Don’t give up on Justin Smoak

Jul 30, 2010, 11:03 AM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Dave Cameron

(Editor’s note: Dave Cameron of USS Mariner writes a weekly column for the Brock and Salk blog focusing on baseball from a statistical perspective. Salk will be writing for USS Mariner as well).

There aren’t many fun things to watch about the Mariners right now. They’re 6-20 in July, and even when the offense actually puts a few runs on the board, the pitching lets them down. The roster is full of guys with no future in Seattle, just playing out the string and trying to avoid the ignominy of a 100 loss season. During rebuilding years, though, at least you can get a look at the young kids and take solace in what they may become. On this roster, that’s Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak. And yet, while Saunders is showing improvement across the board, Smoak is struggling in a big way.

After another 0-fer last night, he’s now 2 for his last 36. During the month of July, he’s posted a .156/.181/.233 line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) that is the worst of any hitter in the American League. Lauded for his patient approach, he’s drawn just one walk in 65 plate appearances since coming over in the Cliff Lee trade. There’s no way around it – he’s been terrible.

However, before you jump off the bandwagon and decry the kid a bust, let’s take a look at how a few other prominent sluggers did in their initial exposures to the major leagues.

Paul Konerko, 1997-1998: 247 plate appearances, .214/.275/.326, 17 BB, 42 K.
Troy Glaus, 1998: 182 plate appearances, .218/.280/.291, 15 BB, 51 K.
Lance Berkman, 1999: 106 plate appearances, .237/.321/.387, 12 BB, 21 K.
Justin Morneau, 2003: 115 plate appearances, .226/.287/.377, 9 BB, 30 K.
Adrian Gonzalez, 2004-2005: 206 plate appearances, .229/.272/.401, 12 BB, 43 K.

All five of those guys were heralded prospects who came up and were overmatched in their first trip through the big leagues. Gonzalez and Konerko were bad enough that their organizations gave up on them, only to have to sit and watch them develop into stars after they were traded. For some, stardom is an instant thing. For most, it takes time and patience.

I know that it’s tough to watch Smoak rack up outs every night, and that there’s a natural tendency to only judge players based on what you’ve seen with your own eyes. But don’t give up on the kid. He was a first round pick who breezed through the minors for a reason. He was the Rangers top prospect for a reason. He was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade for a reason. He can hit, and he will. Don’t panic just because he’s not hitting right now.

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