The Blue Jays switch-hitting first baseman is finding his power stroke early as the organization is optimistic about his 2016 season
Drawing an inordinate amount of optimism from spring training stats is one of Major League Baseball’s annual traditions.
First baseman Justin Smoak is tossing up some large numbers this spring, and another deep home run off Matt Boyd on Thursday against the Detroit Tigers was his fourth of the month. This particular blast came from the right side.
This isn’t new for Smoak, though, whose career spring training OPS rests near the 1.000 level. After singling later in the game to move his 2016 spring average up to .364 he was replaced by pinch-runner Jason Leblebijian.
In 2015 with the Blue Jays, Smoak posted a .470 slugging percentage that was well above his career average of .392. This allowed him to overcome a 26.2% strikeout rate to hit 18 home runs with 59 RBIs while splitting time with Chris Colabello.
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One worry entering 2016 is that Smoak’s home run rate will regress, something that I link to his very inflated HR/FB% (Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio). For his career, Smoak has averaged a 13.2 % HR/FB. That number would be even lower, but it’s been ballooned by his 25.4% mark from 2015. Unless lightning strikes twice, that is not sustainable.
Smoak’s ISO of .243 is also well above his career average of .168, so unless 2015 was Chapter One of ‘The New Justin Smoak’ (which is certainly possible), it was a simple outlier.
Even on his one-year, $4 million salary, it remains to be seen if Smoak will earn a legitimate platoon timeshare with Colabello at first or return to more of a traditional backup role, as he occupied during the 2015 playoffs.
If Edwin Encarnacion is unable to open the season on the 25-man roster, of course, this leaves both Smoak and Colabello to receive regular playing time (likely with Smoak in the field).