Smoak Show: The Most Underrated Hitter of 2017

Take a look at these two stat lines:

Avg OBP SLG HR wRC+ War ESPN % Owned
Player 1 0.304 0.382 0.602 31 158 3.7 88.5
Player 2 0.317 0.365 0.596 24 126 3.9 99.5

Take a guess at who the players are.  Player 2 is yearly NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado while player 1 is Justin Smoak.  Silently, Smoak is having a terrific season while Arenado is putting up his usual top tier numbers.  Just a month ago, Smoak was owned in less than 60% of ESPN fantasy leagues.  What is making Justin Smoak so good this year and why have we not heard more about him?

Smoak’s power is no joke.  He has always showed great power throughout his career.  In a full 2013 season with the Mariners, he hit 20 home runs.  He is striking out at a career low rate at 19.7% which is still high it is lower than is career normal of about 24%.  In addition, he is whiffing at a career low.  He is swinging less at pitches out of the zone, and is making career high contact on pitches in the zone.  A lot of his success has come from facing southpaws.  He is hitting .412 as a right handed batter against left handed pitchers.  Last season he only hit .209 and was actually better as a left handed hitter facing a righty which is not typical for him.  This year his performance against left handed pitchers have made a complete 180 and there is a mechanical reason for it.  What is the most common mechanical adjustment that leads hitters to success? You guessed, leg kicks.  on the left is 2016 and on the right is 2017:

             

In 2016 Smoak used a high leg kick where as this year he does not.  Sometimes players will start using a leg kick to find success, and in Smoak’s case, he abandoned it.

Another interesting note on Smoak is his success with facing off-speed pitches.  Last year he hit just .184 against off speed pitching.  This season, not only is he seeing an increase in off-speed pitches, but he is hitting .288 against them which ranks 10th among batters with at least 100 at bats.  In addition he ranks 6th in number of barreled balls against off-speed pitches.

Justin Smoak is having a great season, and it should continue.  He has made some adjustments that is contributing to his success.  The Blue Jays are having a rough year and are not in the playoff race.  In addition they are watching Bautista and Tulo having the worst years of their careers.  It may not be the best season for Toranto fans, but they can at least enjoy the Smoak show.

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