Updated Thoughts on Justin Smoak

Dave · August 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s an off day, so let’s talk about Justin Smoak again. Last summer, I gave up on Justin Smoak as a core building block for the future, noting that his performance put him in the company of a bunch of guys who represented a pretty mediocre upside. Then Smoak came back from Tacoma and had a monster September, earning him One Last Chance (TM), but his slow April start resulted in yet another post pointing out his lack of power for a first baseman, and why it was going to be hard for him to produce without that skill. Even a month ago, when Jeff wrote about Smoak’s latest hot streak, I remained skeptical.

But he hasn’t really cooled off since that post, and now, Justin Smoak’s productive sample size is more than a hot month here and a hot month there. You’ve always been able to selectively pick dates based on his hot streaks that made him look decent, but it was never intellectually honest. It was always based on creating constraints specifically designed to exclude his bad performances while including all of his good ones. You can make anyone look good by doing that, and it’s a lousy way to project future performance.

At this point, though, we can look back at non-arbitrary cutoffs, like “past 365 days”, that do not require us to bias things in Smoak’s favor. And over those last 365 days, Smoak has 503 plate appearances and a 132 wRC+, putting himself just ahead of Prince Fielder. During that stretch, his .172 ISO is a match for Adrian Gonzalez. His 12.7% BB% puts him right there with Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks 2013 MVP candidate. His strikeout rate is basically league average. This is what Justin Smoak was supposed to be. He’s only hit 17 home runs, but everything else has been good enough that the overall production level has made him an above average player.

If Smoak’s last 365 day line was Smoak’s projection, then the Mariners should have no problem penciling him in as their first baseman for the next several years, at least while he’s under team control through arbitration. It’s not star performance, but good teams have useful average players instead of gaping holes, and it’s especially helpful when those average players make hardly any money.

So, yeah, thumbs up for the current version of Justin Smoak. He finally looks like what we thought he’d turn into, and is justifying the Mariners continued faith in his abilities. Their patience has paid off, and now Smoak looks like he might have played himself back into the discussion of the team’s young core, especially since there aren’t any other first baseman in the organization pushing for playing time.

That said, I’m still a bit of a Smoak pessimist going forward. It is always tempting to look at a player’s recent performance and judge him only on that and not everything that came before it, but it is almost never better to make a projection of future performance by throwing out older data. You should not weigh it as heavily as recent performance, but it’s still useful data, and forecasts based on a larger sample almost always trounce forecasts based on recent performance only. There are exceptions to the rule — Danny Farquhar is probably a good one right now, given that he’s throwing 96 over-the-top rather than 91 side-arm — but those exceptions are best identified by some kind of drastic physical change rather than just a performance fluctuation.

Smoak’s made some changes to his swing, but these are tweaks, not a total overhaul. He’s still basically the same guy who had 1,250 lousy plate appearances before his monster September last year. We now have 1,250 PAs of bad performance and 500 PAs of good performance. The fact that those 500 PAs are the most recent matters, as does the fact that Smoak is 26 and headed into what should be his peak years. But we can’t just ignore the older data now that we have more recent data that we like more.

If we look at the projections for Smoak’s future performance based on the entirety of his data — with recent data weighted more heavily — we see that ZIPS is projecting Smoak to post a 106 wRC+ for the rest of the year, while Steamer comes in at 104. In both cases, ZIPS and Steamer look at Smoak’s walk rates, strikeout rates, and isolated slugging and think that his current performance is almost exactly what he’s going to keep doing going forward. These core skills are not expected to regress much if at all.

Instead, the entirety of the drop in performance comes from a big projected drop in Smoak’s BABIP. His 2013 BABIP is .335, while ZIPS is projecting .291 and Steamer is at .273. I think Steamer’s probably too low, and would side more towards ZIPS projection, but even with a .291 BABIP, a lot of Smoak’s offensive value goes away. Over the past year, here are the first baseman that posted a wRC+ close to the 106 that ZIPS is projecting: Adam Dunn (109), James Loney (108), Chris Carter (107), Mark Reynolds (107), Eric Hosmer (105), Adam LaRoche (105), Ryan Howard (102). That isn’t exactly great company, and of that group, Loney is the only one who has been an above average player, as his defense is legitimately excellent.

ZIPS and Steamer aren’t infallible. That they both are somewhat pessimistic about Smoak’s rest-of-season production doesn’t mean that he can’t keep proving them wrong. Players improve at different rates, and Smoak may very well be an outlier who took a big leap forward, where it will take the projections a while to catch up. But I’d be more sold on this idea if there was a clear and obvious core skill where Smoak had shown a drastic change.

On one hand, you can argue that he’s just hitting the ball harder, except his HR/FB ratio is 12%, exactly in line with his career numbers, and his .165 ISO is just barely above his career .156 mark. His contact rate is 79.5%, almost exactly what it was last year, and his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone — generally the ones that get whacked the hardest — is right in line with his career averages. He’s swinging at the same rate he always has, and at the same proportion of pitches in and out of the strike zone.

The results are better, but it’s not immediately obvious as to why. The “he’s hitting the ball harder” argument is a bit circular, as the evidence for the harder hit balls is that his BABIP is higher, which is the thing we’re trying to explain to begin with. You can go round and round in that circle all day without actually proving anything. His line drive rate is up, but line drive rate is highly variable from year to year, and it might just be that his balls are being labeled as line drives because they’re going for hits rather than outs. It’s not clear where the causation lies, basically.

So right now, Justin Smoak is better, but he’s better almost entirely due to the one variable that fluctuates the most. And that’s a little scary. It’s the same reason James Loney is having a career year in Tampa Bay, and I’d imagine we’re probably all a little skeptical of Loney as a high quality first baseman going forward. The Rays got Loney for $2 million as a free agent, by the way. Underpowered first baseman who are average or slightly above average when their BABIP spikes aren’t all that highly valued in the market.

I’m glad to see Smoak hitting, and I hope he keeps hitting. He’s hit well enough for long enough that he’s earned a job in 2014, barring some kind of huge late season collapse anyway. But I still think the Mariners should be looking for an alternate first baseman of the future. Smoak has moved himself out of the high priority replacement list, and the Mariners should keep riding his success as long as it lasts, but at the same time, they should at least prepare for the fact that this might not last much longer.

Justin Smoak has earned himself a longer leash. He’s played himself back into the team’s plans, and should be penciled in as the starting first baseman on the 2014 team. But we should not yet be convinced that he’s going to keep this up. It’s great that he’s done it for 500 plate appearances, but bad players have 500 PA stretches of good performance. I’m not saying Smoak is definitely still a bad player, but we don’t yet know that he’s a good one.

Be encouraged. The fact that he’s hitting is good news. But be cautiously encouraged, and don’t be too shocked if this doesn’t last. Smoak would hardly be the first player to ride a BABIP wave to an unsustainable performance, only to have it end out of nowhere. If you need an example, Michael Morse is right over there.

Comments

51 Responses to “Updated Thoughts on Justin Smoak”

  1. LanceWWU on August 8th, 2013 12:35 pm

    Has there been talk about him giving up on hitting right-handed? His platoon splits are huge: .520 OPS as RHB vs .926 OPS as LHB.

  2. Westside guy on August 8th, 2013 1:02 pm

    Okay, now I’m worried. I hope this doesn’t turn into the kiss of death for Smoak! :-D

    More seriously… I can leave with an “average” first baseman, at least for a while. It’s nice to have one fewer gaping hole on the roster.

  3. McExpos on August 8th, 2013 1:04 pm

    Dave, I’ve grumbled a bit at your recent writing at USSMariner, but this is vintage Dave Cameron, the kind of writing that made me fall in love with USSMariner and the Seattle saber community in general. Thanks a ton.

  4. Klatz on August 8th, 2013 1:11 pm

    With small sample size warnings, his infield fly rate has been down around 9% since June and 9.8% for the season. As you’ve mentioned before high IFFB% tend to depress BABIP.

    So I think that’s a metic to watch for the rest of the season, along with power. This maybe an area where scouting may be more predictive than stats and projections. Are these real gains. It’s not clear. But there are more hopeful than pessimistic signs IMO.

    But an average 1b would give the Ms one less worry, and considering they want to bring Morales back at DH, then that helps solve one possible logjam (as long as Morse and Ibanez are not around). I’d rather see a focus on obtaining 1-2 good outfielders and at least 1 more reliable starter.

  5. bookbook on August 8th, 2013 1:13 pm

    So
    Miller
    Franklin
    Seager
    Morales
    Smoak
    Zunino

    Is it possible the line up is just an outfield away? Are the M’s the team with the worst LF in history?

  6. bermanator on August 8th, 2013 1:17 pm

    One thing articles like this prove is that the phrase “small sample size” can mean whatever the writer wants it to mean.

    In terms of judging his career, 500 at-bats may wind up being a drop in the bucket for Smoak. But in terms of the hitter he is now? Seems like a season’s worth of data is pretty compelling. How many more at-bats would it take to be convincing to you?

    It’s hard not to read this and wonder how much of the statistical portion of the analysis is based on Smoak not passing the Dave Cameron Eyeball Test.

  7. scraps on August 8th, 2013 1:22 pm

    Are you reading what I’m reading, Bermanator? The whole post is encouraging, not discouraging.

  8. miscreant on August 8th, 2013 1:33 pm

    If Smoak figures out how to hit left handed pitchers this year he’ll be a beast.

    ” Are the M’s the team with the worst LF in history?”

    It’s the curse of Phil Bradley.

  9. The_Waco_Kid on August 8th, 2013 1:35 pm

    Definitely getting my hopes up. With righties it’s a smaller sample so hard to tell. He sorta seems to be hitting righties recently.

  10. Ohioan on August 8th, 2013 1:40 pm

    miscreant

    You just made me sad. Oh Phil we loved you so…

  11. bfgboy on August 8th, 2013 1:43 pm

    Speaking of OF, why not Alex Rios? Why did they pass on him?

  12. diderot on August 8th, 2013 1:45 pm

    His walk rate is also about 40% higher than it was last year.

    Is it logical that swinging at more strikes and fewer balls would increase both his BABIP and his overall production?

  13. amnizu on August 8th, 2013 1:46 pm

    I think things would have to get REALLY bad from the right hand side for him to consider giving up on switch hitting.

    Remember that a switch hitter giving up on their weaker side means that now they’re facing same handed pitching. Something they have never done in the past even at AAA, in addition they’ll also have to face specialty revilers in high leverage situation, something that they have never had to do in the past.

    On paper it looks really simple to just “give up” on your weaker side and assume performance against same handed pitching. In practice however, it’s not that simple.

  14. Westside guy on August 8th, 2013 1:52 pm

    Good grief! Apparently some people think if you don’t believe the home team’s Current Player A is a shoe-in as a first ballot hall-of-famer, you’re being a Negative Nellie!

    What specific parts of this post did you object to, bermanator? Did you actually read it all?

  15. VivaAyala on August 8th, 2013 2:02 pm

    Good article, Dave.

    I just want to note that there is some evidence, outside of BABIP, that Smoak is hitting the ball a little harder.

    Courtesy of http://www.baseballheatmaps.com/graph/leaderboard.php :

    Batted ball distance (home run and fly ball leaderboard:

    2013 290.88 ft. (68th, between E. Chavez and M. Adams)
    2012 284.28 ft. (121st, between D. Stubbs and A. Ethier)
    2011 279.86 ft. (144th, between D. Pedroia and N. Markakis)

  16. DarkKnight1680 on August 8th, 2013 2:28 pm

    Good article indeed. I’ve written a couple of times on Smoak in the last little while over at LL, most recently http://www.lookoutlanding.com/2013/8/5/4590822/why-justin-smoak-doesnt-hit-more-home-runs where I try to explore Smoaks low HR totals.

    I was also going to post the same thing that VivaAyala posted above, and really the two go hand in hand. Smoak’s LD% is way up, and some of that could be luck or scorer magic, but by the eye test he’s certainly ripped more balls this season than I can recall him ever doing before. Add in his increase in average FB distance (basically tied with A-Gon) and there is solid evidence that he’s just hitting the ball harder. If, as the article shows, he can pull a few more FBs (article was written before his last towering pulled FB HR), his power totals should only continue to climb. An increase in strength wouldn’t hurt either.

    At this point, a guy who can run a 120-130 OPS+ with some upside, provide solid defense and great receiving skills at 1B, and is young/cheap/under team control for a while, is a guy that I’m not seeking to upgrade even a little.

  17. globalalpha on August 8th, 2013 2:34 pm

    Awwww crap. Dave just broke Justin Smoak.

  18. miscreant on August 8th, 2013 2:41 pm

    Ohiofan, yeah Phil, despite his seemingly ever present scowl was a favorite of mine also .

    I was bummed when the M’s dealt him to Philly.

    “I think things would have to get REALLY bad from the right hand side for him to consider giving up on switch hitting. ”

    I wonder just how bad is really bad. Smoak’s got a .520 OPS versus left handed pitchers this year. He’s had better success in the past and he did have that infamous 16 pitch at bat against Chen the other night.

  19. PackBob on August 8th, 2013 3:39 pm

    So what about Smoak’s defense? I’ve seen everything from he’s a very good defender to a lousy one. FanGraph’s fielding metric has him at +0.2. To me watching he looks pretty good; to some watching he looks pretty bad.

    If he’s anything of a plus defender that would go some ways toward negating his poor base running, which is never going to be good. If he’s plus offense and defense, and cost-controlled, he’s a great deal right now.

  20. MrZDevotee on August 8th, 2013 4:01 pm

    As Dave Cameron articles go, this was a rather positive one…

    But geesh, jumping all over a commenter because he didn’t think it was positive ENOUGH seems harsh… It should be okay to be MORE positive about Smoak than Dave is, shouldn’t it?

    Dave DID say he’s still a pessimist when it comes to Smoak.

    “That said, I’m still a bit of a Smoak pessimist going forward.”

    And I’d agree that both BABIP and SSS are two chicken/egg dilemmas in all of our talks.

    When you’re making better contact– for ANY reason– your LD rate goes up, your BABIP goes up, you hit the ball farther (as pointed out above)… But it’s not the BABIP driving that situation, it’s the other stuff driving the BABIP. Maybe he figured something out, at the MLB level, that he hadn’t before? We don’t know… But if so, it could make his first 1200 PA’s less significant moving forward.

    He did afterall become an everyday player at a younger age than he would have on a lot of other ballclubs (like Ackley, Seager, Saunders, others)… So in a way, why do we count those years as much as we do a guy like Smoak who is making his rookie debut this season, in the latter half of his 20′s?

    Just sayin’.

    And having just said all that– I too am a bit of a pessimist on Smoak. Athletically he still doesn’t pass the smell test for me– a slow average defender with a non-quick swing.

    (fingers crossed)

    **PS- I also wanna say how much I enjoyed this article Dave! I like when you worry less about being right, and seem more like a fan wondering if one of our players is getting better…**

  21. MrZDevotee on August 8th, 2013 4:09 pm

    I should explain my SSS “chicken/egg” comment too. What I meant by that is we don’t know if it’s a typical SSS moment until later on… When we either say “see, it was just SSS before the regression” or we say “well, it was an exception… often numbers like that regress…”

    And I only mean that about younger players, who may still be developing talents, and have ceilings above where their current talent level resides.

    Sort of like a guy who couldn’t dunk… Who works hard, for years, to get better at leaping… And then he can dunk. We wouldn’t decide in that case “well, that’s just SSS… A month from now he won’t be able to dunk again, like usual…”

    Some guys get better beyond what we reasonably expected of them. And we aren’t privvy to who, why or when. (Chris Davis? Jose Bautista? RA Dickey? Jamie Moyer?)

  22. sawsatch on August 8th, 2013 4:11 pm

    Trade him now while his stock is at the highest value.

  23. raul_podzednick on August 8th, 2013 4:33 pm

    How can anyone see this as a positive post?

    Dave is basically saying, he is doing well right now but he will regress and be mediocre to average.

    “I still think the Mariners should be looking for an alternate first baseman of the future.”

    all of the positive things to be said are admitted begrudgingly and then quickly qualified with how and why they probably won’t last.

  24. Cresswell on August 8th, 2013 5:00 pm

    A tad pessimistic. It’s kind of like saying “he’s been bad, but people are saying he’ll be OK if he’s a bit better – don’t bet on it ” and now saying “he’s been good, but he might be worse later, so don’t get your hopes up.”

    His best feature has been his plate discipline. Smoak will not lose that, and if he continues on this road he could actually increase in power – we’ve seen plenty of players take this road.

    And his BABIP is high because he smacks the heck out of the ball. He’s even learning to just make a little contact as a righty. I will take a good defensive 1B (which he is) and an OBP of .360-.380 with decent power anyday. Move on to someone else.

    I think this isn’t just improvement, it’s progression.

  25. bermanator on August 8th, 2013 5:21 pm

    My main point is that “small sample size” means whatever the analyst wants it to mean.

    I don’t know too many who would scoff at 500 at-bats as being a small sample size, but I also know Dave’s thoughts about Smoak.

  26. EastsideSteve on August 8th, 2013 5:28 pm

    I agree Sawsatch, but I believe that Jack Z will keep him. After all, this has been perhaps his most preferred player and his own success is tied to Smoakless.

  27. Slats on August 8th, 2013 5:29 pm

    D. J. Peterson is the 1B of the future.

  28. Milendriel on August 8th, 2013 7:11 pm

    bermanator–I don’t think Dave is saying Smoak’s most recent 500 AB’s are a small sample in the sense that we commonly associate with SSS, where Willie Bloomquist has a great first 12 games of his career and we can completely write it off (fun fact: Bloomquist accumulated more WAR in those 12 games than he has in the other 935 games he’s played).

    It’s not that 500 AB’s are nothing–it’s that we shouldn’t just arbitrarily discard other data. It’s akin to why a lot of analysis based on home/away splits doesn’t work; slicing up data into a smaller sample, even if it’s not a small sample, increases the likelihood of drawing an inaccurate conclusion.

    Smoak has a long track record of being bad, and a more recent, somewhat long track record of being good, but we still have to regress his performance somewhat going forward. If he keeps doing well, we may reach a point where we can mostly ignore his early career performance, but it’s not intellectually dishonest (as you are implying–please stop doing that) to say we’re not there yet.

  29. bermanator on August 8th, 2013 7:49 pm

    “If he keeps doing well, we may reach a point where we can mostly ignore his early career performance, but it’s not intellectually dishonest (as you are implying–please stop doing that) to say we’re not there yet.”
    =========

    When is that point? How many at-bats does it take? Is it the same number of at-bats or innings pitched for every player? I’m pretty sure a close reading of this site would find that’s not the case.

    I’m not specifically calling out Dave. I’m saying that the weakness I find in the SABR crowd (and I’m a huge analytics guy in general, both professionally and as a baseball fan) is that “small sample size” is trotted out whenever an analyst doesn’t like what the data is showing. It’s a great crutch to avoid saying “I was wrong” until the last possible moment. 500 at-bats is not a great month or six-week stretch – it’s a season.

    It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask, if 500 at-bats isn’t enough for Dave, how many at-bats will it take? Give us the number in advance, rather than making it up as we go.

  30. bookbook on August 8th, 2013 8:07 pm

    500 PAs at 170 OPS would be more convincing than 500 PAs at 130 OPS (after1200 PAs of absolute suck). It seems like Dave basically waited until projection systems started predicting future OPSes of 105 or more, and then said looks like I was wrong. The improbable seems to be happening.

    It feels a bit like turning on a dime, after the recent comments in Jeff’s post about Smoak’s improvement. But none of us evolve our views at precisely perfect pacing.

    Remember, the projection systems count the older performance, at a heavily discounted proportion, because it’s more accurate to do so than to pretend it didn’t happen. (as you know, Bob.)

  31. NorthofWrigleyField on August 8th, 2013 9:25 pm

    I think the Mariners do have their alternate first baseman of the future in DJ Peterson. I also think they’ll have plenty to trade in the next few years to pull in another young 1B, much like the Cubs did in trading for Anthony Rizzo. As long as they have at least an average 1B in Justin Smoak, they should move on to other avenues to improve the major league squad.

  32. Westside guy on August 8th, 2013 9:53 pm

    The thing about being cautiously optimistic is – its not like Smoak is doing anything that seems obviously unmaintainable. This isn’t hitting eight home runs in eleven games, or suddenly showing an unforseen surge in power. This is something that can be believed in while staying reasonably rational. :-)

  33. ripperlv on August 8th, 2013 10:01 pm

    It’s really about confidence. I don’t know how you measure it, but it works miracles. A lack of it will destroy you, more than a bit of it will help you. It changes everything you do. It’s hard to gain, but if you get it, you are a different person. When and if Ackley finds it, watch out.

  34. dnc on August 8th, 2013 10:57 pm

    “It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask, if 500 at-bats isn’t enough for Dave, how many at-bats will it take? Give us the number in advance, rather than making it up as we go.”

    It’s pretty well established that projection systems are built off of the prior three seasons worth of data, with the most recent year counting most heavily and least recent year counting least. So a total projection is going to take into account the previous 1800-2000 PA’s (and sometimes a bit more than that).

    This doesn’t mean it takes that many PA’s to change an opinion about a player, but it does take that many PA’s to get a complete picture of a player.

    Incidentally, Dave IS changing his opinion of Smoak based on the last 500 PA’s. He’s gone from “shouldn’t be on the team in 2014″ to “should be on the team in 2014″. This idea that he’s not admitting he was wrong about Smoak is, well, wrong. His opinion has changed. He’s just saying there’s not enough evidence, yet, to pencil him in through 2017 or expect him to make an all star run next year. I would think most of us would agree.

    I’m interested to hear what eponymous coward thinks about Dave’s post, as he’s spent a lot of energy telling a lot of people their opinions of Smoak shouldn’t have changed. If you’re reading EC, does Dave’s post give you pause or do you still feel the same way?

  35. eddie on August 9th, 2013 8:11 am

    I like what Dave said about giving the Mariners some credit for sticking with Smoak and being patient. There were a lot of people who thought he was history (or the worst in history).

    The Mariner coaches and talent evaluators get a lot of criticism, so it’s good to also give them some compliments when they deserve it.

  36. eponymous coward on August 9th, 2013 8:34 am

    If you’re reading EC, does Dave’s post give you pause or do you still feel the same way?

    http://www.ussmariner.com/2013/08/01/pick-one-dh-just-one/

    Fangraphs and B-R say that if you project Smoak’s 2013 WAR over the full season, he’s a 1.5 WAR player. He has injury problems (hasn’t been able to stay healthy in MLB), is slow and not good on defense, and is probably going to be streaky.
    That’s actually not out of line with what he appears to be; a below-average 1B ala Mike Carp. So could you play him in 2014? Sure (remember, slightly less than 50% of MLB players are below average). Should you be irrationally attached to him? Not so much. Is it crazy to think you can have a better player? Not really. Smoak’s minor league record is well in the Casey Kotchman/Mike Carp realm of “guy who can play some ball but isn’t very good” territory, and his 2013 is a lot of reversion to the mean after bad luck and some injury problems, plus the not-atypical struggles some players go through.

    I’m fine with what I said a week ago.

    I’d be happy if by 2015 I was shown to be very, very wrong, though, and Smoak was more like a 2-3 WAR 1B year in, year out.

  37. eponymous coward on August 9th, 2013 8:53 am

    One other thing:

    especially since there aren’t any other first baseman in the organization pushing for playing time

    DJ Peterson’s already jumped a level and has some pretty good numbers.

    I don’t think he’d be showing up in 2014 (and I’ll want to see the rest of his 2013 plus his 2014), but by the time 2015 rolls around…

  38. stevemotivateir on August 9th, 2013 9:20 am

    I don’t know about anyone else, but first base is the least of my concerns with this team. Well, maybe not the least, but it’s not a concern. If Smoak produces enough/some/a lot, wonderful. If he doesn’t (from this point forward), finding a replacement wouldn’t likely be real challenging.

    Outfield.

    Outfield.

    Outfield.

    I know it’s boring. Everybody knows this is the glaring hole. But it surprises me how little talk there is of what’s ahead of us (eh, from media sources). Internal options wont cut it and re-signing any of the current cast with expiring contracts would be ridiculous.

    Having said that, it is good to see Smoak string together several good months and show some consistency.

  39. heyoka on August 9th, 2013 9:48 am

    Dave’s original Smoak post wasn’t wrong logically. It’s just that Smoak has defied history and pulled it together.

    The results won’t always bear out despite good process and reasoning.

    The conclusion we could maybe walk away with is, the scouts saw something else and were right for once.

  40. Paul B on August 9th, 2013 10:33 am

    I think the max upside for Smoak would be Tino Martinez (3rd highest similarity score through age 25). I’d take that, for sure.

    But I’m like Dave in that I think the most likely trajectory is somewhat lower than that. Hopefully better, though, than the #1 similarity score, Eric Anthony (remember him? He had a short Mariner career, <300 PA as a Mariner).

  41. eponymous coward on August 9th, 2013 10:54 am

    Well, maybe not the least, but it’s not a concern. If Smoak produces enough/some/a lot, wonderful. If he doesn’t (from this point forward), finding a replacement wouldn’t likely be real challenging.

    Well, Richie Sexson collapsed in, what, 2007?

    2008: Sexson is terrible
    2009: Branyan’s pretty good
    2010: Kotchman is terrible
    2011: Smoak is terrible
    2012: Smoak is terrible
    2013: Smoak is OK to pretty good

    Maybe it’s easier for OTHER organizations because they’ve had decent 1B prospects more recently than Tino Martinez…

  42. djw on August 9th, 2013 11:30 am

    its not like Smoak is doing anything that seems obviously unmaintainable.

    “Obviously unmaintainable” is a high bar, and maintaining his babip with his batted ball profile and speed probably doesn’t clear it. It does, however, clear the somewhat lower (but still important) bar of “probably unmaintainable.”

  43. stevemotivateir on August 9th, 2013 2:43 pm

    Maybe it’s easier for OTHER organizations because they’ve had decent 1B prospects more recently than Tino Martinez…

    You mean, like Mike Carp?

    I get the point, and I don’t disagree. I’m not sold on Jack finding the right guys either, whether it be first basemen or outfielders. But I’m simply less worried about first base right now. And there really isn’t a reason to be alarmed.

  44. eponymous coward on August 9th, 2013 3:20 pm

    You mean, like Mike Carp?

    Mike Carp wasn’t originally our guy either, he came in the Putz deal. And he isn’t all that great.

    Seriously, the M’s have gone 20 years+ without developing a legitimate 1B prospect from within, even at the “no great shakes but will have an MLB career” level. That’s kind of mind-boggling when you think about it. “Hit decently and play the least demanding defensive position” doesn’t SEEM to be an impossible chore, does it?

    Alarmed, no, but again, I wouldn’t get irrationally attached to Smoak. My take is I’ll want to see him consistently contribute at this level for a season injury-free before he comes out of the big “a guy who can play OK at times but nothing special” Kotchman/Carp/Loney/Travis Lee range of players into the “OK, he’s a good player” range of guys like Tino.

  45. MoreMariners on August 9th, 2013 4:05 pm

    Smoak has been worth 1.4 WAR in 84 games. That’s a rate of 2.5 WAR over 150 games, which is something that any team should take, as a starting player should be worth around 2WAR. I think he can sustain what he’s had going, he’s been stable for weeks, no crazy ups or downs.

    Also, how did Morse “ride a BABIP wave to an unsustainable performance”? His career BABIP is .336, and in his career year (2011, 3.1 fWAR year), his BABIP was .344. The outlier in that year is only his power.

  46. stevemotivateir on August 9th, 2013 5:49 pm

    Mike Carp wasn’t originally our guy either, he came in the Putz deal. And he isn’t all that great.

    Mike Carp was still just a prospect when he was acquired. It shouldn’t matter how they came into the organization, as long they have them. And you didn’t specify how. He isn’t great, but he certainly isn’t sucking. He’s been productive for Boston (when he isn’t in the outfield).

    It is crazy that we haven’t developed any solid 1B prospects of our own in a long time. But again, finding even a stop-gap if necessary, probably isn’t going to be too challenging for a competent GM (a little tougher for Jack).

    How does If Smoak produces enough/some/a lot, wonderful. If he doesn’t (from this point forward), finding a replacement wouldn’t likely be real challenging., sound like I’m possibly irrationally attached to Smoak? I’m not. The point was that I’m not excited, nor worried. I’d still rather see a better first baseman. But I’m far more concerned about the outfield.

  47. MKT on August 9th, 2013 6:38 pm

    Well one thing about the Woodward and Gillick years is they could find decent first basemen. The Ms lost Tino Martinez, but plugged that hole with Sorrento, then Segui, and then better-than-plugged it with Olerud.

    Bavasi predictably didn’t do as well, but even so, Sexson gave the Mariners two good years prior to his two terrible last years.

    That’s probably above average performance by a front office, but not blazingly so. As Eponymous C points out above, since then the Mariner front office has shown a notable inability to acquire first basemen who are significantly above replacement. It shouldn’t be that hard to get a semi-decent 1B, yet somehow the Ms can’t do it.

  48. stevemotivateir on August 9th, 2013 7:08 pm

    ^And I wasn’t disagreeing. I was simply trying to draw attention to an area that is currently a much bigger problem.

    But this all feeds the argument for dismissing Jack. It’s not just (good) outfielders he’s struggled to find or re-stock the lower levels with.

  49. Kazinski on August 9th, 2013 9:26 pm

    My first thought is that as long as Justin Smoak is out performing Prince Fielder at 1/40th the cost then there isn’t much to complain about.

    But actually the BABIP numbers don’t look even as good as Dave says they do. All of Smoak’s success this year is against RH pitching. He has a .305/.407/.519 line with a .361 BABIP against RH pitching. And a .195/.278/.241 .274 BABIP against LH pitching.

    His RH BABIP is of course unsustainable, his LH BABIP looks uncomfortably close to his career norms.

    Maybe he is a righty masher and he can keep it up, I don’t know. If we had a Lefty Mashing RH that was cheap and under team control who could possibly double as 3rd catcher, like say Jesus Montero, then maybe they can make that work.

  50. Kazinski on August 9th, 2013 9:39 pm

    One other note about Dave’s comments about projections. While I do thing that the projections should be given more weight that just taking the last 500 or so PA as gospel. But I don’t know if projections are age weighted, and if not they should be. To my mind the projections for a 26 year old should be skewed more to recent performance than the projections for a 33 year old, but of course it would be nice to see if their is any data confirming that.

  51. goat on August 10th, 2013 12:00 pm

    This is pretty much how I’ve felt about Smoak for the past month or so. His BABIP now is higher than it was in AAA. I definitely expect it to be higher going forward than his average before this season, though not sure by how much.
    I would expect him to be somewhere between 1 and 2.5 WAR in 2014, which isn’t bad when you consider there’s a pretty good chance each of the other infield positions could be above 2.

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