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The season that was: Justin Smoak

A look at Justin Smoak's 2015 season.

Experiments with detachable bats didn't seem to help him.
Experiments with detachable bats didn't seem to help him.
Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays picked up Justin Smoak off waivers from the Mariners, back last October. I think I can safely say that we weren't thrilled, but we held out a bit of hope that he would hit some better in Rogers than in Safeco.

MjwW wrote a couple of posts looking at what we could hope for from Smoak (part one and part two) and ended the second one with this:

This to me is what makes Smoak really interesting to me: he's a low cost reclamation project whose skills are almost ideally suited to Rogers Centre, with a solid base 2015 projection who hasn't got the most out of his existing skills.

But then, before the virtual ink dried on his posts, the Jays non-tendered Smoak. But, before I could feel too bad for MjwW (can we buy him a real name?), the Jays signed him to a 1-year. $1 million contract (seems like a far more reasonable amount of money than say $3.9 million, just to pick a hypothetical number out of the air).

Year   Age   G  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2015    28 132 296 44 67 16  1 18  59  0  0 29 86 .226 .299 .470 .768  108

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Baseball Reference had him at a 1.3 WAR. FanGraphs didn't like him as much, putting him at a 0.6 WAR,giving him a value of $4.9 million to the Jays.

He didn't play much in the playoffs. He was 0 for 8 with 3 strikeouts.

Justin had a .331 wOBA and a 107 wRC+.

Compared to 2014, Smoak walked about the same amount (8.8% from 8.7) and struck out a little more (26.2% up from 23.9). Compared to Colabello he walked a little more (Chris was 6.1%) and struck out a tiny bit more (Chris was 25.7%).

Compared to 2014 Smoak hit more line drives (23.7% up from 18.5), about the same number of ground balls (42.7% up from 42.4) and fewer fly balls (33.6% from 39.1). Colabello hit a few more line drives (25.2%, a bit above Smoaks 23.7). Smoak had a lot more of his fly balls leave the park (25.4% up from 9.7, thank you Rogers Centre).

Smoak's BABIP was .254, right about his career mark of .259.

Justin hit LHP (.256/.275/.564) better than RHP (.222/.302/.455), a switch from his career numbers.It is mostly a small sample size issue, he only had 40 plate appearances against lefties.

I don't think it will surprise you, but he was much better at home (.256/.326/494 with 8 home runs) than on the road (.193/.269/.443 with 10 home runs).

He hit very well .303/.372/.658 with RISP. Makes you wish he had RISP every time up.

He was better in the first half (.256/.333/.492) than the second half  (.211/.271/.452) of the season.

Smoak by month:

  • April: .229/.372/.429 with 2 home runs in 35 at bats.
  • May: .310/.333/.448 with 1 home run in 29 at bats.
  • June: .213/.275/.468 with 2 home runs in 47 at bats.
  • July: .191/.283/.468 with 4 home runs in 47 at bats.
  • August: .203/.243/.435 with 4 home runs in 69 at bats.
  • Sept/Oct: .246/.325/.536 with 5 home runs in 69 at bats.

Defensively, as much as I don't think UZR is of much value for first basemen, Smoak had a 4.6 UZR/150, which seems to match what I thought of him, a pretty good glove at first base. He made 4 errors, giving him a .994 fielding average, right at the league average.

Of the guys that we had playing first base, I felt that Smoak was easily the best the best with the glove, but I'm not one that puts a great deal of value on defense at first.

FanGraphs has him as being 3.7 runs worse than the average base runner. He's not exactly fast.

His longest hitting streak was a big 3 games. Longest on base streak was 6 games. The longest he went without a home run was 14 games.

His favorite team to hit against? He hit .417/.462/1.042 in 13 games against the Red Sox. He wins points with me for hitting the Red Sox so well. Least favorite? He hit just .154/.154/.154 in 5 games against the Mariners. Not exactly punishing the team that let him go.

The $3.9 million that the Jays have given him for 2016 really surprised me. Perhaps his season wasn't as bad as I thought (I was surprised that he had a positive WAR on both BR and FG), but I don't see why you would give him that much. Were we bidding against someone?

I guess we aren't getting Chris Davis, so the team does have some decisions to make at first base. A lot of it hinges around whether the team thinks Colabello's 2015 season was a one off, or if he can repeat it.

I did have some disagreements about how Gibby used him. It seems Smoak would have a good game, and then sit for a few days. He hit 2 home runs, on Canada Day, and then didn't start for 4 days. Then he hits another home run and doesn't start for another 4 days. It seemed like when he was hot, he could have been used a bit more. I guess it wouldn't make much difference, but i though Gibby could have gone with the hot hand a little more.

When we picked him up, I did think that we could live with a lesser bat at first base since we looked to have a pretty great offense. And, well, since we lapped the league in scoring, we clearly could live with it.  What you think of him depends on what you think is the value of having a good glove at first base.

If his job is going to be defensive replacement, he's really really overpaid.

He turns 29 on Saturday (Justin, I'm likely to forget, so let me say happy birthday a bit early). He does have a fair bit of power in that bat. He can take a walk. But he strikes out too much and hasn't had any luck with balls in play. I think what you see is what you are going to get.