This year with the Chicago Cubs, lefty Drew Smyly sports a 3.24 ERA over 18 starts and 89.0 innings, with a 19.6% K rate, a 5.4% BB rate, and a very low 33.3% hard hit rate, according to Statcast. These are all very good numbers. Drew Smyly has been quite good for the Cubs this year! Better, by quite some measure, than he was last year with the Atlanta Braves.
It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the 33-year-old lefty has nothing but kind words for his current organization, which I think says a lot about not only his relationship with the team, but also about what is so attractive to free agents about coming to the Cubs in the first place. Yes, even after the finish up their second straight non-competitive season:
In addition to praising the city and the ballpark and the fans, Smyly points to the Cubs’ coaching staff, and the way they work with him throughout the season, as part of what he’s enjoyed so much. Among Smyly comments:
“I really just love the coaching staff, I love working with (pitching coach Tommy Hottovy), I feel like he makes me better,” Smyly said. “It’s not just me, he’s good with everybody. I see how he handles younger pitchers and how much he’s invested in them getting better. With me personally, he’s really good mechanically and finding the cues to get the most out of your body. Over the course of a whole season, it’s really easy for a pitcher to get out of whack. It could be a simple thing in your delivery and it throws everything else off. He’s just really good at keeping everything on the right line ….
“A lot of places, they don’t have (the technology) and it’s just, ‘Twenty pitches, here you go,’ and you have no clue if you’re getting better or worse,” Smyly said of his work in between starts. “Sometimes if you’re in a rut, it’s just, ‘Figure it out yourself.’ You’re scratching your head watching video and it feels like you’re all by yourself trying to figure it out ….
“Here are so many people behind the scenes making sure that person is in the best position to succeed,” Smyly said. “They treat me the same way they treat a dude with one year. Just because I have 10 years they’re not like, ‘He’s a veteran, he’ll figure it out.’ They come to me — and I appreciate it, I want that information — and say, ‘Hey, we think if you do this, it’ll help.’ The communication is way better.”
There is a whole lot more in the article, and overall, there are two big reactions that pop up for me:
1.) The Cubs are going to continue to be able to recruit talent, even after another down season. Whether they can pull in the top-tier impact talent this offseason remains to be seen, but there will be quality players who are aware of, and appreciative of, the Cubs’ ability to work with them.
2.) Smyly reeeeally likes being with the Cubs, and given how useful he is as a starting pitcher, or reliever, or swing man, it would be pretty nice to have a conversation sooner rather than later about whether a re-up makes sense for both sides. Yes, there’s a mutual option for 2023, but you can toss that out (Smyly will be able to do much better). Instead, the sides need to talk about whether a, say, two-year deal with a club option for a third year makes sense at the price levels the Cubs would be looking at.
Although Smyly is 33, it’s a pretty low-mileage arm and he’s currently throwing as hard as ever. He’s also clearly figured out a curveball-heavy pitch mix that works really well for him right now, and it’s a profile that could age reasonably well. On the flip-side, Smyly has become a pretty extreme pitch-to-contact, command-control guy with the Cubs, which can lead to a lot of damage if the stuff or velo ticks down at all. ZiPS projects Smyly to be “useful” next year, but then pretty bad the two years that follow.
For the Cubs, it’s probably a question of how much they trust their young pitchers as the “depth” part of the equation, and whether they are committed to landing an impact starting pitcher in free agency or trade. As Michael discussed in greater depth recently, the Cubs already have a ton of pitching depth for next year, and in some ways, Smyly would be a little superfluous. On the other hand, if you don’t yet believe in the depth’s readiness, or if you worry about a failure to land an impact arm, or if you worry that Kyle Hendricks won’t come back at all next year, then you might be more inclined and willing to sign Smyly to a multi-year deal. Plus, you know, Smyly has been really good when healthy!
It’s a tough one. Truly. I like the way Smyly has performed this year, and I like that he could fill multiple roles if necessary. Plus, as they say, you can’t have too much pitching. Still, gut says the Cubs may have other priorities heading into the offseason, and would re-up with Smyly early only if the deal on the table was just way too good to pass up (i.e., Smyly comes to them and is like, yo, just make me any offer (I don’t see that happening)).