Normally I will look at players that have been good and unlucky or mediocre and lucky but there's also the section of pitchers that are both lucky and good. After six major league starts, Detroit Tigers lefty Drew Smyly has been just that; benefiting from some luck while also pitching like a high-caliber major league starter.
It wasn't long ago that Smyly was drafted, taken in the second round of the 2010 draft, and now less than two years later he's in the majors and leading MLB in ERA while striking out a batter per inning. Not bad and also very fortunate for the Tigers, a team that has been in serious need of some luck and some good. The Tigers were my pick to win the World Series before the season and so far at 17-17 they have disappointed.
Luckily, Smyly has done anything but disappoint with his 1.59 ERA over six starts and 34 innings. And though his record is 1-0, the Tigers are actually 4-2 in his starts this season with losses of 3-2 and 2-1. Though Smyly wasn't on many pre-season top 100 lists or even much of a known name, he has done nothing but impress over his minor league career. When the Mariners traded Doug Fister to the Tigers last season, there were three possible names for the PTBNL: Nick Castellenos, Chance Ruffin, and Smyly.
I knew that Castallenos wasn't going to happen, so he was out. I was very hopeful that the player would be Smyly, but alas it was Ruffin. A very good relief prospect but a relief pitcher nonetheless. And this is what Smyly did last season: 11-6, 2.07 ERA, 126 innings, 130 K, 36 BB, 103 H, 2 HR allowed split across A+ and AA. After his promotion to AA, Smyly had a 1.18 ERA over 45.2 innings with 53 strikeouts.
The 6'1" lefty is already making a case for AL Rookie of the Year honors and few people even knew he existed, but much like Fister, he's a little-known
lefty pitcher thriving in Detroit and there's every reason to believe that even if he doesn't win the AL ERA title that he could still be very good.
Smyly has a 3.10 FIP and 3.28 xFIP with 44.3% groundballs, 9 K/9 and 2.65 BB/9. Where he's been lucky: .276 BABIP against and 91.7% left-on-base. The BABIP isn't terribly low but the LOB% seems terribly high. Still, because his ERA is so low, the difference when it normalizes or regresses won't hurt Smyly that badly. He'd still be a pitcher with an ERA in the 3.00s pitching for a team that I still think will win 90+ games. There's still good news and bad news about Smyly:
Good news: He's gone 6 innings in each of his last five starts. Bad news: He's never gone more than six innings and he's using 93-101 pitches to get through just six innings. It could be worse but it could be a lot better and you'd like to see a pitcher at least go seven innings if he's only going to get 90-100 pitches to work with because of his age and inexperience. It'll only make him more valuable.
Another interesting thing about Smyly is his early season lefty-right splits. Against 39 lefties faced, they are hitting .263/.282/.459 against the southpaw. Against 96 RHB: .198/.284/.306. He's walking a lot of right handed batters but he's also been difficult to hit for opposite handed hitters. The sample sizes of course still being very small, but according to PitchFX, he's kept righties guessing and they're hitting 50.8% of their balls on the ground against him. Simple Science: It's just harder to score when you can't get the ball in the air. His low-90's fastball and 80.5 MPH slider (a pitch he uses almost 25% of the time) have made Smyly into a true #2 starter and someone you want to believe in.
And I got through this whole article without a single pun.
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