Saturday, April 19, 2014

Starter Drew Smyly Versus Reliever Drew Smyly

Drew Smyly rejoined the Tigers rotation last night (Photo credit: Scott Rovak/ U.S. Presswire)

Tigers left hander Drew Smyly made his first start since 2012 last night and did not fare too well in a 11-6 loss to the Angels.  He was pounded for four runs on six hits including four of the extra base variety in just four innings of work.  Not much can be made of a single start especially one where he pitched for the first time in nine days.  So, let's not scream about his needing to return to the bullpen just yet, but I will examine what happened.

First, let's compare the 2012 and 2013 versions of Smyly.  Pitching mostly as a reliever in 2012, Smyly had the following breakdown of pitches according to 54% four-seam fastballs, 13% cut fastballs, 28% sliders and 5% change-ups.  In 2013 strictly as a reliever, the breakdown was: 56% four-seam fastballs, 29% cut fastballs, 15% sliders and <1 change-ups.="" nbsp="" p="">
So, the big difference between the two years was that he threw more sliders in 2012 and more cutters in 2013.  The slider was his best pitch in 2012 as he held opponents to a .339 OPS.  In contrast, he had an .858 OPS against on his cutter.  In 2013 his slider was still an effective pitch (.578 OPS), but his cutter was even better (.417).  

Pitchers often throw harder as relievers than as starters since they face fewer batters in relief.  Smyly however had an average fastball velocity of 92 MPH both years.

Tonight, Smyly was less reliant on the four seamer than usual using it on just 40% of his pitches.  He threw 34% cutters and 26% sliders which is an indication that his increased use of a cutter last year was not just a bullpen adjustment but rather a pitch that he now feels more comfortable throwing in any role.

Tonight, none of Smyly's pitches were working well.  He had a 25% whiff per swing rate on his slider compared to 40% lifetime.  For the cutter, it was 10% versus about 25% for his career.

As for velocity, Smyly had his typical 92 MPH average fastball tonight.  The biggest concern about the 25-year-old Tigers pitcher might be durability since he pitched as a reliever last year and has never pitched as many as 120 innings at any level.  There was not a major problem in terms of in-game stamina last night as his last pitch (number 82) was thrown at 91 MPH after peaking at 93 MPH in the early going (see figure 1 below).

So, the problem was not lack of speed or stamina, but rather too many fat pitches in the middle of the zone.   He'll get a chance to fix that next week versus the White Sox.

Figure 1: Pitch Speed by Pitch Number for Drew Smyly, April 18, 2014
Data source:

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