Current Justin Smoak Alert Level: Advisory

Jeff Sullivan · May 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


15 Responses to “Current Justin Smoak Alert Level: Advisory”

  1. Klatz on May 21st, 2013 4:50 pm

    What would be an acceptable stat line from Smoak to remain the long-term M’s 1b?

    His wRC+ is 113 currently. Suppose he becomes a .250/.360/.370 career hitter, that doesn’t “feel” like an average 1b. The walks are awesome, but I’d like more power.

    So would that be .250/.360./.420?

    James Loney’s career stat line is .285/.340/.420. Would I be happy with that? I kinda feel like I’ve been in an abusive relationship. Maybe that feels ok only in relation to the bad that had gone on before.

    So I guess I’d be happy if Smoak became at least a .250/.360/.450., which is not far off Billy Butler (.299/.360/.466).

    So there. Justin Smoak you’ve been bad to me but I’d be happy if you became Billy Butler.

  2. Miles on May 21st, 2013 4:52 pm

    The think I’ve noticed most about his homer was how easy he seemed to swing. The last time I bought a driver for golf I went to the local store and asked about getting a driver with an 8.5 degree face. The worker said I would like a 10 degree face. I said no. He took me back to the cage and put the radar gun on me and told me to swing. 116. He said I could have the 8.5 degree club. I stayed there for 5 more minutes trying to swing faster. The harder I swung, the slower my speed. To get the fastest swing I had to swing free and easy. Smoak in April seemed to be swinging about as hard as he could. Perhaps he noticed something when Ibanez hit the homer at Yankee Stadium on a change up with an excuse me swing. Hmm. Just square the ball up and swing free and easy?

  3. MrZDevotee on May 21st, 2013 4:54 pm

    Way to prime the “slump” engine! It should fire right up now and purr like a kitty. One quick pull of the cord and it’ll be at full throttle. 0-fer-June coming up.

    Just great.

    (I kid, of course)

  4. JMB on May 21st, 2013 4:55 pm

    Fully realizing this post was tongue-in-cheek (at least I hope it was), I continue to be amazed at the number of words devoted to Justin Smoak here at the good ship USS Mariner.

    He’s 26 with over 1500 plate appearances and a 226/312/376 line. This ship has sailed. He can’t hit. Trade him to Tampa Bay so he can have his “Casey Kotchman 2011” miracle season and move on.

    I still hold out a slim hope that Ackley and Montero will hit, but that hope is getting narrower by the day.

  5. bavasiisgarbage on May 21st, 2013 5:07 pm

    my name is JMB of the good ship USS Mariner!!! Im a pessimist who knows nothing about baseball!!!!

  6. Bodhizefa on May 21st, 2013 5:08 pm

    I dig the subtle reference to Dave’s most recent Smoak evaluation.

    Holy cow, I never thought I could get excited about Smoak again. It’s funny what a little success can do to one’s feelings of hope. Baseball is a weird metaphor for life sometimes.

    Smoak’s certainly earned sticking around for a while longer. Ackley and especially Montero, on the other hand… not so much.

  7. JMB on May 21st, 2013 5:15 pm

    Hey bavasiisgarbage. For reasons you’ll probably never know, your post made my day. Thanks for playing.

  8. John Morgan on May 21st, 2013 5:35 pm

    Here’s a thought on Smoak (Ackley and Montero) I haven’t read elsewhere: The Mariners are an averge-ish team right not, which is kind of cool. But they’re average because of Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Felix, Hisashi and to a lesser extent Pryor and Wilhelmsen. It seems the anchoring narratives of The Big Three Disappointments has lent them an inordinate amount of attention, but isn’t Seager’s development and Hisashi’s emergence etc. more exciting? more worthy of analysis? Is it harder to explain, or less exciting seeming because we didn’t invest time and expectation into Seager, etc.?

    I loved yesterday’s article about Wilhelmsen’s curve. It was spot on: idea and execution. Against all reason, I haven’t given up on Smoak, but a mini-streak stemming from some date is not, to me, any kind of sign of hope. And it’s not very interesting either, is it? That a player may briefly be good in the midst of a failing career? It’s almost bitter.

    I wonder why we’re so drawn to players we expected to be good but have failed, when players we expected little of but have succeeded, are so quickly taken for granted?

  9. bookbook on May 21st, 2013 6:01 pm

    The tragic hero is an enduring theme through the literature of most cultures for a reason. It’s human nature to be drawn to such a tale.

  10. Snuffy on May 21st, 2013 6:14 pm

    JMB has it right. Reality is a bitch.

  11. shamus on May 21st, 2013 6:38 pm

    Will you be making an awesomeness forecast? Or are you a typical sit-on-the-fence awesomeologist, who won’t forecast awesome until after the awesomeness has already started smoaking?

  12. ooter on May 21st, 2013 9:40 pm


    This is the best post you’ve ever made. Please do more posts in advisory scale form.

  13. lemonverbena on May 22nd, 2013 12:43 am

    I, for one, do not welcome a return to background state.

  14. thurston24 on May 22nd, 2013 8:10 am

    I think people on this site sometimes fail to realize how hard it is to make the transition in baseball at the big leagues. Prospects take time to develop and it can be longer than you expect. Justin Smoak was rushed too fast to the big leagues, has had some bad injury luck and is finally starting to come around. While it would be nice for He, Montero, and Ackley to have just hit the ground running to meet expectations, it often doesn’t work like that. What everyone should be doing is looking at how Smoak is progressing and hope it continues. He should not be written off yet but given the chance to succeed.

  15. John W. on May 22nd, 2013 11:08 am

    He’s currently has the 46th highest OBP in the majors, and that includes his horrendous start. Ya know, I’m starting to really get my hopes up with him…

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