One is tempted, after learning that a player has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, to discount whatever value that player has provided on the field before positive test. There’s an asterisk applied. An unspoken caveat. A bit of a good old-fashioned “well, actually.”
Facing Kyle Kendrick isn’t exactly the same thing as using PEDs. Kendrick certainly has a habit of enhancing the performances of opposition batters, but the players who hit against Kyle Kendrick aren’t technically cheating. They’re not doing anything insidious, not violating some sort of rule, written or unwritten. They’ve simply had their names penciled into the lineup on the same day that Kendrick has been asked to start for his club. No need for an asterisk. A mental note, perhaps. But bad pitching is a part of the game. In some form, there will always be a Kyle Kendrick.
Seth Smith happened to be in the lineup when Kendrick started against Baltimore on Thursday. Perhaps it’s not accurate to say that he “happened” to be in the lineup. He’s the team’s usual leadoff man against right-handed pitchers, and Kendrick does indeed throw with his right hand. So there Smith was, doing the job that the Orioles have asked him to do. He’s not a typical leadoff man, in that he’s not a speedster. But he gets on base, and that’s what matters in the quest to set up Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
Suffice to say, Smith did his job on Thursday night.
Smith went 4-for-4 with a walk and scored two runs as Baltimore walloped Boston 8-3. Kendrick went just four innings. He allowed six runs, including a moonshot by Machado. He was, in essence, Kyle Kendrick. But that simple fact, that very essential and intrinsic fact of baseball, helped Smith morph into a fearsome, exasperating monster of a player for the duration of the game. Smith entered the game hitting .222. He exited hitting .286.
There was no big, ringing hit from Smith. The closest thing to it was an opposite-field double that brought two runs home. But it was how his hits happened that made this night special. Because the things did on Thursday made him appear awfully similar to Mike Trout, who just so happens to be the best player in the game.
Smith’s first hit was a dribbling infield single that he just beat out.
He’s not exactly known for his speed, of course. His last stolen base had come in 2014 with the Padres, and it was the only one he stole all year. He didn’t steal a single bag in 2013, and had just two in 2012. This will be important later. The second hit was a ringing liner up the middle, and then the aforementioned oppo double. One might expect someone like Smith, who hits right-handed pitchers so well, to do his damage against someone like Kendrick by pulling the ball hard and driving it towards the right-field wall. Yet Smith did no such thing. In fact, he didn’t pull the ball until Kendrick had already left the game.
So who else has the sort of power a pitcher has to respect, but also the ability to spray the ball all over the place and the speed to beat out infield hits? Mike Trout, of course! Trout may hit from the right side of the plate, but Smith’s performance was undoubtedly Troutian. Still not convinced?
In the third inning, Smith stole a base. He had a bit of help, but it went into the books as a steal.
The base he stole was home plate.
Smith served as the back end of a double steal. For the first time since 2014, he was credited with a swiped bag.
He was on base all five time he came to the plate and created more than a little havoc. He may not have had the huge dinger, but Smith made life hell for Boston’s pitchers. Mostly for Kendrick. Smith theoretically could have pulled this off with another pitcher on the mound. It’s baseball, and stranger things have happened. This very well could have happened with, oh, Rick Porcello on the mound. Kendrick being out there ever so slightly heightened the chances of Seth Smith turning into an all-fields hitter with afterburners attached to his ankles.
Flukes like this make baseball a wonderful game. They’re made possible by the very fabric and governing properties of matter of the game. They’re made possible by, among others, Kyle Kendrick.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.