So how did this South Carolinian, who had never hit more than 20 homers in any season in his 10-year minors-and-major league career, bash 20 with this season not at the halfway point? And how long should the Toronto Blue Jays, who spent the first two months absolutely floundering, thank their lucky stars that Smoak has consistently smoked ‘em out of the park since the season opened? Currently he sits tied for second in the long ball behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge.
Smoak may be a late bloomer, but he was an early, first pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2008 draft (11th overall) and got himself a 3.5 million signing bonus after a stellar college career with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Looking at his stats, this June 22nd, as compared to other first basemen, he shouldn’t make the team as popularity invariably determines those selected. And his 20 homers, good for 3rd place among 1st basemen, have been equaled by 2 others. But a manager could add him to the All-Star roster. However, while he’s batting the heck out of the ball, he’s 9th in RBI’s at 47 – though he has had fewer at bats than 13 others...
But as regards all positions on the Blue Jays the 30 year-old heads and tails above every teammate in homers and RBI’s. Second best Kendry Morales is 5 homers behind and 5 ribbies back. As important, Smoak is a genuine switch hitter with near equal abilities from both sides of the plate. (He’s even hit homers from either side in the same game for the Jays appropriately back on Canada Day July 1, 2015 - against Boston.)
Get this, after Toronto Blue Jay fans invade Seattle to watch their beloved team – to the disgust and disappointment of Mariners’ management – who’ve responded by despicably hiking up ticket prices exorbitantly when the Jays come to play – the latter took Smoak on waivers from the Mariners. Way to go Seattle: you did save a measly $150,000 in not buying out his contract. In taking a chance on Smoak, the Blue Jays look prescient, almost as much as they did when they got Bautista from the Pirates for now forgotten and long gone, catcher Robinzon Diaz, in one of the most lopsided trades in recent history.
Justin’s average has soared from 2016. That year he hit .217; this year, try .303 after 70 games.
Smoak’s hot. If he keeps his heroics up, he could hit 100 runs batted with 42 homers at the end of the day. Moreover he’s cut down on the wasted-at-bat strikeouts. Instead of whiffing every 3rd time at bat, he’s hitting air every 5th time. It’s a something.
And for us folks that love the esoteric statistics baseball is infamous and famous for, get a gander at how Smoak’s 2017 numbers have improved markedly from his 2016 and 2015 ones in eye-glazing mind numbing categories such as, sitting down for this – here goes: WAR; BABIP; xBA; BB%; BB/K; wOBA on BIP; HR/FB%; xwOBA on BIP; wOBA; xwOBA – with anything containing an x needing us pointy heads to know the ball’s velocity after being smacked with its launch angle... And get this - his wRC + is tops among first basemen! How is this computed? Simply take (wRAA/PA + LgR/PA) + (LgR/PA – (Park Factor x LgR/PA)) over (AL or NL wRC/PA EXCLUDING PITCHERS and times the whole mathematical mélange by 100.
Got that? Me neither. Anyway, enough of this nerd wrestling with numbers.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Put simply, is Justin a jerk or a gentleman? Is he “good in the clubhouse” or a complete pain in the ass? This is certain: he’s been troubled because, until this breakout season, he carried the burden of awesome potential with ho-hum results. Last season he slumped. If he didn’t aggravate his fellow Blue Jays with bitching, he must have puzzled them, trying to change his swing fundamentals with every downturn. That’s a recipe for a lousy product. So coming into this year, there were hopes, but no guarantees he’d be “the guy” at first. This year, given his consistent and continued successes teammates have been spared any steaming and fuming he’d have after lousy at bats. That’s good for the clubhouse atmosphere...And an unnamed Blue Jays source says the team values his great work ethic and his being a great teammate.
Undoubtedly Smoak’s successes this season are due to ample ability and lotsa attitude, a little bit of luck, with heavy dollops of perseverance and patience thrown in – with the latter especially coming into, no pun intended, play - when he’s down 2 strikes. Last year he’s strike out 60% in that count – this year, just 35%. Credit, too, must be given to hitting coach, Brook Jacoby, who has worked with Justin to cut out the “loose” parts of his swing. Brook can swagger a bit: under his tutelage in 2015 he saw the heavenly heavy hitting Jays score 891 runs tops in Major League Baseball. The Yankees came second with 127 fewer runs.
Finally Smoak’s gotta be feeling some good old-fashioned trepidation as - if he doesn’t produce and show he’s deserving of the 2016 contract, a 2 year deal valued at 8.25 million – well, Rowdy Tellez a dandy first baseman prospect for the Jays, currently in the minors with the Buffalo Bisons, is itching to take his place...
So the heat’s on for Smoak to continue to smoke. And that smoke's being noticed. He's currently 4th among American League 1st basemen on the all-star ballot