If you're anything like me, this baseball season has been pretty damn rough. The Mariners had a lot of expectations coming into 2015, and they've fallen flat on their faces. There have been innumerable disappointments. So many moments where you've probably yelled at the radio or shaken your head in disgust or dejectedly turned the TV off after yet another 3-1 defeat where the Mariners went 1-9 with RISP. Sometimes it's hard to find good things to focus on, and that is bad because baseball is supposed to be fun. Therefore, we should probably endeavor to (at least occasionally) accentuate the positive. With that in mind, let's talk about Seth Smith.
The Cost of Seth Smith
If you recall, the Mariners traded for Seth Smith back on December 30th, sending Brandon Maurer down to San Diego in a one-for-one swap of players. At the time, this trade was lauded as being beneficial for both clubs; San Diego had approximately 19 outfielders on their roster (after having traded for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton earlier in the off-season) and the Mariners desperately needed to upgrade an outfield offense that had combined for the second lowest wRC+ in all of baseball in 2014 (a measly 84).
As for his cost in terms of his salary, Smith is making $6M in 2015. This is certainly more than the the ~$500K the Mariners would've paid Maurer this season, but the free agent cost of a win this year is estimated to be almost $8M. Seth only has to put up ~0.8 fWAR to be "worth" this price (his current fWAR is exactly twice that value). It's pretty easy to believe that he's been worth this investment so far.
It should probably be pointed out that Brandon Maurer has found a fair amount of success with the Padres. In 36 appearances with the Pads, Maurer has an ERA of 1.86, a FIP of 2.66, and a tidy K/BB ratio of 3.33. He also currently has as many wins as Clayton Kershaw. (Wow! Pitcher wins sure do matter!) While it would definitely be nice to still have Maurer's arm in the Mariners 'pen, I don't even want to imagine the offensive state that the Mariners would be in without Seth Smith in their lineup. By all accounts, the cost for Seth Smith seems pretty reasonable and he appears to be a solid acquisition.
The Offense of Seth Smith
In terms of his bat, Smith has lived up to expectations. The initial belief was that Smith would be platooned with Justin Ruggiano in right field and face predominately right-handed pitching. While some of that plan has definitely fallen to the wayside, Smith has been used almost exclusively against right handers: 218 of his 232 PA in 2015 have come against righties. (It's important to remember this fact when comparing Smith's numbers to other players who don't always have a platoon advantage.) Nonetheless, Smith has been a very good offensive player this season. Also, unlike every other Mariner on this team, he's been incredibly consistent.
Even with a platoon advantage, avoiding slumps and maintaining a wRC+ above 120 throughout each month of the season is no easy task for a professional hitter. The only other Mariner to manage a wRC+ of 90 or more for each month so far in 2015 is Brad Miller. While most M's players scuffled mightily in the month of June (combining for a team wRC+ of 73), Seth Smith just kept on keepin' on. The Mariners have averaged less than 2.7 runs per game in June; that number would definitely be lower if not for Seth Smith.
Smith doing a good offensive thing.
One of the reasons that Smith has been so successful this year is that he's found a way to hit well at Safeco Field. He's actually performing much better at home than he is when the Mariners are on the road.
Admittedly, it's only been 127 PA, but an OPS above 0.800 at Safeco is pretty hard to come by. In fact, among the 68 Mariners players with 120+ plate appearances at Safeco Field, Smith has the second highest wRC+ (13 points behind John Jaso) and the second best slugging percentage (15 points behind Russell the Muscle). This success is largely due to the fact that he's consistently been able to hit the ball hard to all parts of the field.
Smith ranks second on the team in hard hit percentage (just behind LoMo) but also pulls the ball least frequently out of any Mariner hitter. (His pull rate is 32.7%, compared to an MLB average of 39%.) His spray chart shows that while all of his home runs have been to center or right field, he's routinely gone the other way for singles and doubles; 35% of his base hits have gone to the left side of the field.
Seth Smith's bat has been one of the few offensive bright spots for the Mariners in 2015
The Defense of Seth Smith
Smith has never been known for his defense; however, although he occasionally looks a little slow/uncomfortable running around in the outfield, it seems as though he's been pretty okay at defending this season. In fact, UZR actually rates him as being a good defender with an Ultimate Zone Rating of 4.8. Additionally, the Fielding Bible ranks him as being an average defender, with a Defensive Runs Saved score of 0. Smith has only started 44 games in the field this season (19 GS in right and 25 GS in left), so these defensive numbers are only based on ~350 innings of defense (definitely a small sample size), but they do reinforce the idea that, unlike Nelson Cruz, Smith isn't killing the M's with his defense.
Searching mlb.com's highlights for "Seth Smith catch" yielded a fair number of results. Here are a few of Smith's better plays showing that he has a little bit of range and can make some not-so-easy catches in the field.
Smith covers a lot of ground and maintains his concentration as he catches the ball deep in the right field corner.
Not the most majestic play at the wall, but Smith gets to his spot early and times his jump perfectly to rob a home run from Adam Jones.
This ball is slicing away from Smith the whole time but he sticks with it and makes a nice diving grab to steal extra bases from Hardy.
The Future of Seth Smith
Smith will turn 33-years-old this year during the last week of the regular season. He is guaranteed $6.75M in 2016 and also has a team option for $7M in 2017. Assuming that Smith's numbers don't experience a super sharp decline over the next year, he'll likely continue to be a "bargain" at those salaries. He's definitely proven that he doesn't have to be an everyday player to help his team out. I enjoy rooting for Smith and it'd be nice if he was ability to maintain his mobility and stick around for the next few years (the M's certainly don't have a ton of depth in the outfield); however, if nothing else, he probably represents a not bad trade chip moving forward. Trading for Seth Smith this past off-season has definitely helped the Mariners in 2015, and it will likely continue to help them in the coming seasons.