Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Drew Smyly doesn't have the same "awe" factor that his teammate Justin Verlander has when he takes the mound.
And as far as I know, Smyly doesn't share Verlander's affinity for Taco Bell either.
But so far in 2012, Smyly has been almost as good as the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Winner.
Verlander is way ahead of Smyly in wins (he holds a 5-2 edge in that category) but Smyly actually has a better ERA on the road than Verlander (2.89 to 3.00) and both pitchers have allowed the same number of walks this season (15).
Comparing Smyly to Verlander might be a stretch: Verlander is in a class of his own in the American League. But through the season's first 45 games, Smyly has probably been the Detroit Tigers' second-most consistent starting pitcher, compiling a 2-1 record and a 3.14 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .247 against the 22-year-old so far in 2012.
When Smyly made it to the majors this past April he wasn't met with nearly the amount of hype and fanfare as other top prospects like Bryce Harper, Will Middlebrooks and Mike Trout.
But the lack of attention hasn't seemed to faze Smyly. With each start, the rookie from Little Rock, Arkansas continues to prove that he belongs.
The velocity on Smyly's fastball is about as threatening as the pitcher's last name (it usually sits in the 90-92 mph range). And the fact that Verlander has been begging his 167,000 followers to follow Smyly on Twitter doesn't exactly scream "superstar." Trust me though: once you watch this kid pitch, your doubts will go away.
I compare Smyly to Jeremy Hellickson, another young starting pitcher who relies on impressive command, is known for maintaining a low ERA and is rarely able to overwhelm hitters with his fastball (Hellickson also tops out at around 92).
If Smyly can replicate the success that Hellickson has had early on in his major league career, he could become one of the most coveted young arms in fantasy next season. Hellickson already has an American League Rookie of the Year Award on his resume while carrying a 2.98 ERA in 48 career big league appearances (with 42 of them coming as a starter).
Through nine major league starts, their stat-lines are actually pretty similar with Smyly holding a slim 3.14 to 3.28 advantage in ERA and Hellickson holding the edge in strikeouts (50 to 46).
Smyly's knee-buckling slider is probably the equivalent to Hellickson's devastating changeup.
The similarities don't end there. Check out the two pitchers' WHIPs this season. They are exactly the same: 1.23.
If Smyly becomes a clone of Hellickson, it will be great for the Tigers. But I think the 6-foot-3 lefthander has a chance to be even better than the righthander from Tampa Bay.
While Hellickson's repertoire includes three main pitches (fastball, curve and changeup), Smyly can beat you with four different pitches including a four- seamer, a low 80s changeup, a high 80s cutter and of course that slider he uses to baffle lefties when he gets ahead in the count.
Hellickson's delivery and arm angle (he throws from a three quarters stance) are a little less conventional than Smyly's overhand method, making him the more deceptive of the two. But Smyly makes up for this deficiency by putting extra movement on his pitches. Smyly's four-seamer features late rising action and handcuffs righthanded hitters so effectively that he has started using it as a second out-pitch.
Though their WHIPs are identical, Smyly's strikeout to walk ratio has been much better than Hellickson's this year (3.07:1 compared to 2:1) and Smyly has also allowed fewer homers (nine to seven).
Smyly hasn't lasted longer than six innings in any of his nine starts this season so Hellickson has been making it deeper into games. However, that's something I would expect to change as manager Jim Leyland begins to loosen the reigns on Smyly later on in the season (he's only thrown 100 pitches in a game twice this season).
Hellickson's 4-1 record is a little more impressive than Smyly's 2-1 mark, though that really has nothing to do with the way Smyly has pitched this season. The young lefty hasn't allowed more than four earned runs in a game yet this year and the Tigers's offense (4.36 runs per game this season) has largely underachieved compared to the Rays (4.43 runs per contest).
Smyly hasn't been quite as dominant in his past few starts (1-1, 6.75 ERA after going 1-0, 1.59 in his first six starts) but I don't see him falling apart as the season goes on. His slider and rising fastball are too good and his strong performances against the New York Yankees (6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 7 Ks) and Texas Rangers (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 7 Ks) prove that he can pitch against anyone.
If you dropped Smyly after his mediocre outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates last Saturday (4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ERs), shame on you.
Have faith. Sure, there will be ups and downs. Remember, this is a guy who had only appeared in one Triple-A game before making his major league debut. But if Smyly continues to throw strikes and use his slider in two-strike counts, I think he'll be here for the long haul.