There is no denying it, the Toronto Blue Jays have been hard to watch at times this season, the team has sunk to 25-44 and have dropped 12 of their last 16 games.
Despite being clouded by an abundance of poor results this season, there have been a few bright spots. There has been the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the bounce back efforts of Marcus Stroman but one moment that has flown under the radar is the consistent brilliance of Justin Smoak.
Since breaking out in 2016, Smoak’s production has been very consistent. He is a player who is going to hit the long ball, earn his fair share of walks and strikeout more than you would like. The 32-year-old slugger has certainly delivered on the first two aspects, with 12 home runs and a .364 on-base percentage while also cutting down on his strikeout numbers.
Through 62 games, Smoak has dropped his strikeout rate to just 18-percent, a career low. So, just how has the veteran slugger been able to slash his strikeout numbers on a team that has been mediocre at best? The answer to that is easy – plate discipline.
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According to Fangraphs, Smoak has only swung at 21.7-percent of pitches outside the zone, another career low for the veteran first baseman. Not chasing pitches outside the zone has allowed Smoak to zero in on pitches inside the zone as he is making contact on 89.5-percent of his swings on pitches inside the zone.
With an increased eye for the ball in the zone, Smoak has been able to put the barrel on a lot of baseballs thrown his way this season. His ground ball rate (32.9%) is just a tad above his 2016 numbers, the same year in which he blasted a career-high 38 home runs. What is very encouraging is that Smoak is currently hitting more hard-hit balls than his breakout 2016 campaign as 45.5-percent of his balls hit in play have registered as hard hits.
While that may seem doubtful considering that Smoak is carrying a less than eye-popping .225 batting average, there are a lot of indicators that this number should rise very soon. Hearing that Smoak has actually been unlucky this season may be a bit of a surprise but when looking at his figures on balls in play, the first basemen is certainly below career norms.
Smoak’s batting average on balls in play is just .232, a far cry from the .297 he posted last season or the .285 from his career year in 2016. Should Smoak catch a break, there is good reason to assume that he will eventually progress closer to career norms and his batting average should rise as a result.
While Smoak’s efforts seem to be wasted on a team that is currently dwelling in the basement, his play could fetch a decent return should the Blue Jays decide to trade him in the near future. Though until then the Blue Jays should just continue to enjoy the ‘Smoak Show’ from their veteran slugger.