Current Justin Smoak Alert Level: Advisory
The usual course of these things is to present facts, followed by interpretations. Let’s begin with some facts.
Justin Smoak hit a home run against the Indians on Monday.
According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, said home run left the bat at 113.0 miles per hour.
According to same, that is the hardest-hit home run of Smoak’s big-league career, beating out a 111.5 from May 2010. His previous fastest as a Mariner was 110.4. The league average is about 103 or 104. Smoak’s career average is 104.
Naturally, there are some caveats. First of all, the Home Run Tracker calculations are somewhat inexact. It’s not that they’re not to be trusted, but there are unseen error bars. Secondly, Smoak pulled his homer right down the right-field line, so it would’ve left the bat when it was traveling with maximum speed. Thirdly, the pitch was right down the middle of the plate.
Fourthly, it was thrown by a side-arming righty reliever.
So that’s that. But personally, I’ve been waiting for Smoak to show some more signs of actual, legitimate power. There are home runs and non-home runs, but there are barely-home runs and serious home runs. Smoak hit a serious home run, and it might tell us a little something about his power potential. What we know, now, is that Smoak is capable of a dinger that flies at 113 miles per hour off the bat. He hadn’t done that before in a game, and while that doesn’t mean it wasn’t possible, now we know for sure. Smoak’s been demonstrating improved control of the strike zone. He’s been demonstrating an ability to hit the ball hard on a line. It can’t be considered a bad thing that he just launched his fastest career homer. Even with all the caveats, this was something he hadn’t done before. This is more a sign of progress than not a sign of progress.
And Smoak can certainly look the part of a power hitter:
Since April 22, spanning 86 plate appearances, Smoak’s batted .314/.442/.526, with 16 walks and 17 strikeouts. Just yesterday, he hit the fastest home run of his major-league career. As such, I’m upgrading Justin Smoak’s alert level from Normal to Advisory.
Performing at or around usual level, to be considered the background state. Features insufficient quality of contact, unacceptably high rate of swings at wrong pitches. Sometimes attacks warning track.
Exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above established background level. Demonstrates strike-zone competence, reasonable contact over dozens of plate appearances. Looks like big-league hitter.
Exhibiting escalating or sustained unrest, over longer period of time. Looks like good big-league hitter. Begins to regain lost trust and faith, laying off wrong pitches while punishing right ones. Power, patience, contact all simultaneously present.
Breakthrough imminent, underway, or suspected. Productivity sustained for long period of time, with slumps forgotten and approach embraced. Walk, strikeout numbers similar, power unmistakable. Widely considered dependable.
We aren’t to the point where we can say that Justin Smoak is breaking out. He did this last September, which was followed by this April, and he did this in April 2011, which was followed by gradually worsening misery. Smoak hasn’t broken out yet, despite his previous bursts, so we need to wait and see with this latest burst before we get carried away. What we don’t know is whether Justin Smoak is taking his game to a real new level. What we do know is that these days we’ve had no reason to complain about Justin Smoak, and that’s one of the steps in the right direction. If Smoak were to be headed in the right direction, we’d have to pass through our current state of being. So, be advised. Be nothing more, and nothing less.