Free Help: Drew Smyly and Bud Norris

Drew Smyly and Bud Norris aren’t unknowns. But you may not realize that both have been among the elite performing starting pitchers over their last month or so. And yet Smyly is owned in about a third of Yahoo leagues while Norris sits at 14%. In ESPN, ownership rates appear to be about 50% for Smyly and 5% for Norris. So there’s a good chance that one or both of them are available at little to no cost. Should you find yourself behind in innings or you’re trying to eek out a spot-start win, keep these guys in mind.

Drew Smyly holds a respectable 3.66 ERA (3.88 FIP) and 1.29 WHIP along with a 20.7% strikeout rate on the season. His 20 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays, however, have been a lot closer to the Drew Smyly, reliever, that we saw in 2013. In three games started for the Rays, he’s given up just 14 hits, a 2.25 ERA (2.79 FIP), a 1.00 WHIP, and has a 25% strikeout rate. To expand that sample size, push it out to his last two starts with Detroit and he’s been pretty filthy for a month now. Over his last five starts, Smyly has a 2.16 FIP over 30.2 innings, striking out 32 batters along the way. In that span, he’s given up just one home run and walked only seven batters. All this with an elevated BABIP of .350 while his batted ball data suggests it should be closer to .290.

Some of this could have something to do with park factors as the Trop is a pretty friendly place to pitch, but his success as a Ray might also have a lot to do with their team defense. The Tigers rank 24th in total team defense at -21.6 runs below average while the Rays are 11th in the league at 14.8. Perhaps more importantly for a guy like Smyly, who has been more of a flyball pitcher this season, is that the Rays rank 10th in outfielder runs saved while Detroit is 26th. It’s worth noting that Smyly’s repertoire hasn’t changed demonstrably nor has his velocity or mechanics. He’s simply been a much more effective pitcher as of late, and he could be a real boost to your squad on the cheap.

Bud Norris has always been a plus on the strikeout side but a real drain when it came to ERA, WHIP, and wins — and thus, largely forgotten in fantasy circles. The new and improved Bud Norris suddenly walks far fewer batters, strikes out fewer batters, and boasts a career high 11 wins, a career best 3.69 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. But over his last six starts, Norris has put together a nice little stretch. He’s 4-1 over 36 innings pitched, striking out 34 batters (22.3% K rate) and walking just nine (5.9% BB rate). This comes against the likes of the Seattle Mariners, LA Angels twice, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, and the Chicago White Sox. So not a cream puff run of offenses.

During this time span, Norris has seen his batting average on balls in play sit at over .340 while his batted ball data suggests it should be .295, in large part due to a stingy 18.9% line drive rate. So this also hasn’t been a product of luck. Something perhaps related to this run of success:

norrisNorris is averaging 93.3 mph on his fastball, the hardest he’s thrown since 2010. But over his last several starts, he’s seen that creep upwards. In fact, in the month of August, Norris is averaging 94.7 with his fourseam fastball and 95 with his sinker, both season highs.

If you’re in standard rotisserie leagues, or any other format that still values more traditional categories like wins and strikeouts, Smyly and Norris might be solid late season additions as the Rays have been one of the better teams in baseball as of late and of course the Orioles have the third best winning percentage in baseball (cough, cough). I’d avoid getting too granular about matchups and home/road park factors for Norris as he is far better pitching in hitter-friendly Baltimore with 3.68/4.50 home/road FIP splits. Smyly, however, should benefit from larger parks given his fly ball tendencies.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

5 Responses to “Free Help: Drew Smyly and Bud Norris”

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  1. Josh B says:

    Tillman and Carrasco have been among the top pitchers this past month too. Not sure I would roster either yet though.

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  2. Luke says:

    Could Smyly’s increase in performance also be tied to the Catcher? Molina tends to score high in Pitch Framing and the like.

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  3. Juan Valdez says:

    Very interesting analysis of Smyly. Thank you.
    Small note: as a Rays fan, it smarts to see people refer to the team and its stadium as being in “Tampa.” They’re in St. Petersburg.

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