Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 7/12/12
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

Padres, MLB issue statements on drone crash at Petco Park

Pro Football Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy dies at 48

Report: NFL modifies injured reserve rule

Report: Cowboys DE facing four game-ban for supplement

Charlie Sheen working on ‘Major League 3’ with original cast

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Odell Beckham Jr. expected at OTAs Thursday after no-show

Kelvin Benjamin looks overweight and slow during drill

Report: Red Sox players feel John Farrell does not back them enough in media

CBS producer calls Tony Romo the next John Madden

Seattle Times writer apologizes to Michael Bennett

Predators fans throw catfish on ice to celebrate Stanley Cup berth

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

Box Score 5/23: Preds, Warriors move on to respective Finals

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Best of Yardbarker: Gregg Popovich doesn't mince words

The 'Happy birthday to two of the NBA's all-time antagonists' quiz

The shortstop evolution continues to raise the ceiling

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

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Best of Yardbarker: Gregg Popovich doesn't mince words

The 'Happy birthday to two of the NBA's all-time antagonists' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker