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The season that was: Justin Smoak

A look at Smoak’s 2019 season

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Back in July of 2016 the Blue Jays signed Justin Smoak to a 2-year (plus an option for 2019), that guaranteed him $8.5 million and had an option for $6 million, which would go up to $8 million if he had 1,100 PA over the first two seasons (he did).

Reaction to the deal in the post announcing it was pretty much uniformly negative, which was understandable as Justin was hitting .234/.332/.413 at the time. He’d finish the season hitting .217/.314/.391 with 14 home runs, so we weren’t much happier.

But the Jays saw something in Justin that hadn’t shown up in his stats.

In 2017, Justin hit .270/.355/.529 with 38 home runs. FanGraphs had him at a 3.6 WAR, making him worth $29 million to the Jays that season, making the contract a bargain in its first season.

2018 was a step down, .242/.350/.457 with 25 home runs. FanGraphs had him at a 1.7 WAR.

This year?

Standard Batting
121 500 54 86 16 0 22 61 0 0 79 106 .208 .342 .406 .748 101 6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/8/2019.

Baseball Reference has him at a 0.6 WAR (a drop from 2.3 last year). FanGraphs has him at 0.2 (down from 1.7) giving him a value of $1.5 million to the Blue Jays.

FanGraphs has him at a ..323 wOBA and a 101 wRC+.

Justin walk rate was up (15.8%, up from 14.0) and his strikeout rate was down (21.2%, from 26.3).

Compared to 2018, Justin hit more line drives (20.7% down from 19.9%), had fewer ground balls (36.6% up from 39.5%) and about the same fly balls (42.7, from 42.6%). His fly balls left the park at exactly the same rate (16.7% down from 16.7%).

His hard contact rate was up a lot (42.7%, from 33.8%). Soft contact was about the same (14.2%, from 14.5%).

His BABIP was way down (.223 from .297). He might have been getting unlucky, his hard contact rate was up and yet his BABIP was down. I thought maybe he was pulling the ball into the shift more but his pull rate was 47.9% down from 49.1% last year.

Smoak hit RHP (.202/.347/.436) better than LHP (.220/.331/.341), much the same as he’s been his whole career.

Justin hit slightly better at home (.211/.351/.422) than on the road (.204/.332/.387).

He got on base well with RISP (.221/.404/.372), but didn’t hit with much power. I wonder if teams were pitching around him.

He hit better in the first half (.217/.358/.418) than the second half (.194/.318/.388).

Justin by month:

  • April: .264/.385/.462 with 5 home runs in 25 games.
  • May: .207/.371/.463 with 6 home runs in 26 games.
  • June: ..192/.300/.365 with 3 home runs in 14 games.
  • July: ..183/.348/.380 with 4 home runs in 22 games.
  • August: .217/.341/.377 with 2 home runs in 20 games.
  • September: .143/.236/.327 with 2 home runs in 14 games.

That makes four years in a row that he’s had a crappy September. There was some mention of knee soreness this year, but then that doesn’t explain the last three seasons.

I’m not a fan of UZR for first basemen, I think a lot goes on that UZR doesn’t cover for first basemen, but Justin has a -3.2 UZR/150. He doesn’t have much for range, but he does seem to be good at picking throws out of the dirt. He made 4 errors for a .995 fielding average. He’s a good big target at first base.

As a base runner, FanGraphs has him at a -4.5 runs, that would put them 6th worst in the AL among those with 500 or more PA. You know things are bad when your wife complains about you getting thrown out on the bases on Twitter.

His longest hitting streak was 9 games. Longest on base streak was 19 games. The longest he went without a home run was 19 games. The Jays were 49-69 in games he started.

His favorite team to face? Well, he hit 3 home runs in 3 games against the Padres for a .273/.385/1.091 line. He hit .294/.409/.647 in 5 games vs. the Rangers.

Least favorite? He had a tough time against the Yankees, .095/.191/.167 in 12 games.

In games Smoak started he hit:

  • 2nd 6 times.
  • 3rd 35 times.
  • 4th 33 times.
  • 5th 19 times.
  • 6th 23 times.
  • 7th 2 times.

We’ve come a long way from the daily fight about who should be playing first Smoak or Colabello (who apparently played in the independent leagues again this year, and would like to play for Italy in the Olympics next year, should they qualify. There is some great about a guy who is just playing for the love of the game).

If that was the end of Justin’s time with the Jays, I’m going to miss him. I’m curious to see what happens this winter. Generally I’d say that a guy who hit 22 home runs wouldn’t have troubles finding a job the next season but then everyone hit 22 home runs this year.

He seems to be a ‘good guy’ and that might help his job search, but then he has a young family. I wonder if he will decide to just retire if the right offer doesn’t come up. He turns 33 in December. I guess young to retire but then he doesn’t seem like the sort that would hang around just to hang around. He seems like he would be happy just being dad.

But then it sounds like he was dealing with knee soreness for the second half of the season. Maybe he’d like to prove that he is a better player than he showed this year. On a rebuilding team, with young guys who he could help along, maybe he would be a good fit. Or a team hoping that he could hit like it was 2017 or 2018.

It was really nice to see how the fans cheered him on his last game. He wasn’t always so well liked, so it was nice to see some love for him.

Justin’s place on the Jays all-time lists:

  • Home runs: 14th, 117 (2 behind Shawn Green)
  • OB%: 19th, .338
  • Slugging: 16th, .459
  • Games played: 31st, 684 (9 games back of Kevin Pillar).
  • Walks: 17th, 304
  • bWAR position players: 43, 7.1 (.2 behind Eric Hinske


Grade Smoak’s 2019 season

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    (13 votes)
  • 6%
    (17 votes)
  • 11%
    (33 votes)
  • 21%
    (59 votes)
  • 21%
    (59 votes)
  • 14%
    (41 votes)
  • 8%
    (23 votes)
  • 5%
    (16 votes)
  • 1%
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    (4 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now

His last game: