Earlier this week, the Blue Jays pulled the plug on the Daniel Vogelbach experiment, designating the slugger for assignment after just five plate appearances with the team.
On Friday, Vogelbach was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers, who, in a corresponding roster move, designated our old friend Justin Smoak for assignment.
Brewers DFA Smoak, get Vogelbach, source tells The Athletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) September 3, 2020
This is… a somewhat curious move.
Smoak certainly hasn’t been good in Milwaukee. He’s slashed a .186/.262/.381 line, which is his worst showing at the plate since the 2014 season, the year before he came to Toronto. But that’s still quite a bit better than Vogelbach’s hideous .088/.246/.211 line.
I would assume the play for Milwaukee here is to just grab a younger player in Vogelbach who has the potential to rebound, whereas they probably believe the 33-year-old Smoak is toast.
So, should the Blue Jays bring Smoak home? Could his big, veteran, lefty bat make a difference in the team’s lineup?
Probably not, unfortunately.
The most perplexing part of Smoak’s struggles at the plate this year is his low on-base numbers and his ugly 40-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. When Smoak had his breakout season in 2017, the key for him was being more patient. Even in 2019 when he put up a .208 batting average, Smoak walked enough that he had a respectable .342 on-base percentage.
He’s still hitting the ball hard when he does make contact, as his hard-hit percentage is right around the same this season as it was in 2017 and 2018, but the issue is that he’s whiffing a whole bunch more. He isn’t chasing balls outside the zone that much more, he’s just whiffing on pitches inside the zone. Balls that Smoak would have mashed a few years ago are now going right past him. That would explain the lower walk numbers, as pitchers know they can come right after him now.
I mean, it isn’t like Travis Shaw, who the team basically swapped in for Smoak over the off-season, has been much better. Shaw currently sports a .636 OPS and is routinely swinging through fastballs in the middle of the plate. But the difference is that Shaw was brought in to play third base, so there’s a bit more leeway there.
Hoping that Smoak could return to his 2017 and 2018 production is wishful thinking at this point. And, given the fact that Rowdy Tellez and Vlad Jr. are on the roster, there just isn’t room for a reunion.