30 Tigers in 30 Days: #14 – Drew Smyly

Drew Smyly | Pitcher | #33
2014 salary: 
2013 statistics: 
2.37 ERA, 2.31 FIP, 76 IP, 4 HR, 17 BB, 81 K, 2.01 BB/9, 9.59 K/9
Projected role: 

Drew Smyly’s excellent season as one of the key relievers in the Detroit bullpen was unfortunately marred a bit thanks to a late swoon, including an ALCS that saw him fail to retire two key lefties in games two and six. He was excellent for most of the season, but in his first career year as a reliever, he seemed to run low on fuel toward the end.

Smyly returns to his preferred role as starter this season after Doug Fister’s departure, and it may serve as a nice advantage for the Tigers. It’s been years since Detroit had a reliable lefty starter – one could argue that Kenny Rogers was the last – and a southpaw could take advantage of Comerica Park’s dimensions, as the righty power hitters that could trouble them most will be partly negated by the ballpark’s huge right center field.

Smyly was a starter for much of 2012 up until Anibal Sanchez joined the ballclub, so for the purposes of this preview we’ll be leaning more heavily on the data from that season as opposed to 2013, where he had to change his approach out of the bullpen. As a starter, he posted a very respectable 3.79 ERA. He offered a low-90s fastball, cutter, and slider, which was (and still is) the out pitch against lefties and was heavily used in 2012.

That said, Smyly’s most important pitch this year may end up being his developing changeup, which he shelved last year as a reliever. Righties had a .759 OPS against him in 2012. If he can get the changeup figured out and use it effectively against righties, it will be a huge help in reducing that OPS and limiting righties. He didn’t throw many of them in 2012 and when he did he wasn’t successful with them, so watch for it in 2014. If he can find success with it, it could be a very nice season for the 24-year-old.

It will be interesting to see how much work Smyly gets, particularly early in the season. He was pretty much down to single inning duty toward the end of 2013 and there will be a period of time in which he’ll have to stretch himself out and re-acclimate himself to a starter’s workload.

Smyly wasn’t perfect in 2012 but he did a solid job then and I expect the same in 2014. An ERA in high upper 3s is definitely within reach. If he can make his changeup an effective weapon against righties, he could end up having a very nice season – and, dare we say it, ensure that we don’t miss Fister that much.

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