Lee Smith is number 3 on the all time saves list, which is his strongest argument for the Hall. And he was a closer in the old sense of the word, he'd close out games pitching 2 or 3 innings, if needed.
He was an intimidating guy out on the mound. 6'5" and 220, maybe not as scary looking as Jon Rauch, but a better pitcher. He played on 7 All-Star teams, won 3 reliever of the year awards and came in second in the 1991 Cy Young voting.
Smith played for 8 different teams, including a season with the Expos to finish out his career.
Right now there are only 5 relief pitchers in the Hall: Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Dennis Eckersley. Smith might not be quite as good as those 5 but he's close.
This is his 15th (and last) time on the ballot. Last year he was on 34.1% of the ballots. He had been running in the mid 40's until the last couple of years. He had 3 innings saves. He pitched 4 inning in a game.
It is kind of interesting that we have the number 2 and 3 pitchers on the career saves list on the ballot this year. Of course, the number 2 guy has 601 saves (Hoffman) and the number 3 guy has 478 (Smith). But Smith threw 200 more innings. And about 120 more strikeouts. The two have ERA's that are very close, Hoffman 2.87, Smith 3.03.
I feel much the same as I do about Hoffman, I don't like the save stat, but you have admire people that are in the top 3 all-time. I find it hard to imagine that the guys that are at the top of the list shouldn't be in the hall.
Lee saw the closer role change in his career. The first time he led the league in saves was 1983, he had 29 saves, but he pitched in 66 games and threw 103 inning (I would have liked the Jays to use Osuna like that last season). The last time he led the league in saves was 1994. He pitched 41 games and threw 38.1 innings. He only had 5 more innings than saves.
You can check his stats out here.
A lot of debate about the Hall of Fame relates to comparing a candidate against others elected and excluded. The chart below shows pitchers who played the majority of their career after 1945 (excluding active players, and those on the ballot or yet to hit the ballot) according to how long they played (innings pitched) and how productive they were (adjusted ERA). This is not meant to be definitive, but a high level starting point showing how players with similarly productive and lasting careers have fared.
Similar Players: Brandon Webb, John Franco, John Hiller, Kent Tekulve, Sparky Lyle, Doug Jones