Doug and I will be sharing a handful of samples over the next couple of weeks to give you an idea of what you can expect in the 2014 SP Guide. We have selected a diverse group across both leagues for the samples ranging from established aces to promising on-the-rise arms. We start with one from the latter end in Detroit’s Drew Smyly, a popular sleeper as he prepares for his first full season as a starter. The mechanics report card denotes the split between mine and Doug’s writing. Everything above the card was written by me, the card and text are Doug’s. If you have questions, comments, or funny jokes you can either comment here or reach us on Twitter @sporer and @doug_thorburn. Details on how to order the guide are included at the end of the piece.
I feel like the Drew Smyly v. Rick Porcello battle in Spring Training was more of a media creation that the Tigers didn’t go out of their way to downplay than a true competition. I think the job was Porcello’s almost regardless of what happened in their Spring Training outings, but they went toe-to-toe with six strong starts apiece. If it was a competition, it’s fair to say Porcello won with a 3.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 21 strikeouts, and zero walks in 24 innings. Smyly had a perfectly respectable 3.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 17 strikeouts, and three walks in his 21.3 innings, but Porcello was sharper.
The end result had the Smyly fans pining for him to get a shot, though it was mostly in vain since they knew it would require an injury to Detroit’s excellent rotation. Smyly was great as a reliever for the Tigers even though they foolishly turned him into a LOOGY for the final two months and the playoffs.
I’m not suggesting that the change in role is responsible for the plummet in results; I’m just showing how he performed in the two splits. Not only was it silly to cut his workload from a value standpoint, but it also kept him from logging 90-plus innings as he did in 2012 which would’ve left him better equipped for a full season in the rotation. His pace after four months was 91.7 innings which wouldn’t have been too far from his 121 from 2012 (with minors and playoffs included) considering the fact that it all came in the bullpen.
Speaking of his 2012 work, the large majority was spent as a starter, the results of which have no doubt fueled the excitement for a full year of him in the rotation. In 18 starts he had a 3.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 22.3 percent strikeout rate, and 3.4 K/BB ratio over 95 innings. The biggest concern with him in the rotation full-time is his underdeveloped changeup. It hasn’t prevented him from stopping righties, but he’s straddling the line of average against them.
In 2012, his 749 OPS against righties bested the 758 league average just barely, while his 699 in 2013 comfortably beat the 724 league average. OK, “comfortably” is overstating it, but his 27 percent strikeout rate and 6.3 percent walk rate against them suggests he clearly didn’t struggle. As a starter, those rates were at 19.2 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively. The changeup usage went from 8.1 percent in 2012 to just 2.4 percent last year while the slider more than picked up the slack.
His slider usage against righties jumped from 12 percent to 24.6 percent with the results improving significantly, too. His OPS-against on the pitch went from 659 to 546 with the strikeout rate jumping from 32.4 to 41.5 percent in 34 and 53 PA, respectively. His primary strategy in 2013 was to work the fastball away and then bury his curveball and slider inside on righties.
He has the stuff to be one of the best fifth starters in the league and if either the changeup develops or his pair of breaking pitches continues to neutralize righties, he can easily be a strong fourth starter-type, but I think there is an expectation that he will be a fringe three starter out of the gate and I’m far less certain of that outcome. Let’s just say that Smyly is going ahead of Porcello in a lot of leagues and I find that be insane – a comment meant to pump Porcello more than to tear down Smyly, but pump the brakes on expectations for the young lefty.
Smyly’s delivery does not inspire confidence that he can hold up in the starting rotation, both in terms of withstanding the workload and fooling batters multiple times through the order. His balance wavers throughout the motion, starting with a forward lean during the stride phase before he veers in the opposite direction as he approaches. The end result is a very unstable position at release point, tilting to the glove side while the back foot comes off the ground prematurely, often leaving Smyly as a one-legged pitcher with a shallow release who is on the verge of keeling overboard.
The guide’s release date is the earliest ever, coming out over a month earlier than the 2013 iteration.
The guide will be released on February
(Guide delayed a week)
There are a couple different options available to you this year:
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