Drew Smyly has pitched four innings in two spring starts, during which time he’s allowed five runs on 11 hits. Three of those knocks have left the yard, with Kris Bryant‘s 1st-inning dinger clearing the left field berm at Salt River Fields at a very conservative estimate of 425 feet. Hitters are not having a hard time squaring Smyly up, though he does also have four strikeouts with no walks so far.
Even before hearing an explanation from him, those feel like the kind of results you’d see from a pitcher who’s working on some very specific issues rather than just trying to shut down hitters. Sure enough, Smyly confirmed after his start that he was sticking with the fastball and cutter in order to dial in his arm slot and stay behind the ball with a stronger position. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy noticed something in the lefty’s first start, so this was more of a live bullpen than anything.
Smyly said he was working specifically on fastball and cutter, really no curves. Felt good about carry on FB.
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) March 5, 2023
“The cutter was way more consistent and sharp and angled, and that’s where I wanted it,” Smyly told reporters on Sunday. “Tommy is so good at finding little tiny things like that that can get you right back on track.”
Smyly is a bit of a “swimmer,” extending his right arm and then pulling his glove well outside the width of his body at around hip height. He’s got no discernible drag line, so he’s really got to rely on repeating his mechanics and remaining very well-balanced in order to avoid command issues. Walks have never really been a big problem for Smyly in that regard, though his career 1.47 HR/9 rate is much higher than the league average of 1.14 over that same time.
Given how the body wants to be equal and opposite, it’s likely Smyly’s arm action was compensating for his glove side by getting too long and causing him to be on the side of the fastball a little more than he’d have liked. We’re talking about the kind of stuff that’s indiscernible to those of us who aren’t elite-level experts, and even pitchers themselves may not know they’re doing anything different until after they go back and review video of their outings.
The biggest takeaway from Smyly’s outing isn’t that he gave up two homers, nor is it that he felt good about the carry on a fastball that got five whiffs. It’s that he really didn’t throw the curve, which accounted for 43% of his pitches last season and was his only offering that graded out with positive run value. Force any pitcher to throw his two “worst” pitches against professional hitters and you’re not going to see very good results.
Well, maybe Jacob deGrom could get away with throwing just curveball/change for a few innings.
With all that in mind, however, it’s still going to be important for Smyly to string together some outings in which he looks like a guy who can produce competent starts. He doesn’t seem to be concerned with his early performance, nor should we be…yet. Once he gets stretched out a little more and gets back to throwing the hook more frequently, we will have a much better idea of what he’ll bring to the table.