Thursday, August 3, 2017

The 2017 Smoakshow: What the hell just happened?

When the Jays acquired Justin Smoak off waivers from the Seattle Mariners after the 2014 season and signed him for $1 million, it seemed like a smart bit of business. At 28 years old, Smoak was a former top prospect who hadn’t been able to put things together on a consistent basis, but had shown enough flashes that there was reason to believe a breakout could be on the way. 

Unfortunately, the Jays got more of the same inconsistency over the next two years before, to the surprise of many, signing him to a two-year extension. While the total money committed was low enough to negate some risk, there were reasons to be leery of the deal, and those reasons came to the forefront as Smoak’s numbers collapsed immediately after signing the extension. 

So, of course, as Jays fans are so adept at doing, we spent the offseason fretting about what to do with Smoak. Platoon him with someone? See if another team is dumb enough to take him? Just cut him to free up a roster spot? There were a lot of options, but the Jays went with the least satisfying one: Keep him and give him regular, every day playing time.


And then… well… what's the opposite of "ugh"? Because that's what happened. Out of nowhere, Justin Smoak has become among the absolute best hitters in the league. He's an All-Star on a bargain of a contract.

I’m nowhere close to smart or knowledgeable enough to get into just how this all happened, but here are some Fun Facts about the Smoak breakout we all totally secretly knew was coming: 

Fun Fact #1 
Smoak’s 156 wRC+ puts him in the upper tier of 1B this year. To be more specific, it puts him at the very top of the upper tier, ahead of Joey Votto (155) and Paul Goldschmidt (153). Yep. Justin Smoak has been the best hitting1B in baseball.

Fun Fact #2
It’s August. Personally, I don’t find this fact all that interesting in and of itself. But when you consider all the projecting and pondering we’ve done over whether or not his numbers were sustainable and how long it would take for him to turn into a pumpkin, it’s amazing that he’s maintained it for four full months now. 

Fun Fact #2.5 
“Maintained it” isn’t really accurate, so I should clarify: he’s getting better.
Justin Smoak's wRC+ by Month 

On May 10, he had five HR with a 92 wRC+ in 117 plate appearances. In 300 plate appearances since then, he has 26 HR and his wRC+ is 181. 

Fun Fact #3  Smoak has been worth 3.5 fWAR so far this year. That’s 8th in the AL and 17th in all of baseball. 

Fun Fact #3.5
Based on Fangraphs’s free agent valuation, that 3.5 fWAR has been worth an expected $28.3 million. That’s $20 million more than the entire amount of money he’s guaranteed on a contract we all thought ranged somewhere from “Meh” to “Vernon Wells 2.0!” Even better? He has another year of control on top of that guarantee in the form of a team option for just $6 million (and potentially as high as $8 million, depending on his playing time this year and next).

Fun Fact #4
Smoak’s 31 HR have him on pace for 47, which would tie George Bell’s 1987 season for the second most in Blue Jays history.

Fun Fact #5
The 156 wRC+ currently stands as a top-10 Jays season of all time. The rest of the top-10 includes John Olerud’s 1993 season and multiple years from each of Jose Bautista, Carlos Delgado, and Fred Mcgriff. It just nudges out the top seasons by Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bell, Barfield… and everyone else.

With a season this great, there are always a lot of interesting stats and facts available, so feel free to discuss and contribute your own.