According to Baseball Reference WAR, Justin Smoak has been the worst player on the Mariners (Fangraphs WAR has it a tie between Smoak and recently benched Chone Figgins). Of course, Justin Smoak was the key piece in the Cliff Lee trade to Texas. Smoak has responded by being a colossal disappointment, and you can count the position players in the Majors with a worse WAR on one hand (amazingly Albert Pujols is one of them. It is less surprising that Xavier Nady is on this list). So what is wrong with Smoak?
The amount of times he is walking has been tremendously down, as he is walking just 6.8 percent of the time (league average is about 8.3%) as opposed to his career average of 10.9 %. He is seeing less pitches per plate appearance, at 3.85, versus his usual 3.92. As much excuses as there was made for Smoak’s 2011, it has been his best year in his short career with a .719 OPS (.758 “neutralized”, meaning in a neutral run environment).
In May this year, Smoak has a laughable .136 BABIP to go with his .282 OPS. Obviously, the simple idea of regression to the mean teaches us that Smoak is due for some kind of bounce back, and he won’t hit this way forever. However, when someone’s statistics are that bad, it is easy to assert that he isn’t hitting the ball very well. So lets look at some spray charts:
Here is Smoak’s best month in the Majors according to BABIP, April 2011:
Here is Smoak so far this year:
The amount of times he is weakly hitting the ball to 2nd is striking. Hitting the ball to 2nd is probably not the way to elevate your run production. Last April, when he went to left field, the ball traveled further. You can see all the shallow outs he has made to that side in 2012. He is also suffering from a low BABIP on balls hit to center field at just .167. In April last year it was .538. So even though you can see the different locations in center, there is certainly luck playing into this. Overall BABIP was certainly a factor in Smoak’s April last year, with a .321 versus his career BABIP of .257 (league average is around .300). So April of 2011 is not who Smoak is, although it is probably safe to say that his 2012 start is not who he really is either.
Smoak has a career 1004 plate appearances and has a wOBA of .299 (.300 is considered poor, .290 is “awful:), .369 SLG, and .149 ISO. To further add to the pain, he has posted mainly negative defensive ratings over the past two years and plays the position that the most offense is expected. I have heard Justin Smoak called a AAA player, but that idea is really absurd. He only has 108 career AAA games, all in the hitter friendly PCL. In that time, his OPS is just .794. For comparison, 79 players with at least 33 at-bats in the PCL this year have a higher OPS. This includes Mariner minor leaguers Luis Antonio Jimenez, Guillermo Quiroz, and Carlos Triunfel. At some point, people are going to give up and declare that Justin Smoak just isn’t very good. Perhaps it was time to say that a long time ago.