Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/16/14
Newyork-yankees-seattle

It might be shape up or ship out time for Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak. Ever since his high-profile arrival from Texas, Smoak has failed to live up to expectations. His manager, Eric Wedge, makes it sound as if the organization is nearing their wits’ end and may make a move:

We’ve been patient, they’ve been addressed, and we’ve come at them in different ways and different fashions. But ultimately, they’re grown men out there and either they’ve got to get it done or they won’t be here.”

Delve into Smoak’s numbers and the picture doesn’t get any rosier. He’s already accrued over 1200 major league plate appearances that we can use to judge him against history, and his numbers don’t suggest a hopeful future.

Of course, as with any Seattle player, his home/road splits come to mind first. Smoak has played 150 games at home and 152 games away. In that near-full-season away from home and in friendlier confines, Smoak has hit .233/.300/.389 for an 89 wRC+. That’s not acceptable for a first baseman. It’s better than his .206/.305/.349 (80 wRC+) at home, but it’s still not first baseman material.

His overall line in his first 1214 PAs — .220/.302/.370 — has been 15% worse than league-average park-adjusted offense. He’s only 25, but even if you stack him up against other first basemen that were younger than 25 and put up 1000+ plate appearances, he doesn’t look good. In fact, Dan Meyer was the only first baseman to fare worse to begin his career since free agency began in 1974. Sure, with Smoak’s fielding added in, he’s been demonstrably better than Meyer, who was recently labeled the third-worst regular of all time.

That’s not very exciting. Certainly not as exciting as the #13 prospect in the nation, which was where Smoak found himself on the Baseball America list after the 2009 season.

Surely we can find some solace in the fact that he was even given that many plate appearances. Surely there are other names that started almost as poorly and went on to have good careers. Surely?

Just behind him on the list (86 wRC+) was Willie Upshaw, who managed almost 16 wins for the Blue Jays in the mid 1980s, and Travis Lee (91 wRC+), who actually seems like a decent comp. Lee was known for his patience and defense, and after his poor start, he rallied to accrue… nine wins bouncing around between the Phillies, Rays and Yankees. In between the two sits Chris Davis (90 wRC+), who is a poor comp — he has power, poor discipline and no glove — but has turned in a decent season for the Orioles so far this year (106 wRC+). Even so, without any patience or defense, Chris Davis might be headed to the same short-ish career that befell the other first baseman that started almost as poorly as Smoak has. Tino Martinez is probably the best bat at first base that ever started his career with as many plate appearances featuring worse-than-league-average production.

If you open up the search criteria and include other positions, you get some interesting names that started poorly and went on to long careers. Torii Hunter, Kirby Puckett and All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera all started out with 85 wRC+ numbers or worse over their first 1000 plate appearances, and they ended up being pretty good. But they had the benefit of playing in the outfield, where their gloves could carry their bats through some adjustment pains. Defense-first first basemen don’t get the starter’s share of playing time if they’re having trouble being league average with the bat.

Has Smoak proven that he can’t be a major league first baseman yet? Maybe not, but it’s close. And that’s what his team is trying to communicate through their manager. It’s time for Smoak to be better, or it’s time for Smoak to be out.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Mayweather beats Pacquiao by unanimous decision

Manny Pacquiao after loss: 'I thought I won the fight'

Did Evan Mathis respond to Chip Kelly's slight with barb?

WATCH: American Pharoah wins Kentucky Derby

Report: Rams trade RB Zac Stacy to Jets

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Falcons draft pick's house burned down during draft

Packers trade up to draft Brett Hundley

Greg Hardy apologizes for joke about 9/11

Mayweather bans Rachel Nichols, Michelle Beadle from covering fight

Five takeaways from Day 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft

Elite recruit Jaylen Brown commits to California

Clippers beat Spurs on Chris Paul shot in Game 7

Jimmy Kimmel's Manny Pacquiao T-shirt goes viral

Big fight packs airport, leaves no room for planes

Pete Carroll discusses Russell Wilson's contract status

Jim Harbaugh not happy Lou Holtz is out at ESPN

Cubs fans want Harry Caray video for seventh inning stretch

Winners and losers from the NFL draft

Brooklyn Decker expecting first child with Andy Roddick

Michigan using other programs' draftees to recruit players?

Texas staffer takes shots at Baylor, Texas A&M during draft

Rob Gronkowski wears awesome suit to Kentucky Derby

WATCH: Bryce Petty reacts to being drafted by the Jets

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Winners and losers from the NFL draft

Report: Zac Stacy traded to Jets

Hardy apologizes for joke about 9/11

Jerry Jones sends letter to Pacquiao

Mayweather bans Beadle, Nichols

WATCH: A-Rod fights back tears

A-Rod hits 660th home run, ties Willie Mays

Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: Celebrities make their picks

Ryan Succop offers to arm-wrestle Marcus Mariota for No. 8

Laila Ali rips Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Peterson wants more money from Vikes

Chip Kelly just doesn’t care about defense

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.