Going Deep: The New Drew Smyly?

Ben Palmer examines the recent success Drew Smyly has had since joining the Phillies.

I’ve been a fan of Drew Smyly for a long time. I loved him with the Detroit Tigers, I loved the strikeout stuff he had with the Tampa Bay Rays, and I was a big fan of him as a sleeper coming into this year after he missed all of 2017 and the vast majority of 2018 following Tommy John surgery.

But he was just awful this year. I mean, he wasn’t just bad, he was unusable in any way by any major league team. He was the worst starter in baseball. During his time with the Texas Rangers, Smyly pitched to an 8.42 ERA and 8.06 FIP in 51.1 innings with an astounding 23.5% HR/FB rate before the Rangers released him.

Now, he’s with the Philadelphia Phillies, and if you had completely given up on a Drew Smyly resurgence, you are far from alone. Clearly he’s lost it, right? Whether it’s because of the Tommy John surgery or age or something else, there’s just no hope of Smyly recapturing what he used to be.

And then all of a sudden, on July 21, Smyly has a really solid outing, pitching six innings of one-run ball with two walks and eight strikeouts. And then on July 30, his second start with the Phillies, another nice outing, pitching seven innings of shutout ball with one walk and five strikeouts.

Where did this come from? Have the Phillies found something? Or is this just luck? I’m inclined to believe there’s been a change here, and Smyly himself has said as much.


The Change in Smyly’s Repertoire


Smyly was fully aware of how bad he was with the Rangers, and he knows why too, as he told The Athletic’s Meghan Montemurro:

“I was pretty predictable in Texas. I wasn’t good. I didn’t perform well. I know what I’m capable of. I’ve had a lot of good seasons in the past before my Tommy John surgery. So I just need to get back. The game has changed a little bit in the last two years, and I just have to get back to attacking hitters and keeping them off balance. I think I have a good idea of how to do that now.”

He does, as do the Phillies, who told Smyly to start throwing his four-seam fastball less and his cutter more.

Smyly’s four-seamer has been pretty awful this year. Remember that ridiculous 23.5% HR/FB rate he had? Most of that was thanks to that pitch. His fastball comes in around 90 mph; it’s nothing overpowering and is more of a setup pitch than anything, but far too often this would happen:




Of the 19 home runs Smyly has given up this year, 14 of them have been from his four-seamer. On the season so far, opposing hitters are slashing .278/.404/.678 against Smyly’s four-seamer. Needless to say, it’s been really bad.

But since joining the Phillies, Smyly is throwing the four-seamer less and his cutter more.




Take a look at his pitch mix with the Rangers compared with his two starts with the Phillies:


Rangers 52.9% 10.4% 27% 9.7%
Phillies 37.7% 29.7% 32.7% 0%


And not only is Smyly using his cutter more, the cutter is looking better than it did with the Rangers, as the stats show:


AVG against wOBA against SLG against
Rangers .455 .723 1.364
Phillies .273 .271 .364


So is the increased use of the cutter the key to Smyly’s success? I’d say it’s playing a significant role, as Smyly has said himself:

“It’s moving better. I was able to go down to the Minor Leagues and work on the movement, and it’s paying off. Just pitch usage, just sequencing and being able to tunnel certain pitches off each other. … After my first start, I think I was just a little too predictable in Texas, and I wasn’t throwing strikes is the main thing. I was getting behind a lot of guys and not limiting damage. Now, I feel like I’m able to get ahead, I’m able to keep the hitters guessing and it’s making all my pitchers better.”

Now with a more balanced approach to the plate and more usage of his cutter, Smyly’s curveball has been able to be more effective, producing an excellent 35.4% CSW since joining the Phillies, compared with a 30.1% CSW with the Rangers, leading to nice strikeouts like this one:




In Montemurro’s piece, Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp had some compliments for Smyly’s curveball:

“It’s the strangest curveball I’ve ever caught. No joke. It seems like it goes away from righties. It’s almost screwball-ish where it comes out like it’s going to go to the back foot of the right-hander and then it stops and goes the other way. First day, I didn’t know what pitch it was. He told me [during the bullpen] it was a curveball, but I didn’t know if it was a bad one or a good one. Did that back up? Or is that how you wanted it to go? He’s like ‘No, that’s always how it goes.’ Well, it’s a good pitch.”




So is this the new and improved Drew Smyly? Is he back to fantasy relevance? It’s possible. It seems pretty clear to me that Smyly knew something was wrong and that he made the effort to address his problems and tweak his pitching approach.

It’s also pretty clear to me that the tweaks he’s been making have been working really well. In the two starts he’s had for the Phillies, he’s sporting a 0.69 ERA, 1.92 FIP, and 3.53 SIERA.

All that being said, it’s exceptionally important to remember that this is just two starts so far. This is an incredibly small sample size, and I’m not going to sit here and say, “Drew Smyly is totally fixed and will definitely be a great fantasy asset down the stretch,” because there’s no way I could truly draw that conclusion based on two starts.

However, it’s always very encouraging to me when I see a pitcher who has a good level of self-awareness and is able to reflect on his mistakes and address them. There tend to be two types of pitchers: guys who just throw the ball and hope it hits for a strike, and guys who think deeply about the way they pitch and make small tweaks to refine their game.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like Smyly falls into the latter camp, and that’s good. He saw what was going on in Texas, he recognized it wasn’t working, and instead of just doing the same thing over and over again and hoping it’d work, he underwent a self-evaluation and tweaked his approach.

So far, that new approach seems to be working. He’s unowned in just about every league, and if you have the roster spot, I think Smyly warrants a pickup because this could be for real. He’s shown he can be a fantasy asset in the past; maybe that could happen again. And if this blows up, you’ll know pretty quickly. So bare minimum, ride the streak with Smyly. And while you’re doing that, you’ll have the potential that he’s tapped into something real here.

 (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Ben Palmer

Senior columnist at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan, also a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music, watch way too many movies, and collect way too many records.

2 responses to “Going Deep: The New Drew Smyly?”

  1. K-Dawg says:

    How are you factoring in the two opponents he faced in these starts? I’d be more encouraged if he did it against the Braves and Dodgers, rather than the Giants and Pirates.

    • Ben Palmer says:

      I think that’s generally fair, however the Giants have been one of the hottest teams in the NL in the month of July, so they’re not total scrubs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login