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How should Blue Jays use Smoak, Colabello in October?

kmatheson12
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The Blue Jays have gotten fantastic value on their dollar from Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello at first base this season. With memories of Colabello in left field fully suppressed, the Blue Jays will enter postseason play with some options at the position.

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Smoak has earned the last three starts at first base, bringing his September total to 12, but is coming off some ugly performances. The hulking switch-hitter struck out in all four of his at-bats against the Yankees, his final whiff coming in a high-leverage situation with runners on the corner and less than two out. Those are places where the Blue Jays need a productive ball in play, which hasn’t always been Smoak’s specialty. Smoak totalled seven strikeouts in the series.

He remains the strongest defensive option between the two despite some shaky plays over the past week, which has value both in a starting role and as a late-game defensive replacement. Looking at his splits, Smoak’s greatest value may come as a specialist against left-handed pitching.

Against lefties, Smoak has managed a .908 slugging percentage with four home runs and 10 RBI over a small sample size of 37 plate appearances. Colabello is very strong against left-handed pitching himself, but the defense of Smoak could give him the edge here with Colabello remaining on the bench as a premium pinch-hit option against pitchers of either hand.

Looking to Colabello now, who has received just seven starts at first in September, we see a much better offensive option against right-handed pitching. Colabello owns a 2015 slash line of .333 / .377 / .507 with 15 doubles, 8 home runs and 38 RBI against pitchers of the same hand, which, assuming that Colabello can be just steady defensively, should be enough of an advantage over Smoak to make the downgrade in the field still equal a net gain.

Whereas I like Colabello as a pinch-hit option when Smoak starts, I’m not as eager to call upon Smoak from the bench in all late-game situations. In a “home run or die” scenario, sure. But I can already see the steady diet of curveballs he’ll be tempted to swing over the top of.

The more likely game situation to present itself will be one like Smoak faced on Wednesday, where a sacrifice fly or well-placed ground ball could bring in a run. The likelihood of Smoak producing an outcome of zero isn’t ideal, and I’d often be tempted to lean on someone like Dioner Navarro or a more contract-frequent hitter.

Look for Colabello to get some increased looks starting against right-handers down the stretch, and as it stands, I consider the ball to be in his court. A strong showing would line him up for those starts come playoff time, leaving him with the lion’s share of playing time and giving the Blue Jays a talented, albeit limited, bench option in Smoak.

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