The competition for the fifth starter’s job in Detroit is down to two: wily old veteran Rick Porcello and fresh-faced newcomer Drew Smyly. Of course, that’s not entirely reality, as Porcello is only six months older than Smyly, though he has thrown nearly 600 more innings than the lefty. This was supposed to be the year that Porcello finally took that step forward towards the pitcher he was supposed to become when he was the top right-handed prep pitcher available in the 2007 draft. But so far this spring, Porcello has been involved in more trade rumors than Smyly has given up hits (one, to be exact).
It’s very easy to forget about Smyly because his name was not bandied about during draft season last year, and most of the success he had came right at the beginning of the season — giving the fantasy world plenty of time to forget about him. However, forget about him we mustn’t. The numbers stand out on their own — a 3.99 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and 2.9 K/BB in particular. Those numbers hint at real value if Smyly gets this job out of Spring Training.
But can he keep them up? Let’s take a step back and see who Drew Smyly is on the mound. He’s a good-sized left-hander, listed at 6’3", 190 lbs, who has above average velocity for a southpaw (averaged 92.2 MPH on his fastball in 2012). He’s essentially been a three-pitch pitcher — relying mostly on a four-seamer, a cutter and a slider. However, the next step in his development is for his changeup to take a step forward – and the initial returns so far have been positive. He’s been throwing it with more confidence this spring, and it’s been noticed by both Jim Leyland and Alex Avila. It will be very interesting to see how that pitch develops over the course of the fifth starter competition and into the regular season, as it potentially holds the key to Smyly’s fantasy future.
The reason this is important for Smyly is because he needs another weapon against right-handed hitters, who had a 759 OPS against him last season, while left-handed hitters had a 671 OPS against him. And yes, that’s a small sample size, but it fits in with the scouting report on him. Last season, Smyly threw only 78 changeups for the entire year, and the metrics were terrible. According to Brooks Baseball (the best site for such details), he threw the changeup most often when ahead in the count to right-handed hitters – which makes sense, as that’s when it would be most helpful. Unfortunately for Smyly, out of those 78 changeups, only 27 were strikes. And on top of that, he had the same number of swinging strikes as he did home runs allowed (two of each).
If Smyly can win the job, he’s likely to carry value in all but shallow formats – and even in those, he’ll be a worthy matchups play from time to time. The upside, as currently constructed, is likely right around the numbers he put up last year, except with slightly lower expectations for strikeouts (think around a 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 7.5 K/9). And if the changeup actually develops into a eminently usable pitch, that upside will only grow from there. You’ll also notice that Smyly is capable of delivering more fantasy value than Porcello if he were to win the same job – especially in the strikeout department.
Simply because of inertia, Porcello came into the spring as the favorite for the job, and likely still is. But if Smyly is able to weasel his way into the rotation, especially if it’s due to a Porcello trade, his value clearly shoots up long-term. I had him ranked as my #121 starting pitcher in the Dynasty League Rankings, though that factored in short-term uncertainty as to his role. With the job, Smyly becomes a top 100 starter, and a great target in dynasty leagues.
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