PECOTA Forecasts Drew Smyly as Near Perfect Cole Hamels Replacement for Rangers

One piece of unfinished offseason work is Theo Epstein completing the Drew Smyly deal with the Texas Rangers after the November trade called for an exchange of players to be named later. Presumably the Cubs will get the better PTBNL for giving up a 40-man roster piece in Smyly and saving the Rangers a $6 million buyout of Cole Hamels’ option year.

We don’t know when the PTBNLs will be decided. If the Cubs hope to get a Jesse Chavez-style reliever back, a mid-year completion would make sense. This might also require Smyly to have at least a solid first half as a starter.

As with all things statistical, PECOTA has made an interesting projection for Smyly. It predicts the lefty’s 2019 production will nearly equal what the Rangers got from Cole Hamels last year. This was before Hamels’ post-trade resurgence with the Cubs that resulted in NL Pitcher of the Month honors in August.

Drew Smyly

The Smyly projection raises far more questions than it attempts to answer. For instance, what accounts for him making only 20 starts in 2019? Does PECOTA predict him spending a third of the season in the minors or on the disabled list?

Most pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery typically require 12-15 months to recuperate. But when Smyly reported to Rangers camp last week, he was more than 19 months past his elbow reconstruction. Thus, projecting 20 starts seems either a very conservative or a complete hedge between estimating he’ll last a full year of starts (30) or crash and burn after just 10.

The Cubs, though, have every reason to hope for the best from Smyly. The better he does, the better player they figure to get back. In fact, if Smyly has a strong first half, the Rangers may be able to turn around and move him for a nice mid-year return. That’s what Epstein did by flipping rehabbing starters on one-year deals from 2012-14 with Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel.

As for the Cubs, they’re are also hoping Hamels’ 2019 will be more like his 2018 stretch run than his earlier performance with the Rangers. Here again, PECOTA boringly just splits the difference. Last year, Hamels had a 4.72 ERA with Texas, then 2.36 with the Cubs. So PECOTA predicts a 3.71 ERA in an oddball 28 starts for him this season.

I’m looking forward to the regular season replacing all these projections with actual numbers. Then we’ll find out if Hamels will generate enough value to justify having made him the Cubs’ only major move of the offseason.

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