Love him, or hate him, there is no denying that Justin Smoak is providing the Toronto Blue Jays with a performance worth every penny
The Toronto Blue Jays are riding a hot streak. As mentioned on the most recent episode of the Jays From the Couch Radio podcast, if a team is going to have success, it will need to not only rely on the big stars, but role players will have to step up and contribute. These days, Justin Smoak is that kind of player.
The switch hitting big man is sitting on a slash line of .274/.316/.500 and putting up 120 wRC+. Considering the monumental struggles the Blue Jays have suffered to start the 2017 season, it would be no understatement to say that Smoak has been a pleasant surprise. Among American League first basemen, Smoak sits in 4th place in batting average. He’s 3rd in OPS at .816, tied for 4th in home runs with 7 and tied for 3rd with 23 RBI. Not only is he providing solid production, he is among the best in the AL.
The immediate response to this is that he cannot possibly keep this up over the course of a full season. While that remains to be seen, there are certain aspects of his game that show some encouragement. Take a look at his strike out rate. After striking out a hideous third of the time last season, he is off to a good (it’s a relative term) start this time around. His 20.3% whiff rate is an improvement, to be sure.
The fact that we even have to bring up his whiff rate points to the overall impression of Smoak: “Sure he will hit home runs, but he strikes out too much”. See, folks have been quick to hate on Smoak. Even when he hits home runs from both sides of the plate in one game, people are reticent to get behind the Smoak Train. Maybe if he were less quiet and more of a media darling like Joe Biagini or Marcus Stroman, he would be easier to like. If he were easier to like, maybe fans wouldn’t be so hard on that infamous contract that he signed that guarantees him $8.2M for 2017 and 2018 (plus a $6M option for 2019).
Now, a while ago, we spoke to the Toronto Blue Jays front office about Smoak’s contract and we brought you the final word on the deal. To refresh your memory, the gist of it is as follows: Smoak is basically making $4.125M this year. The Toronto Blue Jays put an approximate value of $9M on a single win. If a player puts up 1 WAR, he would be worth $9M to them. Other teams use different values per win, but the Blue Jays believe that Smoak simply needs to put up just under half a win to be worth his 2017 salary.
The gamble in that thinking is that he very well could not put up a half win season. 2016 saw him put up -0.1 fWAR. However, if Smoak doesn’t quite put up the win total the club hopes he would, Toronto is not losing out on a significant amount of money. While everyday folks can only dream about $4M, in the context of baseball, this is a rather small amount. So, if Smoak fails to live up to half a win, it really isn’t as much of a loss as you would think. To get their value, Toronto’s front office was betting on his work ethic, his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, his solid defense as well as him being a great teammate and clubhouse presence (as stated in the “final word” article linked above).
Of course, this is all moot. As stated, Smoak needs to put up slightly less than half a win to be worth $4.1M. Half a win would put him at $4.5M. Well, heading into play on Monday, Justin Smoak is the proud owner of 0.4 fWAR. He is worth every penny the Blue Jays are paying him.
Checking Fangraphs, you will notice that they list the value of his current contributions at $3M. Based on that, the argument could be made that he is being overpaid by $1.25M. But, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter what Fangraphs says his value is. As widely respected as Fangraphs is, the only thing that matters is what the Toronto Blue Jays say his value is. I once had a real estate agent tell me that a house is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. The same can be said here.
The Toronto Blue Jays have decided that a win is worth $9M to them. In our discussion with the front office, it was explained that all teams place their own value on a win based on a number of factors, including how close they are to competing, etc. That means that Toronto’s value per win could change, but for right now, Justin Smoak is giving them the value they hoped to be paying for.
Love him, or hate him, Justin Smoak is worth every penny the Toronto Blue Jays are paying him. In the grand scheme of things, he is not someone who this team will rely on to carry them to the promised land. However, he is a role player who has stepped up to bring them that much closer to competing this season. His bat has helped bring them into relevance again. That is definitely worth four million dollars.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.