Every time I think about Drew Smyly, I think of Cliff Curtis from Training Day. That movie ended weird. “Don’t bleed on my floor,” he says after almost shooting Ethan Hawke in the bathtub with a shotgun. Pretty typical Saturday night if ya ask me, I dunno why Hawke got all bent out of shape and jumped on Denzel’s Monte Carlo.
But now when you say “Smyly,” it evokes feelings of waiver-wire hang-ups; where if he hasn’t been picked up in your league, you probably had him all queued up or someone else has. Buried underneath the Jacob Turner hype, Drew Smyly has progressed through the Tigers system like a nor’easter, pitching only 127.2 total innings in the minors and earning a spot in the Major League rotation just after Opening Day.
Smyly hasn’t been just good. He’s been historically good. He’s the first pitcher since earned runs have been a recorded stat to allow two or fewer in his first six career starts. Throw in a K per 9 and a 34:10 K:BB ratio and it defies all logic that Smyly was on so many waiver wires in 10-team leagues. Sure, it’s early and, sure, pitching is more than plentiful, but Smyly was making a case he should be owned in all formats.
So I decided to watch his start at U.S. Cellular Field against the White Sox and compare his outings to see if he’s improving while settling into the Majors:
First Inning: Smyly is all smiles after three early runs of support in the top of the frame, and on a 1-1 pitch, Alejandro De Aza slaps one right at Smyly, and the lefty ducks out of the way and De Aza gets a leadoff single. Gordon Beckham flies out lazily to center, but then on the first pitch to Adam Dunn, Dunn was sitting on the first pitch fastball and it’s launched for a two-run homer. You could just tell Dunn couldn’t wait for that pitch and it was exactly where he wanted it – right down the middle. There’s your two runs, Drew. Konerko flies out to right and Rios does as well, and Smyly rebounds nicely. Even though he gave up two runs, it’s still only an 11-pitch inning and Smyly still has a lead.
Second Inning: Smyly starts the second a bit rocky with two straight sliders that miss badly to fall behind 2-0 to A.J. Pierzynski. Smyly works it back to 2-1 and Pierzynski flies out to deep left, one down. 1-0 to Alexei Ramirez and Sexy Alexei flies out to short. Five outs and five fly ball outs. Smyly throws a great 92-MPH fastball right on the outside corner to get ahead in the count for the first time this inning to Dayan Viciedo. Where was that first pitch to Dunn? On 1-1, Viciedo pops out weakly to second. Six outs all via the fly ball.
Third Inning: With another two runs of support, Smyly is back out there with a 5-2 lead. Smyly starts Brent Morel with a fantastic curveball Morel takes for a strike, 0-1. On 0-2, Smyly barely misses a called strike 3 with a 93 MPH fastball… Not sure where that missed. And back with the curveball and Morel grounds out for Smyly’s first out not through the air. Smyly again dials up a curveball for strike one looking to De Aza. On 2-2, Smyly goes with a slider that breaks all the way across the zone to the dirt and De Aza can’t hold his swing, giving Smyly his first K on the evening. On 1-2, Beckham flares a 95 MPH fastball into foul territory that Brennan Boesch barely can’t catch. But 95 from Smyly! That’s some serious heat. And then he goes with a slider biting in on Beckham’s hands that s swung on and missed for Smyly’s second straight 1-2-3 inning. What a repertoire Smyly is showing.
Fourth Inning: This time, Smyly doesn’t give Dunn a first pitch strike or a fastball, throwing a slider for ball one. Smyly gets the count back to 1-2 still utilizing only off-speed. Dunn works it full then Smyly dials up a cutter that started inside and cut right into the heart of the plate that Dunn takes for Smyly’s third straight K. On 1-1 to Konerko, Smyly gets a flare popup that lands in no man’s land in right for a fluke single. Smyly had retired nine in a row until that unfortunate single. On 0-1, Rios gets jammed and pops up to Prince Fielder. And on 1-0 Pierzynski flies out weakly to center and it’s another pain free inning for Smyly.
Fifth Inning: On 0-1 to Ramirez, Alexei smokes one to left for a single. Out comes Gerald Laird for a quick talk… Other than Dunn’s blast, that was the best-hit ball for the White Sox. Smyly goes back with a curve ball taken for strike one by Viciedo. Then Smyly goes with a HORRIBLE slider, 85 MPH and it hung on a tee right down the middle. Crushed. Home run for Viciedo, 393 feet to left. Let’s hope Smyly can rebound as strongly as he did after Dunn’s blast. On 2-2, Morel chases a slider out of the zone and pops it out to second for the first out. 0-1 to De Aza, and it’s grounded weakly right to Smyly, two down. Smyly goes up 0-2 on Beckham, but a 2-2 slider barely misses inside then Smyly loses him for his first walk. The first pitch to Adam Dunn is a cutter that looked identical to the fastball Dunn crushed, but it wrinkles and cuts down and Dunn swings over it and almost out of his shoes. Great pitch. On 1-2, Smyly goes to the slider and gets Dunn to swing and miss to once again, again rebounding nicely after giving up a two-run homer. And somewhat surprisingly, after only 69 pitches, Leyland takes out Smyly.
Final Line: ND 69 Pitches (45 Strikes) 5 Hits 1 Walk 4 Earned Runs 4 Ks
Final Analysis: All post game reports indicate Smyly is completely healthy, and Leyland lifted his young southpaw so early due to concerns of the fly balls Smyly was giving up. I think it was just an anomaly as even after the game his GB/FB rate is 0.93. I think Smyly had at least another good inning in him and may have done a better job protecting the lead (reliever Luke Putkonen subsequently gave up three runs while only getting one out in the bottom of the 6th), as he had sat down 9 straight and 3 straight after giving up the two two-run homers.
This was a great start to breakdown. You look at the stat line and say to yourself, “5 innings and 4 earned… the magic must be coming to an end.” It sure as hell isn’t. Smyly made only two mistakes all night that happened to be absolutely crushed. Of course you can’t make mistakes at this level, but Smyly wasn’t exactly pounded throughout his start, allowing only the 5 hits (one of which was a fluke flare single by Konerko) and one walk.
From what I saw in his debut, Smyly has taken tremendous strides. It appears he’s given up on his changeup (I didn’t think I saw a single one) and is instead using a solid cutter for the same effect (like he utilized on Dunn in the fifth). Smyly was able to throw his curveball for strikes and his slider as an out pitch, and even hit 95 on the gun with his fastball, improving his velocity from his debut. The only real knock on Smyly is he’s going to be lifted out of games very early, as is par for the course for young pitchers these days. But with his stuff and that offense behind him, Smyly needs to be owned in all formats. If he’s still on your wire or if you missed out on him and an owner has cut him after this apparent “bad” outing, go and grab him.