Tampa Bay Rays: Drew Smyly Hopes To Prove the Rays Right Again


Baseball is a sport where so much information is available about every player, but that isn’t always a good thing. We see minor league numbers and we wonder whether they mean. We see a player struggling and it is rarely clear whether he is just slumping or whether some fatal flaw in his game has been exposed. And then we have statistics on rehab stints. Drew Smyly, coming off of a disabled list stay that lasted nearly three months, returned to the mound and made four rehab starts, pitching to just a 9.64 ERA. And now he is ready to return to a big league mound?

One thing we have learned over the years is that ERA can be misleading, and the lefty Smyly did strike out 17 while walking just 6 in his 14 rehab innings. He also got up to 98 pitches in his last start and his velocity has been in its normal range in the low-90’s. He certainly appears to be healthy, and he should not have much of a restriction on his pitch count. But can we just ignore the 22 hits and 3 home runs that he gave up in those 14 frames? Can we look past the fact that he didn’t reach 5 innings a single time and his lowest ERA among his four outings was 4.50?

Sometimes what looks like common sense to the uninformed fan wins out, and teams look foolish. However, Smyly’s career has been a great example of how little of the picture fans and even members of the media truly have. When the Rays acquired Smyly last season, all of the available information told us that he could either be a number four starting pitcher or a very good reliever. He posted a 3.99 ERA in 2012 and a 3.93 mark in 2014, showing good strikeout to walk ratios but allowing too much hard contact and struggling against too many right-handed batters.

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Then Smyly joined the Rays and they made some tweaks that changed everything for him. Thanks to more fastballs up and additional cutters to right-handed batters, he was suddenly pitching like an ace. For his career, Smyly has given up a .742 OPS to righty batters compared to just .538 to lefties. Then Smyly joined the Rays and the gap narrowed significantly–he was actually better against righties for the remainder of 2014, holding them to a .460 OPS compared to .524 by same-side hitters. We saw more of the same in his three MLB starts earlier this year as his .583 OPS against by lefties was just below the .604 mark by righty batters. It looks everything like the Rays have taken Smyly’s biggest flaw and turned it into another strength.

The next time that the Rays were right when it seemed crazy was Smyly’s shoulder injury this year. When we heard that Smyly had torn his labrum, everyone thought that he would require season-ending surgery. When the Rays said that they would instead try to rest and rehab it with an eye on getting him back in August, some people thought that they were out of their minds and simply being delusional. But here is Smyly about to return, and regardless of his minor league results the last few weeks, his stuff looks just as good. He is back, and he is still reaching 93 MPH with his fastball. All of the indications are that he is healthy.

People have doubted the Tampa Bay Rays regarding Drew Smyly twice, first regarding his fitness as the centerpiece of the David Price trade and then regarding when he would return from injury. Both times, exactly what the Rays were thinking became clear as things played out exactly as they–and no one else–had expected.

You don’t have to agree with all of the Rays’ moves, but at what point can we look at the way they have handled Smyly and acknowledge that they know exactly what they are doing? We will have to see how Smyly performs, but it is clear that given the information that the Rays have–which is a lot more than what we have–that they are making the decision that gives their team the best chance of winning moving forward.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MLB/MiLB Recap: Biscuits Rally in 12 Innings