Braves 2021 Player Review – Drew Smyly

Well, Drew Smyly didn’t really work out. Or did he?

The Braves signed Drew Smyly in November of last offseason after he had a very nice 26.1 IP run in the shortened 2020 season. He had seemed to unlock some spin rate capabilities, and he was as effective for San Fran as he ever had been since he was in his promising early 20’s. In 5 starts and 2 relief appearances for San Fran, he racked up 42 strikeouts in those 26.1 innings, an otherworldly 14.1 K/9. FIP loved him; his 2.01 FIP was the lowest of his career.

So Atlanta took a chance on him for a one year deal at $11M per. As a reliever, starter, or both, he should have been able to pitch enough decent innings to be worth that $11M.

I don’t think he did, personally. He was healthy, so he was able to give us 126.2 IP in 29 games, 23 of them starts. There’s something to be said about having Veteran Presents in the clubhouse, in the dugout, out in the pen, etc. And for a young staff, Smyly probably provided that. He seems to be a nice enough fella from Little Rock, AR, and I bet he brought something to the staff in that regard. But his results were mixed. Gone was some of the spin rate data that seemed to fuel that K-machine performance from 2020 as he turned in one of his worst strikeout rate performances of his career. Was he a victim of the sticky ban? Probably not as he was pretty bad right out of Spring Training.

He also succumbed to some of his worst home run rates for his career as well. All told, his 4.48 ERA and 5.11 FIP were numbers you probably shouldn’t have to pay $11M to get. B-Ref had him at a 0.8 bWAR.

He divided the fanbase pretty good too. Some people thought he was something of a glue guy for the staff, which I argued above may have some merit. Some thought he was a failed signing from the beginning, doomed to produce woefully unacceptable results (still waiting on that $20, Chief). I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle: he gave us slightly on the lower end of what we could have expected.

Drew Smyly probably moves on somewhere next year, and I hope his innings go to Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller, etc. Thanks for everything, Proven Winner.

40 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review – Drew Smyly”

  1. Smyly was a very reliable 5th starter. That’s just not what you’re looking for from your 3rd starter, which is what he actually was, until the playoffs, when management treated him, appropriately, as their fifth starter. One’s take on him depends on bridging that disconnect.

    All this talk in the last thread about tanking could of course be completely remedied by my modest proposal, which I keep repeating until somebody tells me what’s wrong with it: give the players a percentage of all MLB revenue , let them allocate it as they see fit, and let every club keep whatever revenue the make , less the players’ share, completely independent of what their own players are paid. Tanking? Solved. Free agency? Solved. Arbitration? Solved. It won’t solve conflicts in the Middle East (or do anything about the mammoth internecine warfare that would develop within the MLBPA) but it would address just about everything wrong with baseball management.

  2. From last thread:

    Alex, I think trying to draw a conclusion based on how tanking began or continued after the Wild Card was created isn’t correct. One Wild Card spot per league is not going to disincentivize 5-6 bad teams in each league from competing. 2-3, in my opinion, changes the calculus a little bit.

    In the last 4 years, 2 teams that were dog meat in July have won the World Series. I’m definitely eating my words here because I wanted the Braves to sell in July. But I think the Nats’ and Braves’ championships are a clearly data point that if your team is close in July, you better not hit the ejector seat button. The Dodgers made the NLCS not even winning their division, though they’re obviously in a different circumstance.

    There’s a needle to thread with all of this, and I think there are extremes. The NBA and college basketball have heavily under-valued the importance of the regular season; college football has gone in the other direction. The NFL probably has the best balance. In my limited understanding of the NFL, it seems NFL teams are fairly disincentivized from tanking.

  3. One Wild Card spot per league is not going to disincentivize 5-6 bad teams in each league from competing. 2-3, in my opinion, changes the calculus a little bit.

    I think that’s plausible. But I also think it’s an empirical question, and to the extent that we’ve had any data to test the hypothesis, the data has not suggested that simply adding teams to the playoffs is enough to make teams spend money. We’ve added six new playoff teams — three per league — in the last couple of decades. Is there any real world example you can point to as evidence for your argument?

    JonathanF, ringing your bat-signal here!

  4. I don’t like having first half winners get in. The 162 season is a grind and the teams that survive should get in.

  5. @1 I don’t think I understand your proposal, JohnathanF: give the players a percentage of all MLB revenue , let them allocate it as they see fit, and let every club keep whatever revenue the make , less the players’ share, completely independent of what their own players are paid.

    Under this model, what would determine which players would be on each team in a given season?

  6. @4

    Is there any real world example you can point to as evidence for your argument?

    I’m not sure what you mean. Wouldn’t every team on the bubble in July that doesn’t sell be an example of this? Or every team like Pittsburgh that could tank (should tank?) and doesn’t?

    But I do favor ways to pit the owners against the fans. Force the owners to tell their fans, “Yeah, we had a legitimate shot at playing meaningful games in late September and even making the playoffs, but we chose money and tanking instead.” And more opportunities to sneak into the dance creates a harder sell to fans. Now, I think you would say that the owners are doing this and they don’t care about what the fans think, but they do listen to bottom lines, and fans have voted with their dollars when teams haven’t tried.

  7. I often like JonathanF’s ideas in the aggregate, and this is no different. But I think this is too radical.

  8. @8, yes — owners absolutely listen to bottom lines.

    But the way that owners think of the value that they realize from their teams has changed. Some of that is revenue sharing. More of that is the fact that, as a scarce asset, teams basically just sit and accrue paper gains for you for as long as you hold them, and then if you want, you can sell them and make billions of dollars. You hardly have to spend a penny on the players on the field, and revenue sharing makes it even easier not to. Why would owners care about the nickels and dimes they stand to gain or lose at the ticket office, or the popcorn stand?

    Quite demonstrably, many of them don’t.

  9. @1 — There are a number of issues I can see with it.

    First, you’d have to get the owners to open their books, which they would never do in a million years. Not without the government battering down their doors. Even if they did, you’d have to decide what qualifies as baseball related revenue. Do the players deserve a cut of the Braves’ real estate ventures, for example? What about jersey sales, memorabilia, streaming rights, postseason revenue, appearance fees? The owners have mastered the art of using accounting tricks to conceal the extent of the teams’ income, and fair compensation based on revenue can never be established unless this can be unraveled.

    Next, I expect the players might have issues with their salaries being unilaterally decided for them, even if the decision comes from the union rather than the teams. There’s always going to be some corner case where guys get paid more or less than they deserve. Arbitration and free agency at least allow them to make their case for higher pay; this system has no space for it. To say nothing of scandal potentially arising from players deciding the salaries of their teammates, opponents, and sometimes replacements. (If you’re Brandon Phillips, are you going to be inclined to vote a fair wage to Ozzie Albies?)

    Finally, there’s more to the situation than pure numbers. A lot of guys want to decide where they’ll play. I presume we’re not bringing back the reserve clause. Are we doing Finley’s old “everyone is a free agent every year” plan? Do we do a system similar to the present where the team that signed a guy as an amateur gets his first X years, then he can sign where he wants for Y years? (If so, what are X and Y?) Do no-trade rights exist, and if so, how do players get them? Some players get performance bonuses and perks that aren’t monetary in their contracts, how do we account for those? Conversely, teams frequently want behavior clauses in their contracts (no dangerous stunts, no playing other sports, the Yankees’ weird facial hair restrictions), how do we do those? The advantage of the current system is that all the contingencies are right there in black and white, and each party knows what it’s giving and what it’s getting.

    “Put all the money in a pile, give the players this amount and the owners that amount, and they can divide it up among themselves” is a fine idea on its face, but it runs into problems when you try to get more specific with it.

  10. @12: At last! Pushback! I love it!

    What counts as revenue is a problem, but not a gigantic one. Most of the revenue sources are well-defined. There are edge cases, like the Battery revenue, and they would properly be the source of negotiation. But people have no problem estimating the percentage of total revenue the players earn now, granting that some components are just estimates, and percentage of revenue is one of the easiest things to monitor. Profits on the other hand, are almost impossible to monitor, which is the source of all the MLB obfuscation.

    Just about every other sport uses a percentage of revenue floor for compensation even though they have the same categorization of revenue issues.

    As to players bitching at each other rather than stingy owners, that’s definitely a feature, not a bug. I’m simply taking the MLBPA’s position that they are in solidarity with each other. To each according to the case he can make to his fellow proletarian. Don’t they know more about each of them should be paid than anyone else? But if they want to institute arbitration amongst themselves, they are free to do so. They could use a lottery. They could use pure stats. They could use WAR. They could use anything they think is fair with whatever appeal process they want to use. Leave the rest of us out of it. Why do we care what any of them get paid? (As a bonus, they could cut agents out of the process if they wanted and achieve instant 10-15% salary increases right off the top.)

    Finally, if a guy wants to play somewhere else, and if that team wants him, he’s free to do so! I presume he’d have to cede some pay to get the other players to agree with him. In a sense, we’re back to the reserve clause days, but the problem with the reserve clause was a problem that you had no negotiating power with the team that owned you. I’m solving that problem by taking the power to determine, or even influence, your pay by your employer, except insofar as he has the ability to cut you loose altogether if he’s unsatisfied with your performance and can’t find a trade partner. At which point if anyone wants you at all, you’re back to getting paid.

    As to facial hair restrictions, etc, that could potentially be part of the working conditions part of the CBA, or not. I don’t think anybody really cares. But look, if the Yankees want to have a facial hair restriction and they have someone on their team, they need to agree to it, or they don’t sign a contract with the Yankees. Come to think of it, that’s exactly the system we have now…. As to performance incentives, I’m not sure I see the point…. the MLBPA salary division process can have as many or as few performance incentive structures as they want.

  11. By the way the biggest problem I see with this scheme is the holdout problem. I’m Freddie Freeman and I want a six year guarantee. The MLBPA says no. Freddie then puts on his best pouty face and says: “I’m not playing until I get a 6 year pay guarantee.” The problem is that the Braves are then hostage to the MLBPA salary division process. I think there are a number of ways around it, but the biggest problem with divorcing pay from your employer is that in the case of salary disputes, the employer is pretty powerless.

  12. @JonathanF

    Out of curiosity (if you know the answer to this question), roughly what percentage of union/labor relationships in the country at-large work that way, where the employer(s) sends a negotiated chunk of money to the union for paying the employees’ salaries and the union then actually pays the employees and decides on those salaries?

  13. Years 1-2, team control, league minimum
    Year 3, arbitration 1
    Year 4, free agency if WAR for years 1-3 exceeds X, OR free agency if age >29.5, OR arbitration 2
    Year 5, free agency if WAR for years 1-4 exceeds Y, OR free agency if age >29.5, OR arbitration 3
    Year 6, free agency

  14. @15: None. But there’s a reason for that. The uniqueness of pro sports is that there is a union representing people of highly trained skills with huge variation between them, the clubs which form the league have a unique form of competition in which the health of the weakest members is really important (in most other businesses, eliminating competitors helps you… in baseball it give you fewer teams to play and is the source of pay agreements amongst the league in what would otherwise be an antitrust violation). Change either of those and this model either (a) makes no sense; or (b) is illegal. The closest analogy on the union part is the Screen Actors Guild, but in that case the teams have no interest in seeing the weakest producers succeed. The closest analogy on the management side is college football, but they have, until recently, gotten away with paying nothing because unionization was impossible.

  15. Another part of the uniqueness of pro sports is that productivity is so much more transparent than it is in businesses at large. Not perfectly transparent, but a lot more transparent than the best programmer at Google is.

  16. As an Alabama fan I think Georgia will probably win today’s game but it will be close, and Bama has a shot with a few breaks. I’m hearing some say Georgia in a blowout but I don’t think it’s realistic.

    I went back and analyzed the Bama Auburn game and I don’t think I’ve ever seen 1 lineman have such a negative impact. Our right tackle was responsible for the majority of the qb sacks and hurries and a 15 yard penalty in the 1st half. We made a change in the 2nd half and moved the ball but couldn’t fully put it together until the last drive. That doesn’t mean we’ll win, but our offense has been and will be better than it showed last week. Our center was also hurt and couldn’t run block in the 1st half. We corrected that and will run the ball a little better also.

  17. #19
    Yeah, #74 was a real problem. The crowd noise didn’t help either b/c you could see some of the Auburn edge rushers getting a head start a few times.

    Bama definitely has a chance. Other than that weird game vs. Clemson, when have they gotten blown out during Saban’s tenure? Despite some of their confusing performances this year, their roster (esp. #9 & #31) remains terrific. A turnover or two could make things more than a little interesting.

    W/o Bama’s RB Robinson at full strength (potentially), a lot will come down to Young & that O-line trying to protect him… which plays into UGA’s main strength. Young will definitely make some plays (w/ his arm & legs), but if UGA can make the QB uncomfortable w/ just 4 rushers (which is what they usually do), they should be alright, IMO.

    Also, very curious to see what UGA OC Todd Monken has up his sleeve. Does he feature George Pickens at all? How much action does Brock Bowers get? Will James Cook, hurt Bama last year, be the wild card? How does he scheme against Will Anderson?

    There’ll be some moments of drama & angst, but I’ll guess… UGA with a later cover, something like 31-20.

  18. @20 – Good analysis. There are rumors that Bama has a special run package with their 3rd team qb, but that points to desperation to me. Bama’s 2nd team running back, Trey Sanders, showed signs coming out of high that he could be one of Alabama’s best backs ever, but he was in a car wreck and has never been the same. If Robinson can’t go I don’t know if Sanders is durable enough for more than 15 carries. We’ll see after that, but Young and the offensive line will be the key.

  19. My prediction is 23 to 20. As a Bama homer I’ll say Bama with 23 points, but I fully expect it to be the other way around

  20. @22 looking pretty good as a prediction……. FOR THE FIRST HALF… LOL

    I am on record here a few days ago saying that Bryce Young does not look like a Heisman QB but today he has stepped it up considerably. Today he looks like a Heisman winner. If he keeps it up for another half, Bama will win this game.

    Who really could have guessed Bama could hang 24 on the GA defense in the first half???

  21. Well, I guess you can say emphatically that Bama’s offensive line problems were solved. I’m not looking forward to playing Georgia again if we both make it to the National Championship Game.

  22. World Series aside, the Braves won 88 games last year and their playoff spot was in doubt until the last week of the season. Giving up marginal wins by acquiring substantively worse players in order to save money maybe doesn’t seem like the best idea under those circumstances.

    (The same goes for Olsen — you’re telling me the plan is to pay a prospect cost to acquire a worse player, and two years from now when you refuse to pay him either, we get to do it again? Just give Freeman the sixth year. I promise I won’t be mad if he’s a sunk cost in year six.)

  23. Rough night at the ol’ ball-dome yesterday.

    But big respect to #9. Not sacking him or pressuring him enough was obviously a huge issue, probably the biggest one. The turnovers didn’t help, but not stopping them for the 2 middle quarters impacted everything else greatly.

    Onto Miami & here’s to a rematch.

  24. World Series aside,


    the Braves won 88 games last year and their playoff spot was in doubt until the last week of the season. Giving up marginal wins by acquiring substantively worse players in order to save money

    You’d think that saying payroll will increase AFTER WINNING THE WORLD SERIES would’ve bought the front office more than one measly month’s reprieve from this sort of complaining. I guess not…

    Perhaps this will help: when you read a rumor on MLB Trade Rumors Dot Com (NOT their projections and NOT the reporting of an actual transaction), try asking yourself questions such as “What is the factual information being reported here?” and “Who benefits from this rumor being published?”

    As to the actual fact: each and every team that may need a first baseman checks in with each and every free agent first baseman. Without more information, due diligence that is, according to the author of the story, as much as a month old = a non-story.

    As to who benefits from the spinning of this particular fact into a rumor…
    1) Freddie and his agent
    2) Ken Rosenthal and his publication
    3) at least one rival executive is surprised that Freeman is still available, describing it as a “slap in the face” to Freeman that the Braves haven’t already worked out a new contract with the longtime face of the franchise.

    I’m not saying Freddie will resign. I am saying: don’t play yourself in the meantime.

  25. It’s easy to say payroll is increasing. You have to actually do it, though, and letting your franchise player walk over what is, by MLB standards, pocket change isn’t a good way to show your commitment to it.

    The whole first base situation is a Gordian Knot. Sure, you can play thirteen-dimensional chess about it — or you can make the simple, straightforward move that’s right in front of you and give the guy you’ve already got, who wants to sign, and who is quite a bit better than your other options, a fair deal. I know the trend in modern front offices is showing off what a super-genius you are by making the brilliant under-the-radar bargain move that no one expects, but if any time ever called for a “don’t overthink it” philosophy, it’s this one.

    I should probably just stop reading baseball sites and baseball Twitter until the lockout is resolved and player movement is actually possible again, but it’s a tough habit to break. Otherwise I’m just going to stew over how it never should have gotten this far.

  26. Florida just fired their coach, went 6-6, has their own issues, yadda yadda. Just want to cover that before someone else inevitably does. My response? Florida has proven twice now that we’re a right head coach hire away from winning it at all. Can’t say that about Georgia.

    Anyway, after 6 years, I think Kirby’s ceiling is starting to formulate. He’s an elite recruiter — maybe the best? — and an average at best talent developer, roster manager, and in-game coach. They have 66 blue chips, an astronomical figure. They have enough blue chips to have a THREE DEEP of blue chips. But there holes everywhere — QB, WR, DBs. OL couldn’t get push. That vaunted DL gave Young all day to throw.

    And there’s also a clear blueprint to beat him, and it’s not changing after 6 years. Throw all over them. MAKE them beat you in a shoot out. In response, Kirby has clearly proven that he has no interest in that. Mediocre quarterbacks — Franks, Emory Jones, Hendon Hooker, DJ — he has no problems with. But the elite ones — Tua, Burrow, Trask, Young — Kirby wants no part of that. He will die trying to take the air out of the ball every time.

    There’s no reason Stetson Bennett IV should be playing. Search Twitter for “JT Daniels” and you’ll find hundreds of Dawg fans that agree with me. I was told last year that the only reason ole clown, hunchback, Cousin Eddie-looking Dan Mullen beat Georgia was because Jamie Newman screwed them, Daniels was injured, Mathis’ brain injury, and allllll they had left was Stetson Bennett. Bad luck, as it were. Well, it’s now the end of year 6, and Kirby still can’t figure out the QB room. Porn Stache is healthy. He was throwing on the sidelines. He was ready to go in.

    Mullen was fired because he made a few too many personnel and staff mistakes. Between bad OC choices, roster management choices, and QB room choices, Kirby probably gets another extension. And this Florida fan will loan my pen.

  27. @31 I would be absolutely shocked if Freddie goes elsewhere, so yeah, I would stay off the baseball sites and Twitter because there’s no evidence whatsoever he’s interested in going elsewhere. There’s gotta be something to the fact that he’s not linked to anywhere else.

  28. I’m not a fan of UGA (or any other SEC team for that matter), but I more or less agree with the sentiment of Rob’s take. The situation could not have been better set up for UGA to exorcise their demons. Beat Bama (which for the Saban era had a down year) in the SEC championship and dispatch the remaining teams in the playoffs, none of which is particularly scary. But they just couldn’t do it. Rob’s point about QB evaluation is also correct, as evidenced with how they screwed up the Justin Fields situation.

    Until they get over the hump, you can’t consider them at the same level as Bama, Clemson, or hell even LSU (which when they had an elite team obliterated everyone). Kirby is such a great recruiter that they’ll probably always be very good, but I don’t know if they will ever be great. Maybe that’s enough. I would certainly settle for that rather than a long slide into irrelevance which is the fate of my undergrad alma mater.

  29. Georgia’s nowhere close to LSU. Somewhere along the way, Georgia and its fans have convinced a segment of the college football world that being really, really good for a really long time and having a bunch of blue chips was somehow more desirable than actually winning everything but having low spots.

    LSU has a trophy from 2 short years ago. They got their man in the passing coordination game. They got their QB in the portal. They got the pieces they knew they needed to win in today’s game. I don’t care how goofy their program is. They have a trophy.

    Georgia might very well still win the title this year. They have plenty of talent. But their road just got a lot harder. Instead of playing ND and then Michigan for the championship, they now have to beat Michigan and then probably Bama again. I think they matched up really well with ND and Michigan.

  30. Smart will eventually beat Saban (maybe this year) and I think he’ll be thought of as one of the top 5 coaches in the nation. I will say that although Bama had elite defenses under Smart, they did seem to underperform in big games at times. I’m not a fan of Bama’s current DC, Golding, but they seem to underperform in several small games and do pretty well in the big games like Georgia. As long as we have a good offense, I guess if I have to choose between the 2, I would go with the latter. As far as quarterbacks go, Bama is on a run of 4 really good ones. Mac Jones didn’t look much better than Stetson Bennett out of high school, so some of it is luck and some is recruiting hard across the nation (Tua – Hawaii, Young – California). Bama’s had several qbs that were supposed to be all world that never did much or transferred.

  31. I’m not a Golding fan either. I think Saban is very clearly struggling to keep his coordinators as elite as they were during the Smart/Lockslee/Kiffin/Shark times. And that’s also why I think college football is a bit more competitive. Bama is Bama and they earned that win 100%, but there’s a reason why they weren’t favored for the first time since 2015. Would love to see them finally get beat in the playoffs, even if it’s the Dawgs that do it.

    Jones was a 4-star out of HS; if I remember correctly, SBIV was a 2-star? Or a walk-on? I know he wasn’t a blue chip QB.

  32. I think Jones was a 3 star or 4 star depending on who’s ranking you went by, but he had some legal trouble and hence a reputation as a partier after his first few years as a backup to Hurts and Tua. When he relieved Tua after his injury and gave a up the pick 6 in the Auburn game, his college career was not looking promising. Many, including me, were expecting Young to eventually beat him out last year. I think he turned his life around and his final season speaks for itself, but my point is he was anything but a sure thing.

    The thing about Bennett that would give me pause is he doesn’t have quite enough size and/or athleticism combined to be a big time qb in my opinion. On the other hand, I don’t think many could have predicted he would legitimately beat out JT Daniels (a 5 star recruit), mostly because of Daniels’ fragility.

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