It isn't often that new players slip by us. Even diehard fans were a bit perplexed last week when the Tigers made a trio of moves to bolster their bullpen, calling up three names that had largely flown under the radar. Most Bless You Boys readers have been clamoring for lefty Blaine Hardy for weeks, but few had anything to say about right-hander Chad Smith or left-hander Pat McCoy. Let's meet the newest members of the Tigers roster.
Hardy is a 27-year-old left-hander who grew up in Seattle. He played at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho before being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 22nd round of the 2008 draft. He spent five years in the Royals' system before being released in late March 2013. The Tigers quickly snatched him up and sent him to Double-A Erie, where he allowed a 1.63 ERA in 27⅔ innings. He was called up to Toledo and converted into a starter with little change in results. In 14 appearances (including nine starts), Hardy held opponents to a 1.69 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He continued in his swingman role to start 2014, allowing a 2.68 ERA in 47 innings.
Hardy's stuff isn't going to blow anyone away — his fastball tops out around 90 miles per hour — and his righty-lefty splits are nowhere near what one would expect. In fact, Hardy has allowed a higher OPS to left-handed hitters during his minor league career. These reverse splits have leveled off in 2014, but his .575 OPS allowed to lefties in Toledo is a huge improvement from the .709 OPS lefties posted in 2013. Jordan offered a quick-and-dirty comparison on Twitter last week.
Blaine Hardy and Darin Downs' pitch f/x profiles are highly similar. Hardy goes to the CB more often, though.— TigersProspectReport (@TigersProspects) June 17, 2014
Surprisingly, right-hander Chad Smith is the first Chad Smith to ever play in the big leagues. He grew up in California and played his college ball at USC before the Tigers selected him in the 17th round of the 2011 draft. He didn't make his pro debut until 2012, and did not progress quickly despite some impressive numbers. He absolutely blew hitters away in short season ball, and held opponents to a 2.12 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 72 innings last year at Single-A West Michigan. This year, Smith breezed through the high minors with a 1.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 35 innings between Erie and Toledo.
Smith's big league debut didn't go as well as either of the two lefties — he allowed three runs on four hits in Sunday's blowout win in Cleveland — but he seems to have the highest potential of the three call-ups. Jordan had the following to say about Smith when he saw him in person last August.
"Short, tight slider from a three-quarters arm angle. He was consistently 93-94. Reports of him up to 97. As a college guy having a lot of success, I'm frankly confused why he's still in WMI. His numbers say he's too good for the league. So does his stuff. I see a future middle reliever here, with the potential for a bit more if he can consistently locate the fastball. Midwest League hitters are no match for him at this point in time. He likes to attack hitters, and the slider is often a swing and miss pitch."
It may have been the adrenaline, but Smith's fastball averaged 97 mph during his debut. His three-quarter arm slot has made him a nightmare for right-handed hitters. He has held righties to a .543 OPS during his minor league career and a .505 OPS in Erie and Toledo this season. He has also tallied 27 strikeouts to just five walks against righties this season, and has only walked eight batters in 35 total innings. He struck out over a batter per inning across three minor league seasons, but this is largely due to an impressive 31 strikeouts in 21 innings between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn short season leagues.
Left-hander Pat McCoy, 25, was drafted by the Washington Nationals out of high school in the 10th round of the 2007 draft. He spent just over a season as a starter before transitioning to full-time relief duty in Single-A ball in 2009. He progressed slowly through the Nationals system, spending two full seasons at Double-A Harrisburg before a failed attempt at Triple-A ball in 2013 landed him back in Potomac for the rest of the season. It seems that this was the last straw for the Nats, as they cut him loose after the season. The Tigers signed him to a minor league deal during the offseason, and he has rewarded them with a 2.92 ERA in 33⅔ innings between Erie and Toledo.
Unlike Hardy, McCoy can reach back for the mid-90s with his fastball. He averaged 93.5 mph in his debut with a peak velocity of 94.4 mph. He also featured a slider in the mid-80s that resulted in his only strikeout. He was working on a splitter in the minors, but only featured the two-pitch combo during his debut. McCoy has featured some significant platoon splits in 2014, holding lefties to a .564 OPS in the minor leagues. More importantly, he has only allowed eight walks in 33⅔ innings, including just three to left-handed hitters. He looks to be a LOOGY at best in the big leagues.
The Tigers have a few pitchers already locked into established roles in the late innings, so it is unlikely that we will see any of these three pitching in a save situation. However, relief pitchers are notoriously volatile, and a hot stretch from any of them could lead to a larger role as the season progresses. Until then, enjoy the show, rookies.