Meet Kyle Smit, a right handed pitcher from Nevada the Cubs picked up in the Ted Lilly trade this summer. He was drafted by the Dodgers in the 5th round in 2006. He has never advanced higher than AA, and has spent part of at least three seasons in rookie ball. In 2009 he split time between Low A and High A, and posted a terrifying season ERA of 6.12. By 2010 the Dodgers had converted Kyle into a full time reliever, a roll in which he is likely to remain with the Cubs.
After the Cubs acquired Kyle, they sent him to AA Tennessee where he promptly presented us with some contradictions. Consider first his 5-1 record and his sparkling 1.96 ERA. Now consider his 23 hits and 4 walks in 18.1 innings. Now feel free to scratch your head. How on earth does a guy post a WHIP of 1.473, allow batters to hit .311 off him, and walk away with a paltry ERA of 1.96? His 16 K in those 18.1 innings help, but certainly not enough. He almost sounds like a guy who sometimes has to put a runner or two on base before he really gets settled down. And quite frankly, that is not a good thing.
So lets look at the AFL numbers and see if we can learn anything to help solve the puzzle that is Kyle Smit.
I think we can relax. I’m not sure what happened in Tennessee, but his numbers across the board look much, much better in Arizona. He has appeared in 5 games and totaled 7.1 innings with a record of 2-1. His ERA has risen to 2.45, but his batting average against is a much healthier .160. It is somewhat troubling that he has walked 6 batters, but on the whole I’d prefer him walk a few than give up the extra hits.
Throughout his minor league career he has averaged about 1.6 ground ball outs for every fly ball out. In general, you want to this ratio favor ground balls outs, since balls hit on the ground tend to not turn into extra base hits and do have a chance to become double plays. Ground balls are a pitcher’s friend and Kyle’s ratio in Arizona has jumped to 2.40.
Normally this where I would be cautioning you to not read too much into a mere seven innings of work. I would be saying things like “small sample size” and “can only look for trends” and other absolutely true cautionary things. All of those things are still true, but in this case we can take another lesson from Kyle’s seven innings, one that is arguably more important. In the past two weeks, Kyle has pitched just five times. For a lot of relievers, pitching regularly is an absolute requirement to pitching well. I am happy to report that, with exception of a terrible outting on Oct 20 in which he walked four and gave up two runs in one and a third innings, Kyle has pitched very well despite the sporadic work. In fact, other than October 20, he has not given up a single run.
Kyle Smit appears to have turned the corner in 2010 and showed he has the potential to be a quality middle reliever. I think in 2011 he returns to Tennessee to start the year, although a solid spring could land him in Iowa. He probably needs to show at least one solid season as a reliever at the Triple A level before we can start talking about a major league debut, but if he can continue to get ground balls and avoid the walk, he is likely to get a shot at Triple A by the end of 2011.