Braves: Drew Smyly’s Role Has to Change Going Forward

ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 04: Drew Smyly #18 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on August 4, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 04: Drew Smyly #18 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on August 4, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

While much has been made about the Atlanta Braves signing of Drew Smyly, he’s had a huge impact on this team. But what type of impact may need to change. 

Really through no fault of his own, Drew Smyly has become a hot-button topic among Atlanta Braves fans.

As I’ve always stated, it doesn’t have as much to do with his production on the field as it does with the fact we paid him $11 million when that money could have been better served on the bullpen.

Had Alex Anthopoulos done that, maybe the Braves have a much bigger lead in the NL East.

Right now FanGraphs has Smyly as a 0.6 WAR player. Unless he finishes the year on a hot streak, he’s not going to earn that $11 million we’re giving him (1 WAR in free agency typically costs around $8 million).

But that doesn’t mean Smyly has been useless for the Braves. I think he’s been exactly what many of us believed he would be — a back-of-the-rotation starter.

The problem is, many feel like we’re paying him to be a number two or three starter.

Had the Braves paid him $5-8 million, none of us blink an eye and we probably really like the signing.

After all, Smyly is 9-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 106 innings with 96 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.38.

You’ll take that from your fourth or fifth starter — but not someone you spent big money on with other holes that needed filling with that money.

The Braves took a risk thinking Smyly’s elevated spin rates in one month with the Giants would lead to a breakout year — that didn’t happen.

Braves — Changing the role for Smyly

Moving on from the why of the signing and how it’s worked out, let’s look at what Smyly’s role on this team should be going forward.

Smyly has made 21 starts this year — there is some real value in that — and is averaging just over 5 innings a start.

The most he’s gone in a game this year is 6 innings, which he’s done on six occasions. However, in his last five starts he’s only gone more than 4 innings once.

The 32-year-old lefty is averaging around 87 pitches a start and he’s only thrown more than 100 pitches in an outing once.

In those last five starts that I mentioned, he’s averaging 80 pitches a start.

There’s is no question his stuff becomes less effective as games go on — as it does for most starters — but it’s highly exaggerated for Smyly.

When he faces a player a third time in a game they’re slashing .342/.392/.616 against him with a 1.009 OPS.

Compare that with the first and second times through the order when they’re slashing .251/.284/.421 and .239/.339/432 respectively.

The walks skyrocket that second time through the order, and then the third time through he just gets crushed.

That’s not surprising considering Smyly only throws three pitches and two of them (4-seam and cutter) are both fastballs. And he’s only throwing the cutter 10 percent of the time.

It’s really hard to survive a lineup multiple times as a two-pitch pitcher — no matter how effective those two pitches might be.

Teams are adjusting and spitting on the curveball the second and third times through and just hunting a fastball.

While players are hitting just .218 against his curveball, which is really good, they are batting .299 against the four-seamer and .275 against the cutter.

That’s why it’s time to change the strategy with Smyly and either make him an opener or a long reliever.

He clearly can be more effective in smaller stints.

But this comes back to our original point — and that’s what the Braves are paying him. Do they dare swallow their pride and move an $11 million man to the bullpen or make him an opener?

You would hope they’re able to push aside their pride at this point and realize what’s best for the team moving forward as they try to win the NL East and reach the postseason.

Make him an opener and bring up one of your young starters as a piggyback option. Let Smyly give you two or three solid innings and then see if Touki Toussaint, Kyle Muller, or Kyle Wright can follow him up with another solid two or three innings.

Take his last start for example. Smyly pretty much cruised through the first two innings but completely fell apart the second time through and gave up a 3-0 lead.

If you went into that game knowing you’d need a piggyback, you would have had another starter ready to come in once he’d clearly lost his effectiveness.

We’ve seen other teams, like the Rays, do this with plenty of success. The Brewers have even done it at times this year just to limit the innings for their young starters.

The Braves have plenty of starting pitching depth they can exploit for this scenario, especially once they’re back to full strength with Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, and possibly Tucker Davidson later in the year.

Next. Braves HR Records Falling. dark

It’s time to get a little more creative with Smyly and utilize him in a way that benefits the player and the team. This is how that can happen.