We’ve got Smoak, but Where’s the Fire?


The M’s played some scheduled, wood-bat baseball games this past week, scoring more runs than the opposition in four of their eight matchups.

But you knew that. Of interest to you, perhaps, is the play of Justin Smoak. Stats like wOBA and OPS tell you that he’s pretty much sucked this season. Usually being ahead of Albert Pujols in those stats is a good thing, but not this year! It’s easy to create the narrative that playing (poorly) through injury last season has residual effects, but it’s smart to first look at the quick stabilizers.

Compared to the prior version of Justin Smoak, I see reason to believe that the current Justin Smoak is not as disciplined. His walk rate is significantly down, but more importantly he’s swinging at bad pitches more often (O-swing%). In my mind, it’s his lack of discipline that has led to fewer pitches seen, more strikeouts and less walks. If there’s good news, it’s that he’s only light red in the O-swing% category, meaning he’s not significantly worse than in past seasons.

In terms of hitting the ball squarely, his LD% is very, very yellow. In fact if I used a lighter shade of yellow–maybe a cream or an egg custard–Smoak’s LD% cell would be the first to get that paint job. His LD% is exactly at his career average. And while he did flex his muscles this week hitting a couple jacks, his HR/FB% (not shown) is still below his career average. This past week, Smoak put 24 balls in play, with just five outfield flyballs and three line drives. He is not Ichiro; he needs to hit the ball in the air, but 33% (8/24) won’t cut it.

On to the the league comparisons!

To wrap up this Justin Smoak conversation, his plate discipline statistics in combination with the low slash line and wOBA all suggest that right now he is a replacement level first baseman. This is not to say that he can’t or won’t improve, and in fact I voted to give him until next season. But by next season, if he is still hitting like this, the organization needs to consider an alternative.

Let’s end with some good news. Ichiro, welcome back! I know your average is still down a bit (.285), but your contact rate and LD% are way up. With 190 PA, I’m willing to argue that you, Mr. Ichiro, are hitting the baseball significantly better than last season. It’s always risky making firm predictions in this crazy sport, but I think you’ll hit at least .300 the rest of the way.