The Asa Lacy Theory & How it Impacts Hagen Smith’s Evaluation

How dynasty managers should value Hagen Smith in FYPDs

Hagen Smith has been dominant in the 2024 season. As the ace of a top 5 team in the country, he is currently 9-0, with Arkansas being 12-0 in games he has started. He is pitching to a 1.65 ERA, while striking out almost two hitters per inning. Outside of his Opening Day start, in which he gave up 3 ER in 1 inning on a cold Fayetteville day, he has given up 10 ER in 70 IP. That is a 1.28 ERA over 70 innings, including a 6 IP, 17 K outing (yes, 17 K’s in 6 IP) against Oregon State. All of this is while playing in the bouncy ball era of college baseball. That is complete dominance in the best conference in the country.

What if those stats don’t tell us the whole story though? What if the failures of a former dominant SEC LHP can help us better evaluate Smith?


Hagen Smith: The Asa Lacy Effect


2024 College Stats: 71.0 IP/ 1.65 ERA/ 136:29 K:BB

Hagen Smith came to Fayetteville, Arkansas with a lot of buzz. Pegged as a weekend starter in his first year in the SEC, he pitched to a respectable 4.66 ERA with 90 K’s in 77.1 IP in 2022. Impressive numbers for a 18 year old. He took a step forward as a Sophomore, pitching to a 3.64 ERA with 109 K’s in 71.2 IP. This season, Smith has continued his upward trajectory, finally translating his elite stuff into consistent dominance.

Coming into the season, the questions around Smith were never about the stuff. He has always generated swing-and-miss, but up until this season he had struggled to consistently throw strikes. Through two seasons, he walked 88 hitters in 149 IP. Not ideal numbers for his long-term outlook as a starter. On the surface, those numbers have made a large jump forward. This season, he has only walked 29 hitters in 71 IP. During his first two seasons on campus combined, he had a 13.41% BB rate, but that number has lowered to a more respectable 10.43% BB rate. Those improvements in walk rate have moved Smith to the top of draft boards, but what if the improvements in BB% don’t mean his control has improved?


What is the Asa Lacy Theory?


Asa Lacy was the number 4 overall draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 2020 draft. Lacy came out of Texas A&M with a lot of hype, spending 3 seasons dominating the SEC. Over 152 IP in three seasons, he had a 2.07 ERA with 224 K’s. In four starts before the Covid-19 shutdown, he was otherworldly with a 0.75 ERA and 46 K’s in 24.0 IP. Truly a dominant college pitcher, who seemed likely to skyrocket up the MiLB ranks.

Even through the dominance in college, Lacy struggled to throw strikes. In three seasons, he walked 68 hitters in 152 IP, good for a BB rate of 10.93%. Coming in to his draft year, Lacy’s control was the only question surrounding him. In the shortened 2020 season, he showed improvements, lowering his BB rate to 8.6%. That was enough for the Royals to believe in Lacy’s future as a starter, and invest in him with the #4 overall pick in the draft. What happened next completely revolutionized college pitcher evaluations for me.

Lacy’s control issues blew up right away in pro ball. In the 2021 season he walked 41 hitters in 52 IP, while pitching to a 5.19 ERA. Those numbers got even worse in 2022, with 42 BB’s in 28 IP with a 10.61 ERA as he transitioned to the bullpen full time. It was immediately obvious that Lacy was not cut out to throw enough strikes, so what did so many evaluators miss?

Ultimately, some pitchers have such elite stuff that amateur hitters swing at everything. As the competition level increases, hitters become more disciplined, and those fastballs out of the zone, or breaking balls in the dirt become easy takes. Each step up the ladder in professional baseball is a new crop of more disciplined hitters. The pitches that in college generated swing and miss, or weak contact, just become easy takes at the next level. Lacy had that caliber of stuff in college. His pitches were so effective that he could throw it in the vicinity of the strike zone, and the majority of college hitters would swing. Immediately upon entering pro ball, that skillset ran out. With that in mind, let’s tie this back to Hagen Smith.


Smith’s In-Zone % over the Years


On the surface level, Lacy had better walk numbers over his college career than Smith did. That in itself is not ideal when evaluating Smith’s control. But that is only a piece of the evaluation puzzle. The more important piece is not BB rate, but actually In Zone %.

The rise of Statcast and Baseball Savant has increased knowledge and access to information tenfold within the baseball community. That is great, but the issue with evaluating prospects in the past has been the lack of publicly accessible information. More recently, the increase in technology in college baseball has increased the amount of data and information for evaluating draft prospects. Unfortunately, the information era in college baseball does not go back to 2020, Lacy’s last season in college, so we cannot compare directly, but we can dive in on the Hagen Smith’s data.

Let’s first look at Hagen Smith percentages by zone for the length of his career.

Career In Zone %

On the surface level, the picture does not look great. 55% of pitches being out of the zone is not ideal for his career, but we have already talked about how much his control has improved this season, so let’s break it down by year.

2022 In Zone %

2023 In Zone %


2024 In Zone %

Is anyone seeing what I am seeing? In-zone vs. Out of Zone % wise, Hagen Smith is the exact same pitcher in 2024 as he was the years before! His In-zone rate was 36% in 2022, and so far this season it has been 35%, with marginal improvement on how often he is around the edges, with a 10% rate compared to 8% rate in 2022 and 2023. With all this considered, while his BB rate has decreased from 13.41% his first two seasons to 10.43% this year, he has only marginally changed how often he throws the ball over the plate. If he has not thrown any more pitches over the plate, but his walks have gone down, what exactly has changed?


Stuff Improvements


Smith is not throwing more pitches over the plate, but he is throwing more strikes. Read that a couple times and try to wrap your brain around it. It makes no sense, but it is factual. The major question is why? The quality of Smith’s stuff has gotten better. Hitters are swinging at more pitches out of the zone this year, which does not increase his In-Zone %, but does increase his Strike %.

The main ingredient to generating swings out of the zone, or chases, is by having wicked stuff. Smith has always featured plus stuff, but over his career, he has consistently shown improvement in the quality of his repertoire. His Fastball specifically has seen a major improvement. Let’s look at how much his FB velocity has changed this year.

FB Velocity by Year
Whiff % per Year

There has been a distinct improvement in the overall swing-and-miss Smith is showing. The FB has seen an impressive jump from a 26.8% whiff rate all the way to 68.3%. Every other pitch has followed suit. The Slider has always been highly regarded, but that has gone to a whole different stratosphere this season with a 73.5% whiff rate. On top of that, there were questions about the quality of a 3rd pitch. He has added a Splitter (7.79% usage rate) that has allowed for him to feature three truly elite swing-and-miss offerings.

On top of the improvements in stuff, there seems to be an intent shift in where Smith throws his pitches. As a left handed thrower with a low slot, good IVB, and good horizontal break, throwing the FB arm side at the top of the zone is where it will play best. Let’s look at his FB usage. 2022 is all the way on the left, with 2024 on the right.



All of these changes have allowed Smith’s stuff to be dominant. And I know what you’re saying, “this is a good thing, isn’t it”? Yes, 100%! It is a great thing that he is generating more chase because of the increase in the quality of his stuff, but the ultimate question remains: is reliance on chase out of the zone a skill that is translatable to the next level?


What does this all mean? 


Remember the aforementioned Asa Lacy Theory. A pitcher who struggles with command, but has such elite stuff that amateur hitters expand the zone and swing at uncompetitive pitches, creates an illusion that the pitcher has better command than they actually do. Hagen Smith shows signs of having a similar profile. His stuff is truly dominant, at the level he is currently pitching at. The Fastball/Slider combo puts college hitters in conflict, forcing them to consistently swing at pitches out of the zone. But every step up the ladder in professional baseball is a new crop of more disciplined hitters. Ones that are not overwhelmed by elite stuff, do not swing at pitches out of the zone as frequently, and understand what a 35% In-Zone rate is, and how to build a gameplan around that.

Ultimately, there is a threshold. There is a level of stuff so elite, even to MLB standards, that it generates whiffs out of the zone. We have developed pitch metrics, like Stuff+, PLV , and many more valuable models to determine this. We could attempt to quantify whether Smith’s stuff is elite enough to compare to those MLB arms that have success generating swings out of the zone, but the reality is the ability to throw the ball in the zone is the best way to predict how many strikes a pitcher will throw. It is not reliable to just assume that as hitters become more disciplined, a pitcher can be reliant on how often hitters chase.

This is not a Hagen Smith hate piece. Smith is more than capable of debunking the Asa Lacy Theory. He has showcased major improvements in stuff that has led to an increase in swing-and-miss. His stuff might just be good enough to be above the threshold. But he has not improved his control, even if his walks are down. If you entered the season with questions about Smith’s control, he has done nothing in 2024 that should change that opinion. You just have to believe the stuff is elite enough to generate consistent swing-and-miss out of the zone against high level hitters. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, only time will tell.


4 responses to “The Asa Lacy Theory & How it Impacts Hagen Smith’s Evaluation”

  1. DDD says:

    Good article! It seems so many scouts and analysts look at stuff and gloss over control in their assessments of pitchers. But, like you said, in college it frequently seems to work. It reminds me of Billy Bean’s quote in Moneyball about hitters: “if he’s a good hitter, why don’t he hit good.”

  2. Nobu says:


    I’m a Razorback fan but not blind to great baseball analysis with numbers.

    There is one aspect that is unattainable with metrics though-> Brain. How well is his head put together? Meaning when he falls behind in AAA next year does he have the moxie and head processing power to stay disciplined.

    It’s really unmeasurable. So this is a GREAT article but with pitchers im always a “let’s see what they do in the farm” sort of guy.

    The thing in MLB… you have to swing for the fences for pitching in the draft. Most times you whiff.

    • Trevor Powers says:

      Appreciate the feedback! Walking away from the article I felt like I came to no conclusions on Smith, and was okay with that. The main thing I was trying to do was create conversation over what I feel should be conversation points about pitching prospects. I know from feedback about Lacy was that in the MiLB he struggled mentally, which inevitably lead to his fall off a cliff. High caliber pitching is so hard to find and guys like Smith don’t fall off trees so it is the organizations job to identify and develop those assets!

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