You won't often find me excited about a pitcher who, managing make it to the major leagues after being drafted in the 14th round, gives up 11 ER in his first six and a third innings. San Diego Padres pitcher Burch Smith might be different, however. Smith was chased after just one inning in his first start against the Rays on May 11th, but came back from that to make a relatively impressive start against the Washington Nationals last Friday.
Apart from giving up three home runs, Burch Smith was pretty impressive, striking out eight Nationals in five and a third innings of work. Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs made a pretty interesting point about Smith's start:
Smith’s single-game ERA and FIP were 8.44 and 7.90, respectively — which is to say, not ideal. His single-game xFIP, however (which metric normalizes home-run rate per fly ball), was just 2.49 — which is to say, much better.
I would like to believe in Burch Smith. Allow me to clarify that. I believe that Burch Smith exists, you can read his name on the Padres 40 man roster. That's enough proof for me. However, I don't believe that Burch Smith will be a viable member of the Padres starting rotation in the long term. Smith has an above average changeup, but the pitch he leans most heavily on is his fastball, and that might be a problem. Take a look at the chart below, from Brooks Baseball.
Smith's fastball sat 93-96 MPH for the first couple innings, but as you can see on the chart above, his fastball velocity dropped off dramatically as he pitched deeper into the game. Obviously, this could be a one outing issue, but if Smith wants to be a major league starter in the long term, he probably needs to hold his velocity better.
I asked Jason Cole of Lonestar Dugout what he thought of Burch Smith when he saw him pitch in the Texas League, and he said Smith was would likely be a good 8th innings guy. Based on what I saw in his first two starts, I have to agree with Cole's assessment.
As a known Padres homer, I want to believe in Burch Smith. Hell, I want him to be an All-Star. Unfortunately, based on the actual evidence, I'm not convinced.