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July 9, 2013 at 8:57 AM

Perception and reality: Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales

Justin Smoak drills one of his two RBI doubles last night to help the Mariners rout the Boston Red Sox. Smoak is now running a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales. Photo Credit: AP

Justin Smoak drills one of his two RBI doubles last night to help the Mariners rout the Boston Red Sox. Smoak is now running a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales. Photo Credit: AP

Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales are both first basemen for the Mariners who can double as a DH. For much of this season, we’ve heard a debate raging about whether the Mariners should try to sign Morales long-term, to a contract that would range anywhere from $15 million to $20 million per annum.

When it comes to Smoak, as recently as a week or two ago, there has been discussion about whether he fits into Seattle’s future plans.

As of this morning, here are the on-base-plus-slugging percentages of the two players:

Smoak: .788

Morales: .778

This is probably something worth discussing.

Look, I understand the hesitation with Smoak, given that he’s taken roughly three full seasons to get to this point with the Mariners. And if you try hard enough to find stats to knock him down with, you can come up with a few.

One go-to favorite among the anti-Smoak crowd is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is at .331 compared to his career .267 mark. We’ll leave alone the fact that his career was lousy prior to this point, which would tend to make for a severe BABIP jump once he actually got a clue and started hitting. His line drive rate is 22.6 percent compared to 18.2 percent last year and 13.8 percent in 2011, which seems to suggest he’s actually figured something out.

But we’ll leave the BABIP argument alone for now and let it stand. Maybe he is a bit “lucky”.

Or not.

We can make all sorts of arguments that knock Morales down as well.

Let’s say this comes down to a choice between one or the other. And it very well might for a Mariners team that lately doesn’t like to spend a whole lot of money, as opposed to chasing after players with the supposed intent of laying out cash.

So, who do you take?

Morales is 30, Smoak is 26.

While Smoak may have struggled for three seasons, Morales broke his ankle and hasn’t been the same player since before Smoak was even traded to Seattle in July 2010.

Morales has a .336 OBP, while Smoak is at .369.

Defensively, Smoak looks to be the better player and can man the field more without coming up lame.

And, oh yeah, Morales will probably cost at least $15 million next year. Smoak? I dunno, $2 million in arbitration?

I don’t want to make this a Morales-bashing session because I do feel he’s a pretty good mid-order piece. He’s hitting .355 with runners is scoring position, compared to .163 for Smoak — a telling sign that he’s ready for prime time whereas Smoak is still feeling his way. You get that way when you’ve been weaned by a playoff contender in Anaheim as opposed to a cellar-dwellar in Seattle.

Still, those OPS numbers are tough to ignore. Especially when we can pretty much all agree that Smoak doesn’t look like come close to reaching his full potential yet. But we’ll see.

Anyhow, this post isn’t meant to play one guy off against the other. It’s possile the Mariners try to keep both to use as a first baseman and DH going forward.

Morales has a natural swing and is a pure hitter, regardless of his body-type.

But still, I figured it was time to get this debate in Seattle going a bit. Because the reality of what both guys have produced thus far is far too close to call compared to the perception of the two guys: of Morales being a keeper and Smoak a tentative maybe.

Who knows? Maybe it’s the whole familiarity thing with Smoak locally. Some type of “grass being greener elsewhere” psychology that makes an import like Morales sexier than the warts-and-all guy in Smoak we’ve all watched evolve here.

Still, if you removed the names and the RISP part and just showed the ages and baseline numbers of the two guys, I think we’d have much more spirited discussion about who we’d be giving the four-year, $65 million contract to.

Let’s hear your thoughts.

0 Comments | More in analysis | Topics: kendrys morales; justin smoak; OPS; RISP

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