free agent fireman.
W 53/L 53/PCT .500/G 609/SV 216/IP 809/H 700/BB 283/SO 548