Between May 10th and June 4th of this year, Justin Smoak was the all-star caliber first baseman that every baseball fan dreams their team will uncover. During this incredible hot streak, Smoak put up a batting line of .326/.389/.593, hit 7 HRs and drove in 19 RBIs. I'm sure any Mariners fan would be happy with the projected 162-game stats of 51 HRs and 140 RBIs. If Smoak could hit consistently like he did during this 25 day stretch, then his future in the Majors would no longer be in doubt. And really with those numbers, NO part of his baseball future would be in doubt. He'd walk right in to Cooperstown and be granted his own wing. He would be given some nickname 100 times better than, "The Freak from Goose Creek" and would be remembered for generations. But a 22 game hot streak is nothing close a full season, and is even further from a 10-year period of extended success.
I know I'm not the first to write about Smoak's struggles in 2012, and I'm sure I won't be the last. But I feel that his statistics may be approaching another local minimum, and I want to add my own two cents before Justin (hopefully) breaks out of his most recent funk.
By the way, have you seen Smoaky's batting line in the 17 games since his hot streak mentioned above? It's .125/.197/.172...
But what unique perspective do I have to add to this discussion? Well, let's take a look.
Justin Smoak looks like the kind of baseball player that you'd expect to have solid gap power. He's 6'4", solidly built, and moves around the field in manner that can only be described as "lumbering." In some ways, his 2012 statistics also reinforce our "Justin Smoak is a Powerful Man" hypothesis. For one, he is leading the Seattle Mariners in home runs with 11. And for two, he has hit approximately 131 fly balls to the Safeco Field warning track in this year alone. So, let's just be safe and say that Justin has hit approximately 45 Yankee Stadium home runs this year. That's pretty good!
Now at this point, some of you nay-sayers out there might see where I'm taking this discussion based on the title of my post, and might try to get all up in my business and tell me that perhaps Smoaky's lack of speed has caused his lack of doubles this year. "Ok," I would reply calmly, "but historically there have been plenty of guys with little to no speed who made a living hitting doubles in the MLB." One of the most successful did this right here in Seattle. Do you guys remember watching Edgar Martinez run to first base? He made me want to throw a small but classy celebration party each time completed the journey successfully. I would probably even bring some of that El Zacatecano stuff that he's always pushing on the radio nowadays. Anyways, in 1996 our slow friend Edgar Martinez hit a double every 9.6 at bats. That's a really impressive number. That would be good enough for second best in the Majors so far this year. And remember, he moved like molasses...that were frozen....and held down by a boulder.
The only player ahead of Edgar in this category this year would be Cincinnati First Baseman Joey Votto, who is also currently leading the MLB with a 1.126 OPS. In 2012, Little Joey has crushed a double every 8.3 at bats! That's insane. He is on pace for more than 60 doubles on the season! He has been figuratively and (possibly literally) murdering opposing pitchers all year long, and his primary weapon of choice has been the double.
So, let's get back to Mr. Smoak. I'm sure that anyone out there who has watched a majority of M's games (I'm so so sorry) has noticed how Justin never seems to hit two-baggers, but I'm also sure that almost none of you have analyzed this specific phenomenon as much as I have. Smoak hit his first double of the season to deep right field in a baseball game on April 11 against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. This 6'4" powerhouse didn't hit another double until he hit a ground ball down the left field line on May 14 against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. His third and most recent double of the season came during that historical 21-run night in Texas on May 30. This one was also on the ground down the left field line.
Just let that sink in. In 2012, Justin Smoak has hit at a MLB worst rate of 86.7 at-bats per double. Smoak has played in 68 games so far this season, and he has 3 doubles. And only ONE of these doubles was hit in the air into a gap.
Could this be a statistical anomaly, you ask? It could. But it's a pretty significant one, to be sure. Last year, this same Smoaky fellow hit 24 doubles in 427 at bats. That's a rate of 17.8 at bats per double.
The 2012 league average among qualified batters this year is 21.2 at bats per double. Ichiro has more HRs than Smoaky has doubles. 38 year-old, tiny, stretchy Ichiro. And have you ever seen Dodger's Shortstop Dee Gordon? He's listed as 5'11", 150 pounds. But I wouldn't be surprised if he was holding a few Leo Tolstoy books under his t-shirt on weigh-in day. Mr. Gordon has hit doubles every 38.7 at bats this year. Not that bad, and you can't expect much more from someone who's closest doppleganger in the world is that stick figure you drew on a notepad in church as a kid.
Only 8 of the 165 qualified players have a doubles rate higher than 40 at bats per double. 8!!! And Justin Smoak just goes out and halves that rate!!
So what's causing this lack of doubles? I don't know. Maybe his all-or-nothing kind of swing doesn't allow for any room between singles and HRs? Maybe he was cursed by some kind of vampire-witch-beast?
I just know that doubles are an important part of offense in baseball. Surely, Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager would be the same moderately-inspiring success stories if all of their doubles had been singles.
All year, I have been rooting harder for Justin Smoak than for anyone else on the M's. I've cheered so intensely because I genuinely like the guy, and we've all witnessed flashes of the kind of greatness that warranted the trade of a former Cy Young Award winner in Cliff Lee. But I also have been rooting for Smoaky because I feel like he's the closest to falling out of the Mariners' plans for the future. He's already had 1170 plate appearances in a MLB uniform, and I'm not sure if he's any closer to being a star than he was when he first debuted for the Rangers in 2010. We can only watch and wait....and hope.