Friday, May 23, 2014

Seth Smith is among the league leaders

Where I live is the northeasternmost city in the United States. That makes this location about as far from San Diego as any other place in the country outside of Hawaii or Alaska. San Diego is also three time zones different from here and usually play their games when I am dreaming of playing golf in my sleep. So forgive me for being surprised that Seth Smith is currently eighth in the Majors in fWAR and rates even higher in rWAR. Seth Smith?
Let me run some of the surprising numbers Seth Smith has put up thus far. His OPS is 1.054. His wRC+ is 195 or 95% better than the average replacement player. His ISO is .277 and his wOBA is currently at .451. Holy smokes! Seth Smith!?
And all that offense has come playing for the Padres in a home park that is akin to hitting in Death Valley. You would think that most of his offensive damage has come on the road. But no, he is killing the ball at home. His OPS at Petco is 1.245. And they talk about Tulowitzki getting signs in Colorado?
Smith, who has been platooned most of his career, even has a .921 OPS against left-handed pitching this year. Never a great defensive player, even his defense is improved this season. How is all of this happening?
Smith had some pretty good years for the Rockies. But that was for the Rockies, joke, joke, Coors Field and all that. His supposed true colors came out after playing for the Oakland A's for two seasons where he put together two seasons while compiling only 2.4 WAR. In fact, has his current rWAR higher this year, right now, than those two years combined and the highest of his career. His previous high was 2.4 for the Rockies in 2009.
Is this some sort of fluke? Is this a guy who is going to sink to his mean for the rest of the season. Maybe not.
The Oakland A's got him for a reason. Those A's and Billy Beane love them some place discipline. Plate discipline does not slump. Unfortunately, Smith did not hit for them and had some difficulty staying healthy. He still managed walk rates of 11.3% and 9.5% in Oakland.
This year, he is at a career high at 14.1% with his walk rate. His O-swing percentage (swinging at pitches out of the strike zone) and his overall swing rates are both at career lows thus far. Meanwhile, his swinging strike rate is at a career low (except for his first year cup of coffee) and his 15.4% strikeout rate is the lowest of his career. That is hard to put in the fluke category. That is a guy with a plan who is covering the plate.
He is batting .338 currently and that is a bit of a fluke, I think. His BABIP of .377 is way over his career norm and his line drive rate is only 17.8%. So he has been a bit lucky. But there is also the fact that he has not hit an infield popup all season. So he is making good contact. And his current career-high home run to fly ball percentage probably won't last either.
Smith pulls most of his ground balls so expect him to see a lot more infield shifts. But his line drives and fly balls are sprayed around in the outfield. I just don't see him finishing above .290 for an average. But I could be wrong.
But he is currently third in baseball in on-base percentage and like I said, plate discipline does not slump. So expect his OBP to stay in the upper .300s, which is terrific. And it seems that the Padres have come up with something very good here in Seth Smith.
One of the biggest surprises is that Smith is hitting left-handed pitching. The sample size is extremely small. And his career numbers against lefties is awful with a .594 OPS. So I don't think his success against them this year will last and he will likely get platooned some or struggle when he does face lefties.
But the thing is that Seth Smith has some skills that were not realized totally in Oakland but are manifesting themselves in San Diego. That makes watching him from here very interesting just as watching his team, the Padres, is interesting. I had no idea he was having this good a season. But I do now and I'll be paying attention!

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