What to do about Justin Smoak?

In one of Howard Bender’s most recent Kicking Rocks articles, he identified Justin Smoak as a player experiencing a breakout season. After looking at Smoak’s stats this season, it would be tough to argue that point. If you took a poll of all the Smoak owners out there, I’m willing to bet that 2/3rds would say that Smoak is performing as they expected; if not better. Typically, this is fantastic for fantasy owners. If a player is playing at, or above, your pre-season expectations, you are probably very happy with your selection. With Smoak, though, owners are running into a very difficult situation.

In re-draft leagues, Justin Smoak is not a viable starter at first base. Due to the depth at the position, Smoak likely doesn’t crack the top twelve at first base in most leagues. More than likely, he’s in the 15-20 range. This can present somewhat of a problem for owners; as Smoak seems to be performing well, but not well enough to crack your lineups. If you are starting Smoak, you either waited on first baseman, or your starter went down with an injury (or you drafted Justin Morneau).

Due to Smoak’s tiny sample of stats in the majors, it’s tough to project whether he’s going to get much better as the season progresses. If you wanted to look at one area that could lead to improvement, it’s Smoak’s poor line drive rate this season. Last season, Smoak lashed line drives around the field 23.1% of the time. Despite the solid contact, his BABIP remained extremely low. This season, Smoak has been able to raise his BABIP, but it’s not due to his line drive rate. In fact, Smoak is currently only hitting line drives 11.6% of the time; a far cry from his rookie season. As we all know, his true line drive rate likely lies somewhere in between those numbers; meaning Smoak’s average, and overall line, should improve once he starts squaring the ball up.

Unfortunately, Smoak’s high strikeout rate will put a limit on his batting average; as players with strikeout rates north of 25% don’t normally hit .280. At best, Smoak is probably a .260 hitter, with strong on-base numbers, and average power at first. That makes him a borderline starter in most leagues.

As far as trading goes, unless you are in a keeper league, you probably won’t get all that much for Smoak. First base is a strong position, and owners are probably more likely to play the waiver wire to look for short-term replacements rather than give up something of value for a few weeks of Smoak.

So, what exactly can you do with Justin Smoak?

Unfortunately, not all that much. In re-draft leagues, he’s a borderline starter that will be used in case of emergencies. Due to his age and former prospect status, Smoak owners are probably likely to hold onto him, hoping there’s something more to come. This is one of those rare situations in fantasy sports where a player performs exactly like you expected, but somehow still ends up a disappointment in your mind. That’s not to say you’re an idiot for drafting Smoak (cause he’s on my team too), it just means, like Howard said in his Kicking Rocks article, you probably struck a year too soon.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

10 Responses to “What to do about Justin Smoak?”

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  1. V says:

    Perfectly fine as a late rounder in a 20 teamer though. :shrug:

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  2. Pawtucket Pat says:

    I’ve been using him at Util and have been very pleased with his performance so far this season.

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  3. Nathan says:

    I used Smoak at Util in my redraft league for a few weeks until Hosmer came up. Smoak performed great for a Util spot.

    Then I took a chance on Hosmer and stuck Smoak on my bench since I didn’t want to just waive him. Since Hosmer came up, I got lucky and made the right decision because he’s been much better than Smoak in standard categories over that stretch (even with Smoak’s recent power surge, that has come with a sub 0.200 average).

    With HanRam getting hurt, I had to bite the bullet and finally drop Smoak to pick up a stop-gap SS starter (Bartlett… yuck… but my offense is solid in all categories except steals, and he was the best speed option available at short).

    It kind of stung to drop Smoak after he was so good from the Util slot, but count me as a Hosmer believer, even in small sample sizes… not as a top 12 1B in a redraft, but definitely as a top option for your IF or Util slots.

    Anyway, not much critical analysis from me, but just expressing that in a redraft league, I was happy with what I got from Smoak, despite the fact he might be a curious case.

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  4. Big Jgke says:

    I recently dropped Smoak for Juan Miranda in a deep roto league. His team and park are such bad environments that it seemed he would be unable to produce consistently even when he was ‘on,’ and he’s been off for a while now.

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  5. rotofan says:

    In a shallow draft league where the challenge is to select among all-stars and near all-stars, Smoak is not an option right now.

    But Smoak plays in a real league where there he does have value, and he also holds value in fantasy leagues that come closer to the real league because players are auctioned, not drafted, and the pool of taken players is so deep that there aren’t enough good players to go around. Smoak’s struggles last year and his trade to a weak lineup and tough hitters ballpark (though not so bad for left-handed power) diminished his value heading into this season so an astute fantasy owner may have picked him up on the cheap. For that owner, Smoak has real value. He’d have similar value in deep draft leagues where he was taken late in the draft.

    I don’t have Smoak in my deep auction league — I traded him in the off-season for another player I thought would likely improve in 2011 who was at an even cheaper price and a premium position: Yunel Escobar. And while Escobar has been the better value so far, Smoak is still performing about his cost in our league.

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  6. SF 55 for life says:

    someone dropped smoak in my keeper league the other day. I picked him up and intend on keeping him next year.

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  7. OzzieGuillen says:

    He is a horrible contributor in runs scored. Combine that with a mediocre batting average, no speed, and only 1B eligibility, and Smoak becomes a burden to roster.

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  8. Philly Paul says:

    I had smoak as a keeper last yr. picked him up at the end of horrible 2010 season. He fits my team well in a deep keeper league. I do expect bigger and better from him though. Smoak and Butler are my guilty pleasure players. expecting more power from both of them but still havent seen it.

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  9. philosofool says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    There are not 15 better first basemen. There may be fifteen eligible guys who are better at 1B, but you shouldn’t play those guys at firstbase.

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  10. vancer49 says:

    I’m a big Smoak fan in a 20 team league i have him as my backup 1B and Utility and he fell to me in like the 13th round or so he has been a nice surprise.

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