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Drew Smyly Cements Tigers’ Rotation As Lone Lefty

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BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 13: Drew Smyly #33 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Boston Red Sox during Game Two of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on October 13, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Drew Smyly (Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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By Rich Arleo

CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.

Drew Smyly, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2013 season: 63 G, 76 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.039 WHIP, 6 W, 81 SO, 17 BB

On the surface, the departure of Doug Fister is a loss for the Detroit Tigers. But there’s a reason GM Dave Dombrowski was comfortable trading Fister, and that reason is Drew Smyly.

The 24-year-old lefty began the 2012 season as part of the starting rotation, moving to the bullpen a few months later. He began 2013 in the bullpen as well and became one of the better relievers in baseball.

Unlike many lefty relievers, Smyly was not just a specialist. He was an innings eater, throwing 76 in 63 appearances. At the start of the season, Smyly was stretched out and used often as a long reliever, pitching anywhere from two to four innings out of the pen. Once July hit, however, he became a trusted setup man helping to close out games and racking up 21 holds in the process.

Smyly was certainly at his best against lefties, holding them to a .189 average and .471 OPS, but he faced more righties and had success with them as well (.242 average, .699 OPS). On the year, he struck out 9.59 per-nine to go along with a career-best (including minors) 5.6 percent walk rate. His WAR of 1.9 was highest amongst relievers, ahead of the carousel of closers: Joaquin Benoit, Bruce Rondon and Jose Veras.

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A second-round pick of the Tigers in 2010, the 6-foot-3 Smyly cruised through two minor league seasons with ease; recording 155 strikeouts in 143.2 innings with a 2.57 ERA and 1.176 WHIP. In his first season in the majors, Smyly started 18 games for the Tigers and had a 3.99 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 22.6 percent K-rate. He improved on basically all of his numbers as a reliever last season. So now it’s a matter of whether or not Smyly can transition back into the starting rotation in 2014.

He slots in as the No. 4 starter and certainly has the ability to take over for Fister while also giving the Tigers their lone left-handed starter. He features a four-seam fastball in the low 90s, a cutter, a two-seamer and a slider. According to PITCf/x data, his four-seam fastball was his most effective pitch (grading out at 8.5 runs above average) followed by his cutter at 4.7 runs above average.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, he has added some “bulk” this offseason and the Tigers are pleased about it. In his first spring start, he threw a fastball that clocked in at 94 MPH — faster than his usual 90-93 MPH — so it appears that bulk could be put to good use. Smyly has basically been handed a spot in the Tigers’ rotation. Can he help make Detroit’s starting squad, which already includes Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, one of the deepest in baseball?

Next up: Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians

Check out our Fantasy Baseball Preview, breaking down the top players at each position.

Rich Arleo is a Marist College alum who has been a professional writer and editor since graduating in 2010. Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for more of his sports musings.

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