Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Smoak, the most underrated Blue Jay?

It’s not always a bad thing to be forgettable. Not necessarily being the most memorable player can make it easy to slip under someone’s radar and be considered undervalued.

Since every single transaction or discussion about a team’s management is about player value, having a player that is worth considerably more than what they take up on the payroll or on the roster, is seen in a positive light.

Justin Smoak’s 2019 has cemented the 32-year-old as an undervalued player, but an increasingly important one in these offensively-dire days for the Blue Jays.

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Of course this has been known in general to all Jays fans, but Smoak has been even more impressive in this young season. He’s one of the only consistent batters that this team can rely on to provide some offence and has been for the past couple of years, but his current performance is one of the bright spots looking down this lineup.

There isn’t many of them, but Smoak’s steady production can be another reason to tune in for some mediocre Blue Jays baseball. The living antithesis of a flashy player, he will most likely gain interest from people who just love players getting on base.

Among young rookies, Smoak stands as one of the rare veterans on this team and is producing among the league’s elite.

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As of Monday, Smoak’s expected wOBA of .427 sits at 11th among all batters with a minimum of 100 plate appearances. Around such names as Ronald Acuna Jr., Kris Bryant, and Alex Bregman, Smoak sits above them and this hasn’t even been his peak this season.

He might be on a recent streak of success, hitting five home runs in the five games before the series against the Rays started, but his production this season has been that of an all-star.

Hitting .224 but with an OPS of .834 perfectly encapsulates Smoak’s 2019 so far. Not getting any hitting luck, but still able to get enough walks to get on base at a consistent rate.

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His slugging percentage has just been unfortunate before the recent hot streak, but that was unearned. His expected slugging percentage of .585 is 13th among all batters with at least 100 plate appearances. But because of just circumstances he cannot control, his actual slugging has taken a hit.

The difference between his actual slugging and expected (-.124) is the fourth-highest among batters in the same category. The only players that have been more unlucky for getting those extra-base hits have been Zack Cozart, Jose Martinez, and old friend Kendrys Morales with a massive -.205 difference.

As of late, Smoak has shown that he’s able to hit the ball hard and far, but on his season overall there is still plenty of room to grow closer to his expected rate of extra bases.

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Slugging is certainly not his specialty. The ability to get on base has been his bread and butter for the past couple years and this year has demonstrated how consistent he has been.

Season PA wOBA K% BB%
2015 328 .330 26.2 8.8
2016 341 .309 32.8 11.7
2017 637 .371 20.1 11.5
2018 594 .349 26.3 14.0
2019 206 .352 19.4 17.9

Through his five years in Toronto, there are years where his wOBA is slightly higher, but this year has seen a slight shift into how he’s getting those numbers.

Increasing his walk rate by almost four percentage points is remarkable, especially considering that he’s lowered his strikeout rate dramatically at the same time. With the balls not going far for him, Smoak has been able to keep his wOBA above his average.

Most of this is not new information. The first baseman has been known as a solid contributor at the plate, but with a small shift into how he’s getting his production is interesting.

Whether it’s a change of philosophy or just dealing pitch-by-pitch in this early season, Smoak is keeping his value.

His value might be as a Blue Jay, or might be somewhere else. A free agent after this season, management will most likely start looking for trade partners for the 32-year-old towards the deadline.

At this rate of production, whichever contending team acquiring him will get a considerable amount of value if he keeps this rate up. Every single fan will be stuck looking up potential prospects to acquire while Smoak might just go on a deep playoff run and head to free agency.

While other bats decline, his has stayed steady the past couple years. He won’t be in Toronto for long, but this season has been increasingly interesting when it comes to Smoak.

  • yarpyarp

    Could Smoak be an extension candidate? If no one will pony up a couple of decent lottery tickets at the deadline, I’d consider extending him instead of just giving him away for peanuts.

    Just throwing it out there, but the market for slow slugging 1bs is not exactly gangbusters on either the trade front or the free agent front . His current salary is a bit of a deal, but considering the difficulty these type of players have in getting a good paycheck, he might consider re-upping in Toronto for another year or two at a similar salary. Its not like we have anyone else in the minors banging down the door to take his job.