Smyly gives the Tigers’ rotation something it hasn’t had in recent years: a lefty.
The Tigers have made the postseason each of the past three seasons with rotations filled with righties. Lefties starting have been rare, although Smyly did start 18 games in the 2012 season. He was moved to the bullpen last year where he appeared in 63 games.
The significance of having a lefty in the rotation for the Tigers is how Comerica Park is built. The thing about baseball is that every ballpark has its unique home-field advantage. The Boston Red Sox have the famed Green Monster in left field, and the Houston Astros have the incline on the outfield grass in deep center field. Detroit’s Comerica Park is very deep in left-center field which plays into the advantage of a left-handed pitcher. With a lefty on the mound, lineups usually are stacked with right-handed batters. When those players pull the ball at Comerica, they are forced to hit the ball farther to get it over the outfield wall, giving the outfielders a better chance to track the ball down.
Smyly should do well in his new role. He was a starter up until last season and posted some good numbers in that role. In two season in the minors, Smyly started 28 games, going 11-8 with a 2.57 ERA. He struck out 155 batters and walked just 44 for a 3.52 SO/BB ratio. He followed that up by going 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 23 appearances, including 18 starts, in his first season in the majors in 2012. His SO/BB ratio dropped to 2.85 that season, but Smyly showed improvement last season. He struck out 81 batters opposed to just 17 walks for a 4.76 ratio. He also went 6-0 with a 2.37 ERA.
Smyly’s numbers, especially the ones he posted out of the bullpen last season, are very promising. If he can put up similar numbers this season, he should prove to be a capable replacement for Fister and could make the Tigers’ rotation even better than it was last season.