Drew Smyly continued his up and down 2021 season with the Atlanta Braves Wednesday night, as he allowed 7 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox.
So far, his time as an Atlanta Braves starter has been somewhat underwhelming. On the year, he is 2-2 with a 5.11 ERA in seven games (via Baseball Reference). A vast contrast to what Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos told the Associated Press he was hoping for when he signed Smyly to a one year, $11 million contract:
"“This is an upside play, no doubt about it…Obviously, we’ll find out eight months from now, 10 months from now how it worked out. But we think Drew has tremendous upside. He’s only scratched the surface.”"
A big draw for the Drew Smyly signing was his strikeout rate. Last year, in only seven games, he struck out 42 batters in only 26 1/3 innings, which averaged out to a 14.4 K/9 rate. This year, he has struck out 33 in 37 IP (8.0 K/9).
A concerning stat regarding Smyly this year has been the number of home runs he has allowed, as this year, he has allowed 11 home runs, including two against Boston. Though the Braves like hitting homers this year, they probably aren’t too thrilled giving them up.
This leads us to a question — what should the Braves do if Smyly continues to struggle?
It hasn’t all been bad for Drew this year; in fact, in his last three starts, he has pitched 18 innings (going six or more in all three of those games) and allowed just 4 earned runs while picking up two wins. He has shown he is capable of producing quality starts, so it would not be a surprise to see the Braves continue to roll with him in the rotation.
However, with young guys like Bryse Wilson and Tucker Davidson in the minor leagues who have proven in starts this year they can hack it at the major league level, there might be some consideration of moving Drew Smyly to the bullpen. I could see him having a Josh Tomlin-like role as someone who can come in and eat innings for the Braves.
Who knows, though, maybe a bullpen move could revamp Smyly’s career as it did for a guy like Drew Pomeranz. After spending much of his career as an average/below average starter, Pomeranz was moved to the bullpen in 2018 while with the Red Sox after struggling.
In 2020, Pomeranz posted a 1.45 ERA with the San Diego Padres as a reliever and is off to a hot start this year with a 1.98 ERA. Could the same thing happen with Drew Smyly?
Regardless of what the Braves decide to do, it will be important for this team to maintain a solid pitching rotation. If Smyly can’t rebound from this last start, it might be next man up.