You probably answered Seager. A wise choice, because our third baseman has proved for two years straight that he’s a very talented consistent ballplayer.
But while Seager earned himself a glowing reputation, Smoak sort of became a punchline to Seattle Mariners bar jokes. (If there is such a thing.) So how bad was Justin Smoak last year?
He was as good as Kyle Seager.
That’s according to the theory of sabermetrics. We’ll compare stats, but first, let’s note that Seager played 29 more games than Smoak, batted higher in the lineup, and saw 174 more plate appearances.
Now there’s no denying that Seager’s .260 batting average was prettier than Smoak’s .238. But let’s look at the better indicators of a player’s value: On-base percentage and Slugging percentage.
Seager’s 2013 OBP= .338
Smoak’s 2013 OBP= .334
Seager’s 2013 SLG= .426
Smoak’s 2013 SLG= .412
While Seager hit the baseball 2.2% more of the time, Smoak walked 3.5% more. Smoak also hit more homers per plate appearance, going yard 3.8% of the time, while Seager went yard 3.2% of the time.
These numbers are surprising, even though there are caveats you can apply. Seager was surely bound to swing more often, batting third and looking for RBI’s. One could also argue that Smoak’s production was akin to “old player skills”, drawing value in walks and power, and little elsewhere. (Not ideal for a 26 year old.)
But make no mistake, Justin Smoak has been contributing to the Seattle Mariners. Lloyd McClendon was right to reassign first base to Smoak, and even more right to have him focus on hitting doubles.
And if Smoak improves this year, even modestly, his value will climb rapidly. Both Smoak and Seager are sitting on the very threshold between average and above-average hitting, as specified by stats guru Bill James.
(Seager’s 2013 OPS= .764 / Smoak’s 2013 OPS= .746)
So next time you’re in a bar and someone says “I’m going out for a smoke” and someone else says “Smoking is bad for you” and then someone says “And Smoak is bad for the Mariners!”…
Go ahead and tell them: Justin Smoak is a fine baseball player.
Then tell them to try hitting a 91 mph cutter.