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Is Drew Smyly Lastly Making Up Misplaced Floor?

Drew Smyly
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports activities

Maybe it’s too quickly to say that Drew Smyly has turned his season round from the bullpen, however he’s definitely heading in the right direction. In 22 begins this 12 months, he pitched to a 5.40 ERA and a 5.32 FIP. Opposing batters slashed .274/.337/.501 in opposition to him; in different phrases, he turned the typical hitter into Austin Riley. On the flip facet, Smyly has a 3.72 ERA and three.41 FIP in 19.1 innings of aid. Over the previous month, he has seemed even higher. The small pattern measurement disclaimer applies, besides, his 2.61 ERA and a couple of.29 FIP are notable. His opponents are slashing .237/.293/.421; that’s much less Riley and extra Hunter Renfroe.

As a starter, Smyly wasn’t a giant strikeout menace. But, as a reliever, he has struck out 27 of the 80 batters he has confronted. That’s a 33.8% strikeout price, or 12.57 Ok/9. Since his first aid look on July 22, he ranks among the many prime ten certified NL relievers in each metrics. Even higher, he has upped his strikeouts with out giving out any extra free passes. His 8.0% stroll price was run-of-the-mill for a beginning pitcher, however his 7.5% price is considerably higher than common for a bullpen arm.

The pitch-level information helps to clarify Smyly’s transformation right into a strikeout artist. He’s throwing all three of his pitches with elevated velocity and utilizing his greatest whiff pitch, his curveball, extra usually. His zone price is up, as is his chase price, and in consequence, he’s incomes extra whiffs and first-pitch strikes.

Now that I’ve totally impressed you with tales of Drew Smyly reborn, it’s time to return clear. The veteran southpaw’s efficiency as a reliever isn’t the true purpose I’m writing about him at present. Nearly as good as he’s been, I must see greater than 11 appearances earlier than I dub him the following Dennis Eckersley. However whereas I used to be evaluating Smyly’s stats between the bullpen and rotation, one quantity stood out greater than every other — greater than the rate, greater than the walks, and much more than the strikeouts.

Pitching out of the bullpen, Smyly has upped his groundball price. Groundball pitchers aren’t inherently higher than fly ball pitchers, however in his case, retaining the ball on the bottom is a great thought. Not solely do the Cubs have probably the greatest infield defenses within the league, however Smyly has additionally had fairly a little bit of bother retaining the ball within the yard. His 1.83 HR/9 as a starter ranks ninth-highest within the majors (min. 100 IP).

What’s extra, Smyly hasn’t simply elevated his groundball price; he has elevated it by a whopping 7%. That’s the distinction between the typical starter and Justin Steele, one of many premier groundball pitchers within the Nationwide League. But even so, Smyly’s groundball price as a reliever is nonetheless under league common. Simply how low was his groundball price as a starter? Let’s simply say it may very well be a music by Flo Rida that includes T-Ache. Amongst all beginning pitchers this season (min. 100 IP), solely 9 others have induced a groundball on one-third or fewer of balls put in play. And even amongst that group, Smyly stands alone:

Backside 10 Starters by Groundball Price

Pitch varieties by way of Statcast

Smyly is the one one who throws a sinker as his main fastball. Certainly, he’s one in all solely two main sinker-ballers (together with Kyle Freeland) to have a groundball price under 40%. He’s additionally the one starter with a groundball price under league common who doesn’t throw a four-seam fastball in any respect. Sinkers are inclined to induce groundballs; due to this fact, the pitchers who throw them are typically groundball pitchers. However not Smyly.

In the event you’re acquainted with Smyly’s arsenal, you would possibly level out that whereas he makes use of a sinker as his main fastball, his main pitch is definitely his curveball. But outdoors of a sinker, no pitch kind generates extra groundballs than a curve. Among the many 58 starters (min. 100 IP) who throw a curveball or a knuckle curve at the very least 10% of the time, solely Max Scherzer has a decrease groundball price than Smyly, and Smyly makes use of his curve about 4 occasions as usually as Scherzer.

The sinker and curveball account for just below 90% of all Smyly’s pitches, and his groundball price is under league common on each. As a starter this season, he had a 37% GB% on his curve and a 29.1% GB% on his sinker; league common is about 46% and 55%, respectively. Clearly, his sinker is the true offender, though his curveball isn’t serving to issues. Of all of the beginning pitchers who’ve given up at the very least 10 groundballs on sinkers this 12 months, none has a decrease groundball price than Smyly. This isn’t a brand new improvement, both. Over the past 5 years, he has a 30.5% groundball price on the pitch.

So what makes his sinker distinctive? For one factor, Smyly doesn’t find it within the typical style. Of all of the sinkers he threw within the strike zone throughout his time as a starter, 43.6% have been situated within the higher third; league common is 23.6%. What’s extra, all these excessive pitches got here on the expense of sinkers down low. Solely 16.7% of his sinkers within the zone have been within the decrease third in opposition to a league common of 42.2%. And as you would possibly anticipate, excessive sinkers don’t generate almost as many balls on the bottom:

Sinkers by Location

Location League Common GB%
Higher Third 40.3%
Decrease Third 63.1%

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

The numbers are much more excessive outdoors the strike zone. Of all of the sinkers Smyly threw outdoors the zone, 83.8% have been on the higher half of the world surrounding the strike zone — almost twice the league common. He solely threw 62 outside-the-zone sinkers on the decrease half, and opposing hitters solely swung at eight. Of these eight swings, solely two led to balls in play, and neither was a grounder. Total, Smyly had a 19.4% groundball price on sinkers outdoors the strike zone, which is even decrease than his groundball price on pitches in the zone. For many pitchers, the alternative is true; getting batters to chase at a sinker will be one of the simplest ways to generate groundballs.

With all that stated, location nonetheless can’t clarify all the pieces. Smyly’s groundball price is under league common up excessive, down low, and all over the place in between. It doesn’t matter what, it simply doesn’t generate groundballs like an extraordinary sinker. And why is that? As a result of it isn’t extraordinary. Smyly is one in all solely 4 pitchers with at the very least -5.0 inches of vertical and horizontal motion (vs. common) on his sinker. He’s in a area of his personal on the chart under:

by way of Baseball Savant

Certainly, his sinker strikes loads like a typical four-seam fastball. For comparability, right here’s the way it seems subsequent to Paul Blackburn’s four-seam, a pitch with comparable velocity. Smyly’s sinker has extra arm-side run, however the two pitches have almost equivalent vertical motion. But whereas Blackburn’s four-seam is completely common, Smyly’s sinker is a complete outlier:

A Fastball Comparability

Pitcher Pitch MPH Vertical Vertical (vs. Avg) Horizontal Horizontal (vs. Avg)
Drew Smyly Sinker 91.9 16.4 -5.1 8.3 (Arm) -5.1
Paul Blackburn 4-seam 91.9 16.1 -0.1 6.1 (Arm) -0.4

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

His sinker lacks drop as a result of it spins on such a vertical axis; extra particularly, he throws it with backspin, permitting the pitch to withstand the pull of gravity. It’s exactly the dropping motion of a sinker that generates groundballs. With out that drop, Smyly can’t obtain the identical outcomes.

Apparently sufficient, it’s an identical story together with his curveball, which has considerably extra rise than most curves and suits comfortably into its personal little spot on the chart under:

by way of Baseball Savant

A mixture of location and motion explains why Smyly wasn’t producing groundballs as a starter, regardless of such a groundball-friendly arsenal. So right here’s the million-dollar query: Can he actually keep a better groundball price as a reliever? It could definitely be in his greatest curiosity, what with Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, and Nick Madrigal manning the infield behind him. The pattern measurement is tiny to this point, however I’m inclined to say that Smyly can stick with it.

On every particular person pitch he throws, his groundball price hasn’t truly gotten a lot greater. At present, Smyly is operating a 33.3% price on his sinker and a 42.3% price on his curve; as a starter, these numbers have been 29.1% and 37%, respectively. However he’s been utilizing fewer sinkers total. As an alternative, he’s throwing extra curves and extra of his tertiary pitch, a cutter. The cutter performs an even bigger position in his repertoire in opposition to lefties, and as a reliever, he has had the platoon benefit extra usually. Thus, he’s been throwing extra cutters and inducing extra groundballs in consequence. His cutter has a better groundball price than both of his different pitches, and in reality, it’s his solely pitch with a groundball price greater than league common.

So long as Smyly continues to lean on his curveball and face extra same-handed hitters out of the bullpen, due to this fact shedding his sinker, I don’t see why he can’t keep a extra respectable groundball price. It’s not the everyday recommendation you’d give to a pitcher who needs to generate extra balls on the bottom, however it appears to be the method that works for him.

Stats and rankings as of September 14.



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