Blue Jays: There shouldn’t be any Smoak doubters left

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 17: Justin Smoak
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 17: Justin Smoak /

As the Blue Jays play out the season’s final month, Justin Smoak continues to be a force in the middle of their lineup, putting a cap on his unexpected All-Star performance in 2017.

As I watched the Blue Jays face off against the Red Sox on Monday night, I shook my head as I saw a few of the stats flash across the screen, lamenting a long and frustrating season as a Blue Jays fan. There have been plenty of struggles and underperformance amongst the veteran roster, and a lot of it was hard to predict. For example, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Aaron Sanchez, would combine for -1.3 WAR. Baseball is weird that way sometimes.

However, as I continued watching the game, there were more numbers caused my head to shake, but this time it wasn’t in disappointment. Despite the fact that I’ve watched nearly every game this season, it still baffles me when I see Justin Smoak‘s slash line and power numbers beside his name. After Monday’s game, his slash line now reads at .283/.362/.565. And after hitting the Blue Jays’ fourth long ball of the game against the Red Sox, he now has 37 home runs and 85 RBI, adding 22 doubles as well.

Scouts always felt that he could hit for power, but after failing to hit 30 home runs in a single season before turning 30, it was hard to picture him having this kind of breakout. In fact, he’s now 3rd all-time among switch-hitters for a single season home run total, trailing just Mickey Mantle and Mark Teixeira in the club.

While I’m obviously impressed with seeing the power numbers he’s put up thus far, I’m even more excited about his batting average and on base percentage. In a season that most fans didn’t want to see him make the roster out of spring training, he’s developed a patient approach at the plate like we’ve never seen from him before.

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In 2016, he hit .217/.314/.391 in 299 at bats, and was often left on the bench in favour of other options. The Blue Jays routinely used Edwin Encarnacion at first base and used the DH creatively, and that was the result of such a poor season from Smoak. In fact, his career high batting average was .238 back in 2013, when he was also posted his best OBP of .334. I never would have dreamed that he’d hit .283 over the course of a full season, especially in one that he was playing almost every game.

I know several writers around baseball have written their apologies to Smoak a long time ago, and I did the same several months ago. I was a late believer, and even after conceding that he was finally an asset (sometime around the All-Star break, I told you I was late), I still expected him to regress a bit at some point. His numbers did take a dip in August (down to .240/.307/.484), but it wasn’t as if he bottomed out or anything, and he still had six home runs and seven doubles in a month that the Jays badly struggled.

*Note- This table has not been updated yet to include Monday’s performance.

One of the best bargains in baseball this year is still under contract for 2018 for 4.125 million, with a no-brainer club option for 6 million in 2019. While he probably deserves to be rewarded for his performance this offseason, I would expect the front office to use their resources on the necessary upgrades to give them an improved shot in 2018. That’s the right thing to do for now as well, but don’t be surprised if they open up extension talks at some point next year either, especially if he keeps raking at the plate.

Now that he’s done it for an entire season, I have every reason to believe that he’ll do just that. At the current age of 30, he’s arguably still in the prime of his career, and the once criticized extension in 2016, now looks absolutely brilliant. For a guy who looked like he might get cut during the spring, and even struggle to find another big league job, he’s sure proven a lot of doubters wrong in 2017, including yours truly.

Next: Jays' downfall in 2017 was inability to close out games

This is a Justin I can now belieb in (see what I did there? Sorry.. I’m almost done here), and after a consistently great year there shouldn’t be many, if any, doubters remaining.