Smoak Out?

It might be shape up or ship out time for Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak. Ever since his high-profile arrival from Texas, Smoak has failed to live up to expectations. His manager, Eric Wedge, makes it sound as if the organization is nearing their wits’ end and may make a move:

We’ve been patient, they’ve been addressed, and we’ve come at them in different ways and different fashions. But ultimately, they’re grown men out there and either they’ve got to get it done or they won’t be here.”

Delve into Smoak’s numbers and the picture doesn’t get any rosier. He’s already accrued over 1200 major league plate appearances that we can use to judge him against history, and his numbers don’t suggest a hopeful future.

Of course, as with any Seattle player, his home/road splits come to mind first. Smoak has played 150 games at home and 152 games away. In that near-full-season away from home and in friendlier confines, Smoak has hit .233/.300/.389 for an 89 wRC+. That’s not acceptable for a first baseman. It’s better than his .206/.305/.349 (80 wRC+) at home, but it’s still not first baseman material.

His overall line in his first 1214 PAs — .220/.302/.370 — has been 15% worse than league-average park-adjusted offense. He’s only 25, but even if you stack him up against other first basemen that were younger than 25 and put up 1000+ plate appearances, he doesn’t look good. In fact, Dan Meyer was the only first baseman to fare worse to begin his career since free agency began in 1974. Sure, with Smoak’s fielding added in, he’s been demonstrably better than Meyer, who was recently labeled the third-worst regular of all time.

That’s not very exciting. Certainly not as exciting as the #13 prospect in the nation, which was where Smoak found himself on the Baseball America list after the 2009 season.

Surely we can find some solace in the fact that he was even given that many plate appearances. Surely there are other names that started almost as poorly and went on to have good careers. Surely?

Just behind him on the list (86 wRC+) was Willie Upshaw, who managed almost 16 wins for the Blue Jays in the mid 1980s, and Travis Lee (91 wRC+), who actually seems like a decent comp. Lee was known for his patience and defense, and after his poor start, he rallied to accrue… nine wins bouncing around between the Phillies, Rays and Yankees. In between the two sits Chris Davis (90 wRC+), who is a poor comp — he has power, poor discipline and no glove — but has turned in a decent season for the Orioles so far this year (106 wRC+). Even so, without any patience or defense, Chris Davis might be headed to the same short-ish career that befell the other first baseman that started almost as poorly as Smoak has. Tino Martinez is probably the best bat at first base that ever started his career with as many plate appearances featuring worse-than-league-average production.

If you open up the search criteria and include other positions, you get some interesting names that started poorly and went on to long careers. Torii Hunter, Kirby Puckett and All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera all started out with 85 wRC+ numbers or worse over their first 1000 plate appearances, and they ended up being pretty good. But they had the benefit of playing in the outfield, where their gloves could carry their bats through some adjustment pains. Defense-first first basemen don’t get the starter’s share of playing time if they’re having trouble being league average with the bat.

Has Smoak proven that he can’t be a major league first baseman yet? Maybe not, but it’s close. And that’s what his team is trying to communicate through their manager. It’s time for Smoak to be better, or it’s time for Smoak to be out.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Brian McGee
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Brian McGee

It’s been s.u.o.s.o. time for Smoak for a while now. I believe we got past the Smoak-a-motive promo night, so the primary reason for keeping him around at the major league level is arguably gone. It’s like Chris Davis is probably his ceiling at this point. The poor bastard…if only we’d taken Montero for the Lee rental when we had the chance (presuming we really did have that chance), we could’ve avoided the Smoak debacle and maybe even turned Pineda into something other than a fatass, light-hitting career DH with delusions of catching grandeur.

ppabich
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ppabich

Brian “Pessimist” McGee

yosoyfiesta
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yosoyfiesta

Jesus Montero is a ‘light-hitting’ DH? By the time he’s 26, he will have had at the very least one 30 HR season under his belt, and then the real fun will begin. Let him catch if he hits better as a catcher, any effective bat in their line-up should be welcome. Unless you think Olivo and Jaso are such strong catchers that they absolutely must play.

Baltar
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Baltar

There’s a difference between pessimism and realism. Realism looks the same as pessimism to most people because most people are cock-eyed optimists.

ppabich
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ppabich

So it’s not pessimism when someone comes to a conclusion about a player after only 300 PAs? That’s realism?

Ronin
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Ronin

Dude you are talking about Edgar Martinez 2.0 and he can catch! I’m surprised they didnt give up King Felix for him.

Matt
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Matt

FELIX IS OURS AND YOU CAN’T HAVE HIM!! (Trademark Lookoutlanding.com)

Shawn
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Shawn

“I’m not in the mood to trade Felix” – Jack Z

Brian McGee
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Brian McGee

When I was seventeen, I drank some very good beer
I drank some very good beer I purchased with a fake ID
My name was Brian McGee
I stayed up listening to Queen
When I was seventeen

In this case pessimism is just a function of being born into Mariner fan-dom.And the Z-man failing to swindle Cashman (if rumor is to be believed) out of Montero for the Lee rental instead of doing the deal with Texas and as a result, ultimately watching that opportunity go up in a puff of Smoak instead. Then Z-man twists the knife and trades my crush Pineda for the aforementioned likely RH DH/1B, which despite the ramblings of the front office, seems to be their long term idea for him too since they took an arguably near-pro-ready Zunino this year, a guy who by most accounts should be a viable ML catcher now and in the future.

I don’t think Montero is garbage by any means, but nor did I think that was anywhere near the best we could do for Pineda, and to have given Campos and only gotten the FRIGGING TURD Noesi as a throw-in is embarrassing, similar to being an M’s fan in general. I can’t think of Smoak without reliving the whole disaster. I want him to succeed so badly, but now it’s so painful and remote (and a waste of time) that we might as well ship him to the NL for 2 cents on the dollar and watch him blow up already. You might be down on Montero too if you knew that your team’s FO will continually assess his value based on his original prospect hype for the next 6 years regardless of his offensive output, including tailoring the marketing campaign around his magnificent power stroke (see this year’s radio spots, in re: both Smoak and Montero).

The Typical Idiot Fan
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The Lee deal to Texas brought us other things, too. Though Blake Beavan isn’t anybody interesting, we did flip Josh Lueke for John Jaso who has been very productive. Between Beavan and Jaso alone, I think you can justify the deal to the Rangers, especially since we still got Montero in another trade. Though I suppose it depends on how you feel about Beaven and Jaso vs. Montero and McAllister.

Tom
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Tom

Montero + Adams (or someone else)
Smoak + Leuke (or Jaso if you prefer) + Beaven

I like how folks are always quick to bring in the secondary parts of the Smoak deal and assume there would have been none in the potential Montero deal for Lee.

Also you left out that the later Montero deal also cost you Campos (and netted Hector Noesi on his place)… so how one feels about Campos is also a consideration – he’s still a lottey ticket, but not a worthless one.