Drew Smyly has been struggling out of the Detroit Tigers bullp..."/> Drew Smyly has been struggling out of the Detroit Tigers bullp..."/> Drew Smyly has been struggling out of the Detroit Tigers bullp..."/>

Today in Selective Endpoints: Drew Smyly Not Better Than Rick Porcello Right Now


May 12, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher Brayan Pena (55) and starting pitcher Rick Porcello (21) high-five after the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Smyly has been struggling out of the Detroit Tigers bullpen recently. He came into the game Wednesday night in relief of Justin Verlander and allowed two runs on three hits (one a home run) plus a walk. He induced three groundouts but didn’t strike out any of the seven batters he faced. The two-run outing means he’s now allowed six runs in his last five appearances (7.1 innings).

The interesting thing about Smyly’s recent rough patch is that it has come directly alongside one of Rick Porcello’s best stretches of his career (at least since his rookie year).

After a fantastic spring campaign, Porcello was awful to start the year. He was striking literally (figuratively) no one out, hits were dropping at an obscene rate, and he couldn’t seem to keep the ball in the yard. Things came to a head when he couldn’t get out of the first inning in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angeles – he recorded two outs and allowed nine runs.

That pitiful (and woefully unlucky) outing against the Angels caused massive outcry for Porcello (11.08 ERA, 2.1 K/9 at the time) to be replaced by Drew Smyly (1.80 ERA, 10.2 K/9) in the starting rotation.

Since that day, however, Rick Porcello has been very good, and Smyly hasn’t pitched at the dominant level from earlier in the year. Here are their numbers since that April 20 game in L.A.









Rick Porcello









Drew Smyly









Despite the recent string of trouble, Smyly hasn’t been bad over this stretch – quite the opposite – but he hasn’t been any better than Porcello really. The ERA is basically the same (Smyly has had the added advantage of pitching out of the pen), Porcello has been better at limiting baserunners, and Porcello is actually the one with the (slightly) better strikeout rate.

Who knows what Smyly would have done had Jim Leyland caved to the public pressure and added him to the rotation – maybe he would have out-performed Porcello, maybe he would have performed worse – but not making the move no longer seems like a bad managerial decision.

Porcello’s numbers on the year still aren’t fantastic; his ERA is still above 5.00, his strikeout rate is only 6.4 per nine innings, and he’s allowed a career-high home run rate so far. But if that home run rate – something that hasn’t been a problem for him in his career – trends down toward his career rate of one per nine innigns, Porcello could be looking at a career year (old bit, I know). His strikeout rate, while still below average, is nearly one per nine innings better than it’s ever been, and he’s walking fewer than two batters per nine innings (which would also be a career best).

We’ve seen Porcello put together solid stretches in the past only to fall back apart – though usually these stretches haven’t come with the high strikeout totals like we’ve seen recently – so we’re far from the point of full buy-in. That being said, we actually might be seeing (hopefullly, maybe) Rick take that elusive “next step”. At the very least, he’s earning more chances to prove that there’s something more there.