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Category: first base
August 6, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Rumors of Justin Smoak being ‘done’ were greatly exaggerated

Justin Smoak has spent all season climbing out of a three-week slump that buried his numbers and obscured just how good a season he's truly had. Photo Credit: AP

Justin Smoak has spent all season climbing out of a three-week slump that buried his numbers and obscured just how good a year he’s truly had. Photo Credit: AP

Funny thing happened to Justin Smoak on the last Mariners road trip. Smoak saw his on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) move back up over .800 while his slugging percentage continues to creep up towards the mid-.400 mark.

If the season ended today, Smoak would have a .273 batting average, a .373 on-base percentage, .439 slugging mark and an OPS of .813. Those are perfectly acceptable numbers for a first baseman in today’s game, where home run power is not what it used to be. His weighted on-base average of .359 is just one tick below the .360 posted by Kendrys Morales and good for top-five among AL first basemen with at least 300 plate appearances.

So, if we’re going to discuss possibly paying Morales as much as $14 million to play next year via a qualifying offer, ticking off Smoak’s name under the “good” category should no longer be difficult for some people, even those saying not long ago saying that he’s as good as done and it was time to move on.

As has been well-documented, Smoak put in the work last winter revamping his entire plate approach — most importantly, his pre-at-bat plan and ability to focus on implementing it while in the batter’s box — and carried it through at spring training. So, for the second year in a row, we have a classic example of a revamped off-season regimen producing big gains at spring training and then working in-season. First, it was Michael Saunders in 2012 and now Smoak in 2013.

So, next spring, when the inevitable stories surface about changes made to off-season plans, let’s not be so quick to dismiss them. Sure, some of those plans did not work out: like with Dustin Ackley, Blake Beavan, or Kameron Loe. But there is always a chance they will connect and when they do — as in the case of lifting his career off the scrap heap with Saunders or finally coming into his own with Smoak — they can pay huge dividends for the team.

The difference between Smoak this year, Saunders last year and some of the failed examples I listed above are that Smoak and Saunders clearly dominated at spring training. There were no hiccups along the way. It was evident that big changes had occured. With the other guys, there were stumbles and more of a “let’s see” attitude heading into the season.

Look, this isn’t exact science. And when Smoak stumbled out of the gate the first three weeks of this season, I was very surprised and began wondering as well whether this was it for him.

But since those three weeks ended, he’s hit .300 with a .401 OBP, a .514 slugging mark and an OPS of .915. He’s hit 11 homers during that 257 at-bat span. And that’s with an oblique injury that cost him several weeks being thrown into the mix. Those opening three weeks have taken him the rest of the season to dig out of, but that’s exactly what 2013 has been for Smoak — a three-week slump, followed by an elite-level season so far.

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