The Breakout Is Approaching FOR REAL: Drew Smyly
Any of you that have been reading my articles since I started over at Baseball Professor probably think I have some strange fascination with Drew Smyly. Let me first clarify no he doesn’t pay me to write about him as his unknown hype man and no we are not related. I just really really like the way he throws a baseball.
Even though I have been predicting a full on breakout into the top 30 fantasy starting pitchers since 2013 that has yet to come to fruition for a number of reasons. First, after nearly 100 solid innings of work as a starter in 2012 the Tigers stacked rotation heading into 2013 led to his switch to the bullpen. Smyly took the role and ran with it pitching to a 2.37 ERA despite no uptick in velocity.
In 2014, he was finally given the chance to start a full-season and rewarded owners with a 3.24 ERA and became the centerpiece of the trade that landed David Price in Detroit. Since it was his first full-year back from being in the pen there was a firm innings limit set on Smyly which ended his year at 153 IP.
2015 was supposed to be the year where it would all come together for this talented 25-year-old lefty—yet it was not meant to be. Smyly was limited to just 66.2 IP last season due to suffering a torn labrum in May. Since the tear was not all that extensive the Rays were able to work him though a non-surgical rehabilitation which paved the way for his return to the rotation in late August.
Smyly had two rough outings at the end of August as he shook off the rust of the injury and pitched an impressive 36 innings to close out 2015. During September and October he had a 2.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .208 BAA, and an elite 22.2 percent K-BB rate. His K-BB rate was the same as Jacob deGrom’s was in 2015 during those final six starts of the season. The ability is clearly there for Smyly to become an impact starter and still only just 26 years old there is plenty of time for him to deliver some hugely valuable years.
When Smyly moved over to the Rays organization they began converting him to the Rays way of throwing the fastball. This involves getting swings and misses off of the four seamer by throwing the pitch high in the zone to change the batters eye level. This paid dividends for Smyly right away as the chart below shows an immediate uptick in the whiffs generated on his four-seam fastball. The pitch went from getting 7.37 percent whiffs in 2014 to 9.95 percent in 2015.
As he showed over his final six starts to the season Smyly is not pitching like a man injured but rather a fully healthy pitcher entering the prime of his career. His innings may be limited to some degree in 2016 due to his lighter workload last year but his best years remain squarely in front of him. Smyly will slot into the rotation as the third starter behind Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi and could prove to be one of the more dominant third starters in the league.
With his improved fastball getting whiffs at nearly 10 percent Smyly adds to the already impressive array of swing and miss offerings headlined by his cutter and curveball. The ability to mix in a changeup when necessary all while showing excellent control walking fewer than three batters per nine innings make him the complete package. The upside is here for a pitcher that throws between 180-200 innings coming close to striking out nearly a batter per inning.
Ultimately the shoulder health of Smyly will dictate how much value he returns in 2016 but it is very fair to assume his ADP will be even lower than the 57th starting pitcher off the board he was last year. No one in that area comes even remotely close to giving you the kind of ace potential that Smyly possesses. He is a must buy in all dynasty leagues.