Jays From the Couch brings you a look at what to expect in 2017 from Toronto Blue Jays 1B, Justin Smoak
With Spring Training workouts under way, it is the time of year where we start to get excited about the upcoming season. Baseball is back! In looking ahead, there will be lots of chatter about what we can expect from certain players. To that end, we’ll be taking a look at the different projections for the Toronto Blue Jays to give you an idea of what you can look forward to.
It would appear that the Blue Jays are leaning toward Justin Smoak being their everyday first baseman in 2017. Ross Atkins says that Smoak playing first would be part of an “ideal scenario” for Toronto (along with Steve Pearce playing in LF, which is a whole topic for another piece). This recent statement seems to fall in line with the unwavering love management has with Smoak. Ever since the 30 yr old was signed to a head scratching 2yr/$8.25M deal, many folks have been trying to figure out what it is the club sees in him.
|162 Game Avg.||162||568||56||112||22||21||64||60||136||.223||.308||.392||.700|
We are well aware of the power that Smoak brings to the table. In fact, one could argue that home runs are the sum total of his contributions to said table. But, in 2016, his power took a dip. He put up 4 fewer HR than the previous season, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Consider this (via Fangraphs): his ISO dropped from .243 to .174, SLG from .470 to .391, and his overall production dropped from 108 wRC+ to 90.
What’s more, his flyball rate increased from 33.6% to 42.2%, which might be good if his HR/FB rate didn’t go in the opposite direction: 25.4% to 17.7%. He was hitting the ball a bit harder, with more line drives (27.3%) and using the opposite field more (29.9%). The switch hitter saw almost twice as many games from the left side of the plate, which resulted in more production from there, but not much more in the way of an increased batting average.
Here’s the thing: Justin Smoak will provide his share of home runs. We know that. But, we also know that you’d like to see a few more round trippers from a corner infield spot. 25-30 is more in line with that total. Of course, hitting bombs is not the only thing we’re looking for at first. How about an OPS in the mid .800 range? While not elite, that would certainly be more welcome than a number barely above .700.
Of course, we know the real issue with Smoak taking everyday at bats- the strike outs. He whiffed at a rate of nearly 33% of the time last season. For a club that puts a great deal of stock in analytics, surely they would have noticed that this is less than ideal. For what it’s worth, Smoak is projected to bring that number down in 2017. His average projection there is 27.4%, which one could argue is still far too many wasted at bats.
The other aspect of Smoak’s game that the Blue Jays are in love with is his defense. Despite him putting up -5 DRS in 2016, they seem to think that he is closer to a Gold Glove than many fans realize. If you look at his DRS numbers over all of his major league seasons though, he only has one where he put up a positive value in that metric. In 2015, he put up 4 DRS. So, for the critical among us, it is hard to see why the club has so much confidence in him.
Perhaps, the belief they have in him will be the factor that puts him over the top and allows him to play at a level he has not been able to thus far. Take his own words (from the Shi Davidi piece linked above):
Who knows, maybe comfort and confidence will go a long way in Smoak’s ability to surprise us all. It is not unimaginable. Maybe he can “go out there and prove it”. The club seems to think he can.
Obviously, a lot can change between now and the start of the 2017 season. But, for right now, the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be leaning heavily on Justin Smoak as their everyday first baseman. If he can surpass the projected numbers above, this team would benefit tremendously. In every successful season, a major league team gets a surprise, breakout performance from an unlikely source. Maybe Smoak is that source. It certainly would seem to be unlikely.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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