Smyly inks one-year, $11M deal with Braves

Anthopoulos on LHP: 'Drew has tremendous upside'

November 17th, 2020

’s hometown is listed as Little Rock, Ark., but his signing with the Braves is a homecoming.

“I was born actually in Gainesville, Ga.,” Smyly clarified. “I didn’t live there for long, but my parents used to live in Rome, Ga. My first MLB game was at Turner Field with the Braves.”

Smyly’s childhood favorite squad became his sixth Major League team when he signed a one-year, $11 million deal with Atlanta on Monday. The left-hander, who grew up admiring Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, will take the mound for the very same club next season.

“They’re just built to win,” Smyly said from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he already has begun his offseason training. “Once I became a free agent, I was interested in the Braves right away. Once they expressed interest in me, it really kind of made my decision pretty easy.”

Smyly, 31, had a 3.42 ERA in seven appearances (five starts) for the Giants last season. He struck out 42 batters in 26 1/3 innings, with a career-best 37.8% strikeout rate and 14.35 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest K/9 IP rate of any pitcher who made at least five starts in 2020.

Though Smyly missed a little over a month with a left index finger strain, his 2020 numbers were a big improvement from '19, when he posted a 6.24 ERA with the Rangers and Phillies in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

“Drew was someone specifically that we had our eye on and that we were very high on,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “We looked at him even last offseason as well. He started, in our minds, trending up that last month with the Phillies in ‘19, and then he took another step forward in this past year in terms of his stuff. When he came back from the finger injury, his last four outings were really strong.”

Anthopoulos highlighted Smyly’s curveball, which he threw for 36.5% of his pitches this season after the Giants encouraged him to utilize it more frequently. It yielded a 50% whiff rate and a .161 xBA.

“The curveball is a real weapon for him,” Anthopoulos said. “In our minds, it’s one of the better curveballs in the game. Obviously, the fastball’s got power and the cutter’s got tremendous movement as well. He had a velocity bump up [93.8 mph fastball] as well last year.”

What makes his curveball so effective? Smyly has received similar feedback over the years.

“They all kind of tell me the same thing -- that it’s just really hard to pick up and they don’t really recognize it,” he said. “I think that a traditional curveball kind of breaks inward towards the righties, but mine kind of stays floating away. It’s hard for them to pull the trigger on it.”

The seven-year veteran should provide some needed depth to an Atlanta starting rotation that relied heavily on Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright during the team's 2020 postseason run, though the Braves could also get ace Mike Soroka back from his torn right Achilles tendon early in '21.

“You’re always considering makeup and work ethic in older guys that have been around and what example they set,” Anthopoulos said. “We definitely do a lot of work on that, and Drew certainly qualified. All of the reports that we had back on him were that he was a good teammate, a good guy in the clubhouse.

“But first and foremost, it’s, ‘What do we think your performance is going to be on the field for us?’ When we’re looking at starter options and so on, a lot of our mindset is, ‘Do we think you can make a playoff start for us?’ … We signed him for his ability, first and foremost, and obviously, we like what he brings to the team and the clubhouse as well.”

When Smyly began his career with the Tigers in 2012, he pitched alongside Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello -- “Cy Youngs down the list.” Now, he wants to help his new teammates, while watching their games as well.

“It’s going to be exciting to work with those guys,” Smyly said. “I’m sure I can learn a lot from them, too. Just watching Fried pitch over the last year and a half, he’s pretty nasty. I think me and him being lefties together, that’ll be a fun little lefty one-two punch.”

Anthopoulos also noted the similarities between the signings of Smyly this offseason and Travis d’Arnaud last offseason. The Braves inked the veteran catcher to a two-year, $16 million deal in November 2019. In his age-31 season, d’Arnaud slashed a career-best .321/.386/.533 over 44 games.

Smyly, meanwhile, is 35-35 with a 4.13 ERA and 714 strikeouts in 188 career games (111 starts) over seven big league seasons with the Tigers, Rays, Rangers, Phillies and Giants.

“This is an upside play, no doubt about it,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ll obviously find out eight months from now, 10 months from now how that worked out. But we think Drew has tremendous upside. We think he’s only starting to scratch the surface.

“We signed him to what we feel is a very healthy, strong deal. Hopefully, all sides win and he has a great year.”

Smyly experienced the postseason his first two years with Detroit, and he has not been back since then. He wants to help the Braves, who are coming off a seven-game National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, make their fourth straight playoff run.

“I definitely don’t take it for granted,” Smyly said. “I know how fun it is to play in those big games. That’s what, as players, we all cherish and we all look forward to. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”