Drew Smyly is Riding His "Uniquely Bad" Pitches and Stellar Defense to An Incredible Start to the Season

Social Navigation

Drew Smyly is Riding His “Uniquely Bad” Pitches and Stellar Defense to An Incredible Start to the Season

Chicago Cubs

“I joke all the time that my pitches are so bad, they’re good,” Drew Smyly said via Jordan Bastian in his Cubs Beat Newsletter. “The talent meter hates me. They’re so uniquely bad that it plays up.”

Uh, what? That’s interesting, but what the heck is he talking about? Well, as it turns out, Drew Smyly’s curveball is particularly unique, in that it doesn’t have the qualities you’d THEORETICALLY want to see in a high-quality curveball. But apparently, that’s what makes it work: “Hitters are so good at envisioning where the ball is going to end up,” Smyly said. “Because it fades, I think a lot of times, when hitters swing and miss, they get pissed off. They feel like they should’ve hit it.”

The 2070 RPM spin rate on Smyly’s curveball is fourth LOWEST among all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 curves this year. It also moves in fundamentally unexpected ways, especially laterally, throwing hitters off balance. Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy calls Smyly’s curve a “unicorn” pitch, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Smyly’s curve wasn’t even at its best yesterday against the Nationals (just 3 whiffs and a 25% called strike + whiff rate), and yet he still dominated a lineup that had been handling southpaws really well all season long (108 wRC+).

His final line: 7.0 IP, 6H, 1ER, 0BB, 2K.

In fact, Smyly has been on an absolute tear after his first start of the season against the Reds, with just 5 earned runs over 30.1 IP. During that stretch, he’s struck out 26 batters (23.6%) and walked just four (3.6%).

But we don’t have to play the convenient cutoff game to be impressed by Smyly’s work. Because even if you include that terrible first game against Cincinnati (6 earned runs over 4.2 innings pitched), he’s still got a 2.83 ERA and ranks among the best starting pitchers in MLB in a variety of categories for the full season.

  • 35.0 IP (19th in MLB)
  • 2.83 ERA (24th)
  • 4.4 BB% (14th)
  • 3.53 FIP (24th)
  • 2.38 xERA (3rd)
  • 0.77 HR/9
  • .203 AVG (17th)

And I can go on. But the real treat when it comes to digging up fun Drew Smyly stats is in the world of contact. Because in that respect, he’s among the very best in baseball this season.

After his start last night, Drew Smyly’s 84.8 MPH average exit velocity is second only to Shohei Ohtani, ahead of even Justin Steele, who’s quickly made a name for himself in that category.

Meanwhile, both his 4.0% barrel rate (7th) and 28.3 hard-hit% (6th) are among the top-10. He’s not missing a ton of bats (though it’s hardly an issue), but he’s just so difficult to square up. And with renewed confidence in his plus defense all over the diamond, you can understand why it’s all really working for him.

“I mean, that’s been the story from the get-go, we were gonna have really good defense,” Smyly said after his latest start. “They cover so much ground. And sometimes it’s plays that don’t even look that special, but like how much ground they cover, it’s a hit on other teams. But on our team it’s an out. You feel really comfortable as a pitcher to fill up the strike zone and be aggressive in the zone and let them put it in play.”

This is where, in addition to Smyly and the coaching staff, you’ve got to give credit to Jed Hoyer and the Cubs front office. I think we often overlook part of the value of having such a high quality defense, especially up the middle. On the surface, it’s easy to understand the direct connection: better defense = a greater ability to turn balls in play into outs. But under the hood, you might also be rewarded by the multiplying effect of allowing a pitcher like Drew Smyly to attack hitters in a fundamentally different, but more effective, way. That’s huge and Smyly has clearly bought in to great success.

Latest from Bleacher Nation:

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami