32 days until pitchers and catchers report to Lakeland. Get excited.
What happened last year?
Smyly took the Tigers fanbase by storm early on in 2012, earning a 1.59 ERA in his first six starts with 34 strikeouts in 34 innings. Smyly's ERA came back to earth as the season progressed, but a sub-4.00 figure in nearly 100 innings is nothing to sneeze at. He maintained his high strikeout rate, fanning 8.52 batters per nine innings over the course of the season. He missed a couple starts in June after suffering a blister injury against the Cincinnati Reds on June 10th, though I'm wondering if his trip to the disabled list was a ploy to limit his innings more than to allow his finger time to heal.
The most concerning stretch of Smyly's season was the 10 starts he made after his excellent performance against the Seattle Mariners on May 9th -- also known as the completely arbitrary cut-off I made in the above paragraph for appearance's sake. During this stretch, he allowed 34 earned runs in just 51 1/3 innings. I'm still not entirely sure of what to make of the trend; he allowed more than four runs in just one start all season, and that was on the road against the Texas Rangers. However, Smyly allowed four runs on five separate occasions during this 10 start stretch, and the Tigers were 1-4 in those games.
What needs to happen in 2013?
Fewer dingers. Smyly was victimized by the home run ball early on in 2012, allowing nine home runs in 54 2/3 innings in April and May. He was better during the latter half of the season, giving up just three long balls from June onward. There could be a number of reasons for this, including random variation, but it's possible that Drew made a key adjustment. Of course, we're just nitpicking here; Max Scherzer allowed home runs at a similar rate last season and nobody is concerned about his production.
The part where I make a prediction based on nothing (thanks, Bill James)*
*Sorry, momotigers. Hopefully this one is entertaining too.
If Smyly makes the rotation and stays healthy, I would expect him to pitch 150-160 innings in 2013. He was right around the 120-inning mark last year (including his starts at Triple-A Toledo and the playoffs) and did not show any signs of wearing down later in the year. An optimistic prediction would have Smyly at 12-15 wins, though I'd expect him to hover around 10 or so, especially if he doesn't start working deeper into games.
Of course, this all goes to bunk if Porcello makes the rotation. Smyly could either end up in the bullpen (my reaction here) or spend a year in Toledo working on stuff (my reaction here). But rotation depth makes kids and puppies happy, so stashing one of Porcello or Smyly in Toledo is far from the end of the world.