Myles Smith during the 2020 season when he was still a reliever.
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The Myles Smith Starter Experience

I first saw Myles Smith on the mound in 2019. At the time he was the closer for a very bad Milwaukee Milkmen team. The Milkmen were in their first year of existence as an expansion franchise in the American Association. A player like Smith appeared to be just the type of player they would need for that season. Good control, decent fourseam fastball, and not a whole lot else. He ate up appearances as the Milkmen’s closer and looked very competent doing as such. Like most of the 2019 Milkmen roster, I expected that to be that for Smith as the team retooled and changed their identity moving forward.

2020 showed that I was mistaken as Smith brought his same repertoire and settled in nicely to a new set-up role out of the Milkmen’s bullpen. He was a key cog in a bullpen that was the best in the league and a main factor in the Milkmen taking home a 2020 AA title. Coming into 2021 I figured that Smith would find himself in back in the closer role thanks to a lack of options in the bullpen. Imagine my surprise to see that Smith was actually in the starting rotation for the new season.

At first, I took Smith’s place in the rotation as a sign that the Milkmen weren’t on solid footing starter-wise. I was partially correct, the rotation has been an albatross for an otherwise stout Milkmen team most of the season. However, their best arm and most consistently steadying turn in the rotation all season long has been Smith. Stopper and catalyst; Smith has played both roles with great aplomb this season for the Milkmen. How exactly did the 2019 expansion team closer become the 2021 championship-contending team ace?

Let’s start with the raw numbers. In 17 starts and 99.1 innings, Smith has an ERA of 2.99, including two complete games and one shutout. His WHIP is a not-so-impressive 1.389, but there’s a reason for that. He’s striking out 10.7/9 while walking 5.8/9, that last number is the most concerning, though, again, there is a reason for it being that high. The raw numbers aren’t jaw-dropping in any way but for a little perspective let’s take a look at the AA pitching averages for 2021. The league has an ERA of 5.16, a WHIP of 1.539, a SO/9 of 8.6, and a BB/9 of 4.2. Smith is better than the league average in every category except for BB/9.

Okay, so with the raw stuff added to the discussion what do those numbers tell us about Smith? Mostly they tell us that if Smith could get over his early inning hiccups and if we removed a pair of awful starts from his numbers he’d have an even better stat line. Smith had two starts early in the season where he managed to plug away and eat some innings but he was playing with two or three runners on base every inning as he just could not find the strike zone. That leads to Smith’s settling in period. No matter the game’s outcome, Smith usually takes a good two to three innings to settle in. There’s no stat for this, we’re talking eye test alone here. But, the eye test clearly shows that Smith struggles with his command early on in outings but by the third inning he finds his command and starts mowing through hitters while getting lots of soft contact.

Soft to medium contact has been the key for Smith’s transition to a starter in Milwaukee. As evidenced by his K/9 the right-hander isn’t blowing away opposing hitters. His fourseam fastball sits 92-93 miles per hour and when he’s locating it well he makes it hard to hit through pretty good sequencing mechanics. However, the real change for Smith as a starter has been the emergence of his slider. It tails away from right-handers and has been effective at breaking hard in against lefties. It’s a pitch he has never been able to command as well as he is in 202. The stream of broken bats and soft popups to the second baseman that Smith has left in his wake is plenty of evidence for his soft contact game having been elevated thanks to his slider’s newfound prowess.

The Milkmen are on their way to another run at the AA title. Getting a pitcher like David Holmberg back from his stint with Saraperos de Saltillo in Liga Mexicana de Béisbol will help them immensely. However, nothing will help them win another title more than the continued quality pitching of Myles Smith. He’s come a long way from being the closer of a last-place team and he’s poised to shine on the biggest stage the AA has to offer. The Milkmen have to be happy with their experiment paying off, but no one has to be happier than Smith and the new path forward for his career thanks to this season.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Milwaukee Milkmen

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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