Bail on Justin Smoak?


Moe sez,


You'll remember that when I was in my "anybody but Smoak" stage (Wait! I'm still in that!) earlier this year, when Carp was dinged, I said lets give the job to Liddi or Cat or Jimenez, anybody but "Little Timber" Smoak.

Jimenez smashed some in AAA, let's roll him out there for a while and see what we have.

And can we just give up on Smoak this year? ...Oh wait, I forgot that Smoak's a changed guy after his Tacoma trip. Let's see, his .203-.291-.290 over the last 28 days, and his 2nd half split of .161-.246-.268 sure proves that. Maybe it's his .196-.258-.312 splt vL that we will just HAVE to get on the field because we don't want to let Carp hit against lefties. That must be it.

But we don't need to see more Smoak or Olivo.


=== Bail on Smoak:  PRO ===

When Justin Smoak first got here, he had a Ken Griffey Jr. swing left handed that sent balls 400+ feet the other way.  His average home run was longer than the AL average, 403 feet, he could line pitches from any section of the strike zone, and he had a good batting eye.

Then he messed up his thumbs, and as he stands today he's on a 2-year run of hitting home runs that are considerably shorter than the 397-foot AL average - only 391 feet.  Worse, he doesn't look like he has any power.  He squares balls up and they go absolutely nowhere.  The only time he gets home runs are on obvious "mistake" pitches that he sees coming before the pitcher lets them go.

Left-handed, he now pulls everything and they shift him; it seems farfetched that he'd ever Griffey one over the left field wall.  Okay, if you're a pull hitter, where's the power?


It's not like he squares a lot of balls up, either.  His line drive percentage was terrible before he got sent down -- and then he shortened his stroke up and it's still terrible.  And the stats aren't the worst of it:  watch Smoak in the batter's box and he just shows you nothin'.  He's not on the pitches, and when he is nothing happens anyway.  

This is a guy who's on the field for one reason:  to hit.  He doesn't run and he doesn't change your club with his glove.


His upside is called into question.  The general consensus is that Smoak, since the thumb problem, is never going to be a 30+ homer guy.  His ambition, supposedly, is a good OBP with gap power, maybe a .475 SLG in Safeco if things break right.  It would be one thing if you were hoping for an MVP candidate.  It's another thing if one day you're hoping he'll become a fairly good ballplayer.  Because while you're hoping, you're investing time in a .191 hitting first baseman.  The investment time is expensive with Smoak -- too expensive to spend on a guy whose upside you peg as "not bad."


James watched Smoak earlier in the year and wondered why the M's hadn't pulled the plug already.


=== Bail on Smoak:  CON ===

Guess when his earliest FA season is.  2017.  If the light suddenly comes on -- that happens in baseball -- you're throwing away a lot of club-controls seasons.  Winning is all about club-controls seasons.

It's not absolutely clear that Smoak's 2010 power won't return.  Though his HR distance is down, his MPH off the bat isn't down nearly as far.  It's not like he's gotten smaller.  He showed the power before, and it's hard to say why he wouldn't still be physically capable of it.

In theory, at least, Smoak is a very rare package of skills:  power, switch-hitting, EYE, the HIT skill, and lefty* in Safeco.  

Jay-Z thought that Smoak was rushed in the first place, and it's true that he's still only 25.  Next year he'll be a Post-Hype Sleeper, age 26 with experience.

His pedigree is first class:  top-10 overall pick, which (say) Michael Saunders and Mike Carp were definitely not.  Smoak's first year out of college, he posted a .449 OBP -- in the high minors, AA baseball.  His second year out of college, he was in the majors, with Texas, and that early in the year.  You ever want to talk about a kid who was messed up by being rushed, here you are.


=== You Be Da Judge ===

Smoak has looked Charles Barkley turrrrible.  Not just .191 turrrible, but "not even capable of playing well" turrrible.  It's easy to understand the temptation to "get him out of our sight."

Objectively speaking, you've got a guy with over 4 years of club controls remaining, a guy with an extra-class pedigree both college and minors, and a guy whose offensive game is unusually broad.  At least theoretically.

The investment time is painful, with a capital P.  But!  In the real world, ML teams don't flush commodities like Smoak.  It's a king-sized (not that kind of King!) headache for Jack Zduriencik.  Some executive problems are essentially unsolvable.  Here's Exhibit A.  Who keeps up with the rules?  Is it an option to have Smoak in AAA for half a year?

Sigh.  You tell me what the cyber-M's here do with cyber-Smoak.  



Unless he comes into ST breathing fire, I would stick him in Tacoma for all of 2013 if that's what it takes. I don't think you can give up on him but I also don't think you can count on him.
1B is a continuing problem for the M's. The 2013 FA class is pretty bad and I'm not seeing any great trades out there. I'm also not a Carp believer and with Zunino doing his best Buster Posey impersonation, I'm hoping to see Montero in AZ this winter working on his 1B skills.


There are lots of cleanup hitters at 1B with knee-to-knee range.  Always have been.
Montero has spent most of his life practicing on one-hop throws in the dirt.  If Zunino is really going to be Buster Posey, and it is time to take that possibility seriously, and with John Jaso here, that idea is liable to gain SERious traction over the winter.


I agree with letting Smoak play... In AAA. Until he destroys the league. If that happens, then we'll figure out what to do with him. Btw, can't Jaso play 1B?


G and G have it right.
Shut him down right now. Put him in the garage. Further futile effort on his part this season does not do him any good.
Heck, send him to the AFL if need be. Give him his whacks in ST next year. But if he's not absolutely mashing down there, hitting .500 or something, the start him in Tacoma. Maybe give him a full season there.
Minus a 50-game AA run in '09, Smoak has never shown that he can rip minor leage pitching. He's a career .279 hitter down on various farms, and has only 24 homeruns in 194 games. He sure can draw BB's in the minors, always walking 100 pts, but he doesn't scare folks with the bat. He's played 128 AAA games and hit .252 with 13 homers.
Liddi has hit .263 with 41 homers in 214 games. In 132 AAA games, Wells has hit .245 with 25 homeruns (and walked nearly 100 pts). In 321 games at that level, Carp hit .276 with 67 homers.
I mention those guys because some of us think they are sketchy MLB types (I do not, as you know. I think they all will be/are decent, or better, MLB'ers), yet they came up no more quickly than Smoak, and they've hit better at AAA and in the majors. One of them is a 3-Position OF with a good glove, and the other guys play a CIF position or two AND play in LF. They are more valuable guys. It's not even close.
Jimenez? A career AAAA guy? He's hit .290 with 34 homers in 257 AAA games. And the M's organization thinks he's meat.
Smoak has a pretty swing, in BP. He's probably a great young man and he suffered through his dad's death last year.
But he isn't a productive MLB bat, and the evidence is that he is unlikely to become a regular, season in-season out, one.
Given enough seasons, he will have a good one here and there. I suspect he could have a BB-fueled 125 OPS in him. Kotchman did last year, for example. But Kotchman surrounded that with 77 and 73. Do you put up with the ugly ones to get the one good one? Do you celebrate Smoak's BB-fueled 108 last year, knowing you get this year's 60?
Scouts get it a bit wrong sometimes. Kotchman was the 13th draft pick and he was in the majors by the time he was 21. He's had two pretty good MLB seasons, but he's a journeyman 1B guy, not a player you build a franchise around. He's played for 5 teams over the last 4 seasons. He's a rent-a-1B who has made more than $8.5M in his career. He will continue this career path for another 4 or 5 years. He will get in more than 5000 MLB PA's and finish around 95 OPS.
Is that getting it wrong with the 13th pick? I don't know. But he's nobody's franchise 1B. And Casey Kotchman is Justin Smoak's upside.
So here's to hoping the Seattle front office and Wedge quit hoping that he is something else. Shut him down for the rest of the year. Let him watch. And then make him prove he's a MLB hitter in AAA next year.

paracorto's picture

is quite strange IMO. I think no player like him would be fielded by any major league team, therefore I'm afraid there's something behind the scenes we don't know. Is is because Smoak was the precious piece in the Cliff Lee deal and GMZ does not want to admit his failure, could last season unfortunate happenings (injury, his father death) have some relation with him playing anyway, did he sign some special clause on his contract ? Yes, because I can't see any baseball reason to keep in the lineup the worst 1B of the entire major leagues. Will he become the next Mickey Mantle in 3 years ? Wonderful, we would all glad to recall him from the minors at that time but right now he's only bad for the team.


I'm writing up a FanPost over at LL about how Smoak turned from a super-prospect into a major league scrub. Essentially, Smoak started out highly touted because: 1) he could walk at a 15% rate, 2) he could mash dingers at above average length with above average bat speed, 3) he hit boatloads of line drives.
If he has all three of those tools working, he's a superstar. If he has any two of them working he's a good major league starter. With one, he's "meh". With none, he's a scrub at the major league level... and even though he showed all of those skills in 2010, they've vanished since. For whatever reason, the line drives were gone starting on opening day 2011. (This would be a good target for a before/after swing analysis.) Still, with only two of those tools he was still good (see April 2011). The power disappeared when he hurt his hands, and it hasn't come back yet.He stopped walking when he took that grounder to the face, and only very recently has he really started walking again. IF he can keep up the walks, his hands heal, and his BABIP stops being absurdly unlucky (which may require leaving Safeco), he could still have a nice career in the majors. But he should be in the minor leagues at least until he can once again crush home runs and walk at an elite rate.


Will look forward to it.
A couple of points to ponder (ad I'm sure you have): While Smoak's BABIP is only .213 this year, it isn't "absurdly" low when you evaluate his "normal" BABIP. His career rate is only .247.
2. He doesn't hit the ball very hard very often. Career LD% is only 17.4%. It's 16.4% this year. Both are less than the MLB average. After that, he hit about an equal amount of FB's and GB's (40.8 and 41.8% career). He hits 11% of his fly balls out of the park, with league average being about 10.6%.
So he doesn't hit LD's at a league rate, and when he hits FB's, he only hits it out of the park at a league rate (Probably Safeco impacts this somewhat). And we certainly know he doesn't leg out any IF hits.
He doesn't hit ropes, and when he elevates the ball, he isn't anything special.


1. Well, yeah, his BABIP this year isn't all that low relative to his career BABIP. It's his career BABIP that's absurdly low. You know how many non-pitchers, going back to 1960, have career BABIP's lower than Smoak's? 48. People just don't run BABIPs like that, pretty much ever.
2. He doesn't hit line drives very often NOW. What limited batted ball data from the minors we have suggests that Smoak was a 25% line drive hitter in the minors, and his 2010 season bears that out. Only starting in 2011 did he totally lose the line drives, which is why I'd love a late 2010 / early 2011 swing comp.
He's bad now, no doubt. Everything you're saying is true about 2012 Justin Smoak. But 2010 Smoak did hit ropes, and when he hit fly balls he was something special. Something happened.


Montero is going to work at 1b during the winter "with the idea of coming to spring training ready to work in earnest at the position."  (per Drayer)
"I like the dynamic where you have got three different ways to get him in the lineup," Wedge said. "Catcher, first base and DH."
It wouldn't shock me if they say the exact same thing about Jaso.
And Churchill quotes a scout: "Zunino is already the leader of this team. That seems to have taken place about four seconds after he got here."
And The Official Site of the Seattle Mariners says: "Wedge called it an important offseason for Smoak, as he needs to get stronger and work on his swing. The Mariners skipper has already had discussions regarding this winter with some players and will break down Smoak's swing before he departs after the season."
They won't powerflush Smoak, but they're darn well gonna get ready for the stars to align around Mike Zunino (and that means 1b gloves for Montero and/or Jaso).
I think Smoak is now Michael Saunders circa 2011.  Sure would be nice ... but ... not gonna put anything down in ink ...


Love that Zunino quote. He gets promoted from low-A to a AA team that is pretty stacked and gearing for a playoff run...and immediately takes control of the club like Kirk taking the helm of the Enterprise right out of the academy. Between he and Franklin, I think the tenor of this club is about to change.


Smoak seems like he needs to get stronger. He just doesn't seem to be at the Carp or Thames or Wells level of conditioning. He doesn't have problems with being too thin, like Ackley or Gutierrez, so he should be able to pack on the muscle. If this were true, and it probably isn't because that would be too easy of a fix, then Smoak should change up his off season. I can envision him drinking raw eggs, doing one-armed push ups and chasing chickens until he "eats lightning and craps thundah" as Mick would say.
Another problem with Smoak: 2. he's afraid of Safeco. Wasn't it him earlier this season complaining that Safeco ate his home run? If Safeco got to his head, he needs to go. The only cure for a Scott Spezio or a Jeff Cirillo is to send him out of town to go and do good for someone else.
Which brings us to: 3. Comfort level. Smoak doesn't look comfortable as a Seattle Mariner. Some players seem to really like Seattle, Ichiro, Jaso, Buhner. Other players do not. These players are from very diverse backgrounds, and the Pacific Northwest is not everyone's cup of triple mocha breve. Smoak gives off the vibe of a laid back country boy who likes to hunt, go noodlin' for catfish, and eat chicken fried steak. He may feel that he was abducted from Dallas, his happy new home, and exiled to the land of weird weather, and weird culture.
Smoak seems like he might be another of those highly successful ex Mariners. Hope for the best for him.


Smoak is currently lousy. AGREED!
However, why put him in AAA and block Vinnie, Liddi, and possibly even Tenbrink.
Put him in AA or High Desert. Build his confidence. Prove to Smoak that he can hit.
This is kinda what Toronto did to Roy Halladay.

Lonnie of MC's picture

... right-handed first basemen are there at the MLB level? Just a few years ago (like, two) there were just two righties in all of baseball, and that was Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols. Today, as we come screaming up to the end of the 2012 season there have been 15 right 1st sackers. I really thought that the count would be like 4, so when I did the research and found that fully half of the teams have been fielding righties at 1st base it really caught me by surprise.

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.