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Drew Smyly acquisition a coup for Rays

Smyly entrenched himself as a potential front-line starter moving forward by compiling 1.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in his seven starts with the Rays.

That's one high armslot
That's one high armslot
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last year's return for David Price was met with plenty of skepticism by analysts and fans alike. Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by the haul when reflecting in the moment of the transaction. My expectation was a top 30-40 MLB prospect being involved in the package when trading away a bona fide ace at the deadline.

It seemed like a perfect time to make such a move to maximize their return. With the Rays focusing on getting MLB ready talent in return versus the high risk/high reward low minors prospect, it yielded them Drew Smyly, the key piece in the transaction. Since joining the Rays, Smyly has done nothing but shine, boasting a 1.70 ERA in seven starts with a miniscule 0.76 whip.

You can expect some regression with an unsustainable .184 BABIP and 89% strand-rate, but there are reasons for optimism in regard to his improved results if you dig deeper.

Tigers 105.1 7.6 2.7 2.9 1.2 .313 21/38/42% 12%
Rays 47.2 8.3 2.1 4.0 0.76 .184 18/33/48%


Since joining the Rays, Smyly began pounding hitters up in the zone more frequently, an integral factor in his fly ball and infield pop rates increasing.

Take a look at his fastball chart with the Tigers compared to the Rays.

The pitch mix began tilting more towards less fastballs and more cutters as well to combat HR/9 and get more grounders.  It didn't translate that way as his GB% dipped all the way down to 33%.  I expect it to spike up a little closer to his career norm if he continues to use the cutter more frequently.

Year Fastball
Cutter Curve Change


When trying to forecast his stats for 2015, I started using Steamer on FanGraphs for a baseline.  I was caught off guard by only 125 IP projection.  Smyly reached 125 innings in A/AA at a tender of age 21 in 2011.

Projection IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Steamer 125 8.12 2.81 1.05 .281 3.54 3.85 1.5
PECOTA 160 8.60 2.70 0.90 .294 3.50 -- --

If using Steamer projections to help guide you in fantasy drafts be sure to adjust the innings accordingly. It's worth noting that Fan crowdsource projections gathered at Fangraphs thus far expect a 3.16 ERA, 3.41 FIP and 3.4 WAR for Smyly next season, with nearly 200 IP.

Being utilized primarily as a reliever in 2012-2013 must be a culprit in such a low inning projection.  Or perhaps the doubling of his workload from 76 innings in 2013 to 153 last season is ringing alarm bells as an injury risk?

I don't buy that.  I'm definitely leaning closer to the fans side of the projections, but I'd be a little more conservative in the 170-180 inning range.  On the surface, I wanted to split the difference between the two when it comes to the peripherals, but I'll dig a little deeper.

First-strike percentage correlates a lot with walks, and Smyly's has steadily improved from 59% in his rookie campaign to nearly 63% last season. MLB league average is 61%.  The fans projection of 2.3 BB/9 might not be too far off, especially with master framer Rene Rivera as the new backstop.

A gradual progression of more fly balls and infield pops in his batted ball profile makes Steamer's BABIP sound about right. He gives up his fair share of line drives, but is still well below league average in that regard in his career. (19% compared to 21%)

More fly balls can result in more home runs. If right-handers begin to jump on first pitch fastballs he could be vulnerable to a few more dingers. Tropicana suppresses homers so that's on his side, but I'm still leaning towards Steamer's 1.05 projection with the potential risk of a smidgen higher.

Small sample of balls in play, but an interesting chart to look at.

Results and Averages - from 2011-2014 vs. Right Handed Hitters on 0-0 Counts

Fourseam 628 36 0 0 0 7 6 0 2 .417 .750 .333 .382
Sinker 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Change 43 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .400 1.400 1.000 .250
Curve 166 7 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 .571 .571 .000 .571
Cutter 70 6 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .167 .167 .000 .167

Velocity has dipped as a starter; he no longer touches 93-94 on his 4-seamer, but 90-91 is in the range of league average for a lefty.  It resulted in roughly league average whiffs last year at 6.6%.  Cutter gets slightly above average whiffs at 11%.  His slurve is his money pitch resulting in 15% whiffs last year. His usage spiked to a career high last year, if he maintains that usage his overall swinging strike rate could spike enough to improve upon his 7.8 K/9. Steamer's 8.1 K/9 projection sounds about right.

Invest in Smyly in your public fantasy leagues without sharps and reap a solid return on your investment.  If his two-seamer or change develop at all he'll be able to combat opposite handed hitters a little more effectively. Any improvement on that front and there could be ace-like production that I didn't anticipate in my wildest dreams at the time of the trade.

Season Handedness K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
2014 vs L 9.00 1.17 7.67 0.78 27.9 % 3.6 % 24.2 % - - - 0.72 .211 73.0 % 2.65 2.57
2014 vs R 7.32 3.03 2.42 1.18 19.2 % 8.0 % 11.3 % - - - 1.36 .302 80.7 % 4.24 4.28

Smyly could be poised for a breakout, but even if he regresses to what he's been, accumulating +10 WAR during his Rays tenure is right in his wheelhouse.  While it's a long shot he'll make the instrumental jump needed to be a true number one, all signs point towards an upper echelon mid-rotation starter.

Trading 1.5 years of Price for 4.5 years of Smyly is looking better by the day, especially with pot-sweeteners Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to the fold.  I'm looking forward to watching his maturation as a pitcher, crossing my fingers that he reaches his ceiling.