Perhaps the most interesting topic of conversation at the Detroit Tigers’ spring training camp in Lakeland last spring centered on the status of the pitching rotation. What would the club do with Rick Porcello, considering the fact that Drew Smyly had pitched so effectively for them last season? Would Porcello be traded? Would Smyly be traded? Who would be the fifth starter?
Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski flatly told Lynn Henning of the Detroit news that neither Porcello nor Smyly would be used in the bullpen.
"Both will be quality major league starters this year and both deserve to start."
Suffice it to say that things didn’t go as Dombrowski had planned with the Tiger bullpen.
Neither pitcher was traded, and Porcello pitched too well in spring training to be taken out of the rotation, so Smyly was sent to the bullpen. His role at first was pitching in long relief. It made sense to use him in that role, since he was a starting pitcher who should have no problem pitching multiple innings. Also, with five right handers in the rotation, opponents would be stacking their lineups with left hitters, and having a lefty to relieve the starters was sound logic.
Dombrowski had decided to not go outside the organization to upgrade a bullpen that was very mediocre the previous season. Instead, he chose to rely on pitchers that the Tigers had in the organization, such as Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Octavio Dotel, and Brayan Villarreal. One by one, those options proved to be shaky at best, and the Tigers were searching for help for the late innings.
From the start of the season, through the all star break, the Tigers have had two relief pitchers who have proven to be reliable. They are current closer Joaquin Benoit, and Smyly. The Tigers don’t want to think about where they would be if they didn’t have Smyly in the bullpen this season. As it stands, the Tiger bullpen ranks 13th in the league in ERA and 12th in opponents batting average. Needless to say, they’d be a whole lot worse off than they are now without Smyly.
In fact, Smyly leads not only the Tigers, but all left handed relievers in the major leagues in innings pitched and WAR. He trails only Twins’ closer Glen Perkins in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and is behind only Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman in strikeouts. Smyly boasts a 4- 0 record with an ERA of 1.95 and a WHIP of 0.98.
Among Tiger relief pitchers, Smyly has the highest WAR, the lowest WHIP, the most holds, and of course the most innings pitched in relief. He strikes out more than a batter per inning, and allows fewer than one base runner per inning, while allowing just one home run in 55.1 innings pitched.
In short, Drew Smyly has not only been the most valuable member of the Tiger bullpen during the first half of the season, but he has been the most effective left handed reliever in all of baseball. The Tigers are looking for another veteran relief pitcher to work the late innings, but they will be hard pressed to find one any more effective than Drew Smyly has been.