Is Justin Smoak quietly slumping at the plate?


Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak has enjoyed a moderate career resurgence through his role on this 2015 roster, with his defensive prowess and power potential fitting in well alongside Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Colabello. Perhaps the low-contact expectations on the offensive side have allowed it to slide by unnoticed, but the hulking Smoak is dragging his feet at the dish since the first of July.

In 95 plate appearances over 32 games since that date, the switch-hitter has put together a triple slash of .193 / .253 / .432. Smoak does have six home runs and 18 RBI over that span, including his grand slam against the Yankees in New York, but a .605 OPS in August further highlights the quiet spell.

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Admittedly, I only came across these numbers myself after Smoak’s line-drive single up the middle on Sunday afternoon left me encouraged with his plate approach. I was surprised to find the numbers sitting at these levels, and part of my initial overestimation lies in the Blue Jays success with Smoak in the lineup.

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Within this same period of July 1st until the present date, the Jays own a 24-9 record when Smoak makes an appearance. On the season, the record is an impressive 61-33. While many of these wins come with Smoak entering the game as Toronto leads to offer a defensive upgrade, some appearances also come in pinch-hit scenarios as the Blue Jays look to slug their way back into the game. This suggests to me that Smoak’s impact on this roster is something greater than his pedestrian offensive numbers would suggest.

His defensive abilities don’t show in his advanced statistics to the extent that I’d expected, but a UZR/150 rating of 8.2 is a start. Not only does Smoak give the defense a boost with his fielding and receiving abilities at first, but he’s shown multiple times over the past week that he possesses the arm talent to start and finish a double play. Especially in a roster with this level of firepower, there’s room for this. Alongside Ryan Goins, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar, the Jays are excelling at run reduction.

Inflated BABIP or not, Chris Colabello is hitting .323 with some big power numbers. He’s begun to lose work to Justin Smoak lately, however, and the emergence of Revere in left field factors into that equation as well. Whereas Colabello may be likelier to add a run on top, perhaps Smoak is even more likely to shave a run off the bottom with his defense?

I’ve gone back-and-forth on whether I should classify this as a slump for Smoak, largely due to his low career numbers. This is, however, something to keep a close eye on throughout August. There certainly is a point where Smoak’s offensive contribution can become too low, especially if a few balls begin to fall short on the warning track. It’s a fine line, and at a competitive position with roster expansions on the horizon, the time is now for Smoak to compliment his hot glove with a stronger bat.

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