Rookie pitcher Drew Smyly takes the mound for the Tigers this afternoon. After an exceptional college career, Smyly was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft and received a $1.1 million signing bonus. In 2011, the Tigers started the left handed pitcher in high-A where he went on to post a 2.58 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 8.63 K/9, and 2.35 BB/9 in 80.1 innings. He also started 45.2 innings in double-AA last year, posting an even better 1.18 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 10.45 K/9, and 2.96 BB/9. Despite only pitching one season of minor league ball, the 22 year old impressed this spring by holding hitters to a .180 average and striking out 14 over 18.0 innings. He was promptly inserted into the major league rotation, and thus far it appears the Tigers have at least a mid rotation starter in Smyly. Although he’s faced the Rays, Royals, and Rangers thus far, the Yankees look to be his toughest match up thus far with a lineup loaded with hitters that can destroy lefties.
Before we jump into the graphs, I’ll warn you that Smyly’s PITCHf/x numbers thus far are certainly irregular. Only with the help of Harry Pavlidis and his player card profile at BrooksBaseball.net, do we have a comprehensiveness classification of Smyly’s pitches. For those that have a strong interest in PITCHf/x data, follow Harry at @harrypav and checkout his work at Brooks Baseball as well as the always incredible Hardball Times.
Smyly is currently using a 4 pitch repertoire. His 91 mph four-seam fastball has strong “rising” action, and some slight movement into left handed hitters. He couples his fastball with an odd 88 mph cutter that’s movement varies from 10 inches into left handed hitters to nearly the same as a no-spin pitch. He backs this up with a very similar looking 81 mph slider and an 84 mph split-changeup. On average, he uses the four-seam the most at 53% of the time, the cutter 19%, the slider 22%, and the changeup 6%.
Here we have the release points of all four pitch types. Comparing this release point to the majority of the 3/4 slot pitchers we’ve scouted, you’ll notice that his zone is high. Smyly throws with a high arm slot that could arguably be considered overhand. One issue here is that his release zone covers about 2 feet horizontally, perhaps showing that he has trouble replicating his delivery or maintaining his arm slot. While this may create different breaks for pitches, Smyly is known for his exceptional command throughout his short career, so it doesn’t appear to be affecting his control. From a pitch type perspective, he tends to throw the four-seam fastball at a slightly higher angle than his breaking pitches, which is something hitters may be able to pick up on. You can see his high arm slot in the picture to the right.
In the two pictures above, you can see the trajectory of his four pitches from the release point on the right to homeplate on the left. In the top image we have a bird’s eye view of the pitch break horizontally. The four-seam, cutter, and slider all have similar average horizontal movement, with the changeup showing the most movement into left handed hitters. In the second image, you can see the vertical break of each pitch from the first or third base side. The four-seam obviously has the least downward movement, followed by the changeup, the cutter, and then the slider. One thing that stands out is the incredible drop from the slider just about 15 feet from the plate, and with that sort of drop hitters will be swinging over the pitch.
Here we have the vertical and horizontal movement of his different pitches based on a catcher’s perspective, with the origin being a no-spin pitch conforming to gravity. The “rising” action of the fastball is outstanding, on average rising more than 4 inches higher than your 2011 average four-seamer. At times the pitch can be as straight as the no-spin y axis, but it can also reach around 7 to 8 inches into left handed hitters. The changeup has slightly more horizontal movement, but the pitch still does a good job of mimicking the four-seam. The cutter has slightly less vertical movement than the first two, but has about 5 inches of movement into lefties. The slider drops slightly more than the cutter, and as we saw above most of that was late in the pitches path, but it also has less movement into lefties.
Here we have the spin angles versus the velocity. The high spin angle and rpm of the four-seam, which averaged 165 degrees, is how Smyly is able to get so much rising action out of the pitch. The changeup averaged slightly less spin angle at 155 degrees, and while that decreased the vertical “rise”, (only slightly thanks to 2,239 RPM) it also increased the break into lefties. The cutter had a lower spin angle than the changeup, but also had more velocity, which gave it similar horizontal movement with much less vertical. As usual, the spread of the slider’s angle reaches the furthest, but the average 132 spin shows why the break was similar to the cutter, and the low 363 RPM also demonstrates why it was also close to the no-spin origin.
Where He Throws It
Here we have the pitch locations for right handed hitters. As a four-seam pitcher, most of his fastballs are located up or above the strikezone to induce flyballs and whiffs. He was also able to throw the cutter around the strikezone, but avoided them up and in. The changeup is located either in the strikezone, under, or away from the batter. Finally, the slider is thrown mostly “down and away” in the zone, or “down and in” under. His selection to righties is 56% four-seam, 20% cutter, 17% slider, and 7% changeup.
Against left handed hitters, Smyly again attacks with four-seam fastballs, but this time “up and in” and “down and away”. The cutter is mostly thrown away to left handed hitters, and the slider is thrown “down and away”. His selection to lefties is 45% four-seam, 16% cutter, and 39% slider.
When He Throws It
|Count||Four-seam (R)||Cutter (R)||Slider (R)||Changeup (R)|
The chart above contains Smyly’s selection based on count to right handed hitters. Starting off a count, the pitcher usually attacks with a four-seam fastball and increase it’s usage as he falls behind in the count. After strike one, he mixes in his changeup, but mostly attacks with his cutter and slider, which continues after strike two. His best pitch is his slider, which has a 19.44% whiff rate to righties, but his fastball also has a 10.66% rate.
|Count||Four-seam (L)||Cutter (L)||Slider (L)||Changeup (L)|
To lefties, Smyly attacks the zone with mostly four-seamers and sliders to begin the count, but becomes more reliant on the four-seam as he falls behind. As he gains a favorable count, he throws the slider more exclusively while mixing in the cutter at times. His slider has an incredible 22.22% whiff rate in 2012 thus far, which explains why he throws the pitch so often.
Despite being a four-seam fastball pitcher, Smyly has so far established himself as a groundball pitcher due to his cutter. His batted ball rate is 51.1% groundballs, 31.1% fllyballs, and 17.8% linedrives. With a high whiff rate on the slider, the 22 year old has maintained an 8.44 K/9 through his first 3 games, as well as a 3.38 BB/9. Thanks to a 99% left on base rate, his 1.13 ERA is outweighed by a truer 3.96 FIP. It’s likely small sample size, but the left handed pitcher has shown a reverse platoon split, a brilliant .200/.294/.267 triple slash facing righties, and a .438/.471/.813 triple slash from lefties.
Drew Smyly is a better pitcher than many rankings gave him credit for this offseason. While the overall consensus was a capable mid-rotation arm due to his excellent control, there wasn’t too much speculation about his slider. From the pitch movement we’ve seen through PITCHf/x, I think there is a slight chance he becomes a #2 pitcher. As for this afternoon, my prediction is that his inexperience will be his demise against the Yankees, a lineup filled with hitters who crush lefties. That said, don’t be surprised if he makes the lineup look silly on his slider. A failure today would not be due to the Yankees seeing a new pitcher, but due to the Yankees seeing a good pitcher.