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Pitching report: Drew Smyly looks like a 2016 breakout candidate

In this week’s pitching report, Michael Beller looks at Rays starter Drew Smyley and the pitchers to keep an eye on this week.

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Miss bats and make hitters earn their way on base. Those are the two things pitchers need to do to dominate games. Strikeouts get all the attention from fantasy owners, but pitchers who can whiff batters while also avoiding walks are surefire fantasy stars.

Subtracting walk rate from strikeout rate shows us the pitchers who are the best at racking up strikeouts while simultaneously pounding the strike zone. Last year, the top 10 in that metric was as follows:

Clayton Kershaw, 29/1%

Chris Sale, 27.2%

Max Scherzer, 26.9%

Carlos Carrasco, 23.7%

Corey Kluber, 22.6%

Madison Bumgarner, 22.4%

Jacob deGrom, 22.2%

Jake Arrieta, 21.6%

Chris Archer 21.4%

David Price, 20.1%

Pretty good list, right? No one can make the top 10—or top 15 or 20 or 25—without being a very good pitcher. It’ll be quite a while before we know who might be on that list this season, but a few of the early leaders are very interesting. Vince Velasquez, of course, is there after his 16-strikeout effort against the Padres last week. So are guys who could very well be in the top 10 all season like Noah Syndergaard, Jose Fernandez and Price. And so, too, is Drew Smyly.

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​Smyly has had the look of a breakout pitcher since making his debut with the Tigers in 2012. He posted a 3.99 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and fanned 94 batters in 99 1/3 innings that season. In 2013, he struck out 81 batters in 76 innings, amassing a 2.37 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. The next season, he was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Price to Detroit, and he threw the ball excellently after joining the Rays. In 47 2/3 innings with Tampa Bay that season, he allowed just nine earned runs and racked up 44 whiffs. That made him one of the most popular pitchers in fantasy circles in 2015.

Smyly’s 2015 season never really got off the ground. He made just 12 starts due to a pair of shoulder injuries, but pitched quite well when he was healthy. Smyly had a 3.11 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 77 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings, registering 10.4 K/9. Smyly, again, looked like a potential breakout pitcher in 2016.

In two starts this year, Smyly has continued doing what he has done best since entering the majors. He has 16 strikeouts in 13 2/3 frames, while walking just two batters. He has allowed seven earned runs, but that was largely because of the three homers he surrendered to the Blue Jays in his first start of the year. That noise will fade into the background as he gets more starts under his belt. The most important thing is that Smyly is missing bats like he always has and issuing fewer walks than ever. Just as importantly, his shoulder appears completely healthy.

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Smyly’s average fastball velocity is right in line with his career numbers. He’s throwing his cutter and curveball with the same frequency as he did last season, though he’s shown a greater tendency to throw his changeup this season. That has never been more than a show pitch for him, but he has thrown it 11.9% of the time this season. That could simply mean that he has seen a ton of righties this year, but that is also unlikely. Smyly’s changeup—both his willingness to throw it, as well as the success he has with it—bear monitoring over his next few starts. If it can be a weapon against righties, he can stay in the top 10 in strikeout rate minus walk rate, and break out in his age-26 season.

Pitchers to watch this week

Vince Velasquez, Phillies: Last time Velasquez took the mound, he put together one of the single best performances we’ve ever seen from a pitcher. He struck out 16 batters and surrendered three hits in a shutout of the Padres, earning a Baseball Reference game score of 97. You might want to reflexively discount anything that happens against the Padres, but this was too dominant an outing to brush off, even if the Padres end up having a historically bad offense. Velasquez was great in his first outing of the season, too, tossing six shutout innings with nine strikeouts in a win over the Mets. He’ll face the Mets again on Tuesday, his lone start of the week. He’s already owned across the board, but it bears mentioning that we could be watching a breakout season in the making.

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Mat Latos, White Sox: When White Sox GM Rick Hahn inked Latos to a one-year, $3-million deal in early February, it looked like a no-risk proposition for his team. The price is nothing by today’s standards, and the term of the contract guaranteed that the White Sox wouldn’t be linked to the righty if the slide he’d been on the last few seasons continued. Through two weeks, it’s looking like the signing could be one of the most underrated of the off-season. Latos has allowed just one run on four hits and two walks in 12 innings, striking out six batters while winning both of his starts. At the start of the season, he was a total afterthought. He now looks like, at the very least, a potential stream candidate. With a few more strong outings, however, he’ll be worth adding in deeper leagues. Latos draws the Angels on Tuesday.

Matt Harvey, Mets: As for as sports cities go, New York isn’t exactly known for its patience. Even if Harvey were a Padre or a Brave, though, his city would be understandably nervous over his first three starts. The nominal ace of the Mets has made it through six innings just once, has yet to complete seven innings, and has surrendered at least three earned runs and six hits in all of his starts. He also has nine strikeouts against seven walks in 17 1/3 innings. Harvey’s average fastball velocity is at 94.9 mph, a full two miles per hour slower than it was in 2013 and 2015. His slider, which typically sits in the high-80s or low-90s, was clocked at 86 mph in his Saturday start against Cleveland. It’s obviously far too early to hit the panic button, but there could be something wrong here. Keep an eye on Harvey when he takes the mound Friday in Atlanta.

Chris Archer, Rays: Harvey isn’t the only real-life and fantasy ace who has left his owners scratching their heads this season. Archer has yet to make it through six innings, throwing a total of 15 1/3 frames in three starts. He has allowed 10 earned runs on 22 hits, including five home runs. Archer didn’t give up his 10th earned run until his seventh start last year. The calendar had turned to June before he gave up his fifth round-tripper. Like Harvey, Archer’s average fastball velocity is down this season, though he has 23 strikeouts on the year, fanning at least a batter per inning in all three of his outings. There’s likely less reason for concern with Archer than there is with Harvey, especially since the Tampa Bay ace doesn’t have a Tommy John surgery in his past. Still, it would be encouraging to see him throw the ball well when he takes the ball in Boston on Wednesday.

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Shane Greene, Tigers: Greene was a popular sleeper pick in fantasy circles last year, but unfortunately for those who bought in he never woke up, and eventually had to get sent back to Triple A. Greene had an impressive spring and got another shot in Detroit’s rotation when likely No. 5 starter Daniel Norris had to open the season on the DL with a back injury. Greene made his first start of the season last week, holding the Pirates to two runs on three hits in six innings. He struck out seven and walked three, earning his first win of the year. The average velocity on Greene’s sinker, which he uses as his primary fastball, is up to 94 mph from last year’s 92.24 mph. Norris has made a couple of strong rehab starts, and could be back in the rotation in late April or early May. The good news for Greene is that Mike Pelfrey has been terrible this year, and could be the starter on the chopping block when Norris returns, especially if Greene continues to pitch well. His next start is Tuesday at Kansas City.

Prospect Watch

Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates: Glasnow’s promotion to the big league club in 2016 is a question of when, not if. Anyone who didn’t already believe that coming into the season has likely given up on their original stance after his first two starts with Triple-A Indianapolis. Glasnow gave up one run on three hits in five innings in his first outing, striking out six and walking three. He was even better the second time he took the ball, whiffing nine batters in five innings. Glasnow gave up one run on four hits and didn’t walk a batter in that start, a game his team eventually lost to Columbus (Indians). Glasnow, the No. 8 prospect in baseball according to, runs his fastball into the upper-90s. He also features an above-average curveball and a changeup that will be, at the very worst, league average, allowing him to keep lefties at bay. He’s already worth adding in leagues where you can stash minor leaguers, and will be an impact player in all fantasy formats the moment Pittsburgh brings him to the show.

GIF of the Week

Noah Syndergaard was electric in his last start, striking out 12 Marlins while allowing just one run in seven innings. In the early going this season, he looks like he could turn into one of the very best pitchers in the majors. This 90 mph slider has a lot to do with that.


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Two-start pitchers

1. Carlos Carrasco
2. Noah Syndergaard
3. Stephen Strasburg
4. Jose Fernandez
5. Marcus Stroman
6. Francisco Liriano
7. Drew Smyly
8. Raisel Iglesias
9. Jason Hammel
10. Carlos Rodon
11. Yordano Ventura
12. Jerad Eickhoff
13. Ervin Santana
14. Michael Pineda
15. John Lackey
16. Mike Leake
17. Hector Santiago
18. Shane Greene
19. Mat Latos
20. Tanner Roark
21. Adam Conley
22. A.J. Griffin
23. Wade Miley
24. Phil Hughes
25. J.A. Happ
26. Robbie Ray
27. Clay Buchholz
28. Alex Wood
29. Matt Shoemaker
30. Ubaldo Jimenez
31. Tyler Chatwood
32. Rubby De La Rosa
33. Matt Wisler
34. Kendall Graveman
35. Jake Peavy
36. Scott Feldman
37. Joe Kelly
38. Wily Peralta
39. Matt Cain
40. Chase Anderson
41. Colin Rea
42. Alfredo Simon


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