The Incredible Justin Smoak

The Mariners haven't played an actual baseball game since Friday, but in that game, Justin Smoak went 1-3 with a two-run home run that put the M's in the lead (Ed. note: so you could say the collapse was really all Smoak's fault). That game raised Smoak's season batting line to .286/.400/.527 - good for baseball's 13th-best OBP, 21st-best SLG, and 17th-best OPS. Given that Smoak's spent a lot of his time so far hitting in Safeco Field, those are huge numbers for a 24-year-old who just last season at times appeared rather lost.

Right now, Justin Smoak is the only Mariner hitter with an OPS above .900. He's also the only Mariner hitter with an OPS above .800, and the only Mariner hitter with an OPS above .700. Suffice to say he's been kind of amazing, and the only guy keeping this lineup alive. If the baseball regular season were Sonic the Hedgehog, the Mariners would be underwater, and Justin Smoak would be snatching all the air bubbles.

When looking at Smoak's numbers on the season last night, I got the urge to put them in a historical Mariners context, so I took to the Baseball-Reference Play Index. Given a minimum of 100 trips to the plate, right now 2011 Justin Smoak is posting the 25th-best single-season OPS in franchise history, between Jay Buhner's .926 in 1996 and Ken Phelps' .932 in 1986.

But wait! We can do better than raw OPS. The Mariners' hitting environment has changed, and offensive levels fluctuate over time league-wide. Better that we take a look at OPS+ instead. And when we sort by OPS+, this is what we find:

(1) 185 - Edgar Martinez, 1995

(2) 171 - Ken Griffey Jr., 1993

(3t) 170 - Ken Griffey Jr., 1994

(3t) 170 - Ken Phelps, 1988

(5) 167 - Justin Smoak, 2011

(6) 166 - Edgar Martinez, 1996

(7t) 165 - Ken Griffey Jr., 1997

(7t) 165 - Edgar Martinez, 1997

(9) 164 - Edgar Martinez, 1992

(10) 162 - Alex Rodriguez, 2000

Sorting by OPS+, 2011 Justin Smoak comes out ranking fifth. And, if you consider that OPS+ isn't a stat that carries absolute accuracy and precision, you could say that Justin Smoak has been producing at a clip approximately equal to the second-best offensive season in Seattle Mariners history.

There are no guarantees that Smoak keeps this up. His numbers are up by leaps and bounds from where they were a season ago. His BABIP might be a little inflated. But then, his command of the strike zone is strong, and his power's for real, from both sides of the plate. We'll see where Smoak ends up. But for those of us who've watched him early on and gotten the sense that we're watching something like a young, switch-hitting Edgar - there's a reason for that. Justin Smoak, to date, has been that good.

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