Hi everyone! Danny asked that I write up a quick analysis of Drew Smyly. My recent Tommy John Surgery prediction model, published at MLB Trade Rumors, had Drew Smyly in the top five for injury risk, and that deserves some closer examination.
I encourage everyone to read the original article to get a feel for the methodology and the numbers involved in my model, most of what I'll be talking about here will not require you to have read the original.
The Tableau below contains the complete player data from the model. Placing at the top in High Risk or Risk+ is a bad thing:
In the Indexed Data, we see how Smyly's inputs compare to the average player in the sample. In particular, there are two factors hurting Smyly's numbers -- injury history and age.
The former is the biggest influence on Smyly's ranking:
In short, Smyly missed 18x the amount of games as the group average last year with shoulder/arm issues.
It's just a theory, but I suspect the reason general arm injuries were more predictive than previous elbow injuries is that arm injuries may affect the throwing motion, and therefore may cause unintended compensation in the delivery.
This unusual stress can increase the probability of elbow tears, and Smyly dealt with possibly two shoulder injuries in 2015: his labrum (an old injury) and his rotator cuff (a new one).
What's helpful, though, is that the Rays appear uniquely positioned to protect Smyly. The Kevin Cash approach to starter usage -- the two-times-through-order limits and the heavy bullpen usage -- should allow the Rays to take it very easy with Smyly. It's my hope and expectation the Rays will be very cautious with Smyly, and if they see any unintended delivery changes, they will act accordingly.
The other factor counting against Smyly in the model is age.
Younger pitchers get dinged for not having proved they possess a durable UCL. Smyly is barely younger than the average in the group, though, and he's already logged about 400 IP in the majors. That's not bad for a 27-year-old.
But even with his Risk+ score of 229, I still think Smyly should have a great year.
Am I maybe a bit blinded by my love for the Rays and Smyly? Sure. But the fact that he's only got one component -- his recent injuries -- dragging up his risk and the fact the Rays just aren't pitching like anyone else in the league gives me a lot more comfort with his 229% above average risk than many of the others on this list.
And besides, at the end of the day, this model (if accurate) only dictates a 5% extra risk than the league, which really isn't all the much anyway.
Drew Smyly is, and will continue to be, a very good pitcher for as long as the baseball gods allow him to be healthy. His shoulder injuries may be indicative of a higher risk for Tommy John surgery than the average pitcher, but that does not mean it is any more likely to be in his future than 5%.
It's interesting, but it's not enough to keep Josh Kalk awake at night.
Daniel Russell contributed to this post.