13 April 2012
I knew it would be fun to surf around the headlines after Drew Smyly’s first major league start yesterday. His final line of 4 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 1 HR, 1 ER was sure to cause a divide amongst writers and fans.
If you look at the final ERA line, 2.25, then you’ve got to be pleased with what he did. We even have James Schmehl of MLive saying that Smyly impressed, and that he “passed with flying colors”. But his peripheral numbers don’t support that statement.
I much more agreed with the Detroit News’ headline today which read “Tigers’ sturdy bullpen bails out Drew Smyly”. Don’t get me wrong, I think we saw some good things from Smyly in his first outing, namely four strikeouts in four innings, but he was fortunate to exit the game with only the lone run scoring against him. Not necessarily fortunate in a BABIP sense, that was a reasonable .273 for the game, but fortunate from a sequencing perspective.
In four innings of work, he had eight batters reach base against him. And yet, when Carlos Pena blasted the home run, the bases were empty. He loaded the bases before recording his first out of the game, but the Rays couldn’t manage even a sacrifice fly to bring a run home. Sure, we can chalk some of these factors up to the youngster’s mastery of the art of pitching, but he’s simply not going to maintain leaving 100% of his runners on base. Not even Cy Verlander could do that.
ERA is a good statistic for pitchers, certainly better than W-L record, but it’s not perfect. Especially with small samples. To get a better understanding of how well he actually pitched (or how many runs we would expect teams to score given his strikeout, walk, and home run numbers), I like to turn to the ERA estimators. (Data from FanGraphs)
Depending on which number you prefer, Smyly’s ERA “should have been” two to three times higher than it was. If he had been yanked out of the game with an earned run average up in the 5’s, 6’s, or 7’s, there’s no doubt that every writer would be chronicling his struggles.
I don’t think there’s any reason to expect Smyly to continue to walk/hit a batter per inning, he’s shown lots of control in the minor leagues, but he is going to need to throw more strikes if he hopes to stick around all year.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.