Braves: The advanced analytics love Drew Smyly

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Spring Training stats should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s never a bad thing when a fresh face comes in and shows signs of acclimating quickly to his new environment. Drew Smyly was the Braves first signing of the offseason, as Alex Anthopoulos inked him to a one-year deal in early November, hoping he would help sure up the back-end of the Braves rotation. If Spring Training was a sign of things to come, he could end up being one of the more dominant fifth-starters in baseball.

In four starts this spring, Smyly only had one hiccup coming in his second outing, giving up five earned runs in just two innings. However, after the start, he assured everyone it was nothing to worry about and that he actually felt better than he did in his first appearance of the spring in which he tossed two scoreless frames. Pitchers aren’t always the most truthful, but it looks like Smyly’s words carried some weight, as he didn’t allow a run in his final two outings of the spring. The southpaw would finish Spring Training with a 3.29 ERA and 16 Ks compared to just two walks in 13.2 innings, which led to one of the best FIPs among all pitchers.


If you’re not familiar with FIP, it’s one of the simpler advanced analytics used to judge just how well a pitcher is performing. Oftentimes, for one reason or another, ERA can be misleading. FIP is a much better indicator of whether or not a pitcher’s performance is sustainable. Here’s a brief definition, courtesy of FanGraphs:

FIP is a measurement of a pitcher’s performance that strips out the role of defense, luck, and sequencing, making it a more stable indicator of how a pitcher actually performed over a given period of time than a runs allowed based statistic that would be highly dependent on the quality of defense played behind him, for example. Certain pitchers have shown an ability to consistently post lower ERAs than their FIP suggests, but overall FIP captures most pitchers’ true performance quite well. For this reason, FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for pitchers is based on FIP rather than on ERA and even analysts who prefer a different method of determining WAR find FIP to be extremely useful and informative.

So, as you can see, Smyly was one of the most dominant pitchers this spring, which isn’t a huge deal when you consider the sample size was just 13.2 innings. However, it is promising because it correlates with Smyly’s success during the shortened 2020 season. Last year, he posted a 3.42 ERA for the Giants in 26.1 innings, but his FIP was a much more impressive 2.01 to go along with a ridiculous 14.4 K/9.

Again, it’s not a very large sample size, but over his last 40 innings, Smyly has been elite. This is what Anthopoulos envisioned when he signed him to a healthy $11 million contract for just one year. A sub-2.00 FIP is certainly not sustainable, but if the Braves can get anything close to that, Smyly will be well worth the money.

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