Seattle Mariners’ Justin Smoak: Finally Putting It All Together
On July 9th, 2010, after a disappointing not even half of a season with the Seattle Mariners, Cliff Lee (and Mark Lowe) was dealt to the Texas Rangers in exchange for top Rangers prospect, Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson. At the time, the Mariners were welcoming Justin Smoak with open arms and expected him to be able to take the reins at first base for years to come for the Mariners. However, it has been a roller coaster ride for the Mariners and Smoak the past 4 seasons since acquiring him midway through 2010 but it seems he may be starting to finally put it all together, something Mariners fans can finally be happy about. Let’s examine Smoak’s career as a Mariner.
The Mariners acquired Smoak in 2010 and he played a total of 30 games for them at the major league level. He hit .239 with 5 home runs, 14 RBI, and struggled to get on base with a .287 OBP. It was a small sample size in 2010 for the Mariners to go on, but there were some flashes of a good player.
Only 4 games in AAA in 2011 for Smoak compared to 123 at the major league level and yet again there was some more disappointment and let down from Smoak. He batted .234 with 15 home runs and 55 RBI. When examining some sabermetrics and advanced statistics, you will see that in 2011, one reason Smoak struggled was he had the highest ground ball percentage of his career (43.6%). His home run to fly ball percentage was also the lowest of his career at 10.8% so even though he was hitting fly balls, not a whole lot were carrying. However, a lot of that has to do with the fact Smoak plays at cavernous Safeco Field.
2012 was easily a season to forget for Justin Smoak. He regressed from his sub-par 2011 season to all time lows. In 132 games Smoak managed to bat a measly .217 and had a horrible OBP of .290. He did manage to set career highs in the power department, swatting 19 home runs but drove in fewer runs than 2011 (51 RBI). Despite setting a new career high in homers, Smoak’s 2012 was a total disappointment. He had Mariners fans and MLB fans around the league label Smoak as a bust and did not see a long term, successful future for him. One stat I wish to point out which was also alarming for Smoak is the fact that he hit a career high percentage of infield fly balls (14.6%), which to me suggests, Smoak had a tough time reading pitches, catching up to them, and hitting the pitches he should have hit at a more regular rate. Smoak also had a negative WAR (wins above replacement) at -0.5. 2012 was the worst season of Smoak’s career.
With not much expected from Smoak after a disappointing start to his career in Seattle, combined with the fact his previous season was atrocious, Smoak has started to turn things around and may be putting it together at the age of 27. Smoak has played in 71 games this season but is hitting for a good average at .270 to go along with 9 home runs but only 23 batted in. However, it is the average that is starting to encourage Mariners fans that Smoak may be arriving. He has cut down on his swings outside of the strike zone, but has also made more contact with balls out of the strike zone. His ground ball percentage is at an all time low of 36.5%, and his line drive percentage is at an all time high at 24.3%, which suggests he is finally putting some good swings to the ball, even if they are being recorded for outs. Smoak is also hitting for his highest OPS as a Mariner at .805, and his batting average on balls in play is at his highest in a Mariners uniform at .331. These statistics in which I have highlighted here all can show us some reasons why Smoak is having his best season as a Mariner, despite a dip in power. The power will come once again, but one thing that Mariners fans can be excited for is Smoak is finally hitting the ball at a better rate. There is some reason for optimism here in 2013, but based on how his career with Seattle is gone, we will wait a full season before deciding if he has begun to put it all together. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Justin Smoak.