Know Your Splits: Justin Smoak on Fire

Dave Reginek

Kevin Boger examines Justin Smoak's 2013 splits to find hidden value in the Mariners post-hype first baseman.

For the most part, splits are a Head-to-Head (H2H) man’s game. IMO. This due to the fact that H2H condenses a season into a seven-day period. In H2H, each AB can be critical in winning or losing a matchup. Therefore. You want to put your team in the best position to succeed each day and understanding a player's splits (home/road, LHP/RHP, first half/second half, etc.) can be a great way to do that. Even better. Knowing a player's splits can sometimes get you top $$$ production at almost no cost. Enter Justin Smoak.

I'm sure you are aware of just how disappointing Justin Smoak's career has been to this point. It's been well documented on sites that document such things. It's probably even been mentioned on more than one occasion on Fake Teams too. Early draft pick. Acquired from Texas for Cliff Lee. Yada x3. He's been a bust. There's no other way to say it. "Bust." I won't say more. Well. I will. But not about that.

According to the 2013 ESPN Player Rater, and from a Fantasy Baseball perspective, Smoak is still pretty "Meh" on the surface. On ESPN, he is the 279th most valuable player. According to Yahoo!, it gets worse. Much worse. On Yahoo!, he is the 327th overall player. That's entirely worthless. Sans worth. Right? Who on Earth would have any interest in the 279th or 327th most valuable player?

Well, apparently 24% of Yahoo! owners have some interest. As do 37% of ESPN owners. I'd assume they all live on Earth. In fact, Smoak has 100% ownership in the league I own him in. 100%! and I'm certain I live on Earth. Are we all mad? Or. Could it be possible that Justin Smoak has some hidden value in 2013? Yes. It could. In fact. He does.

Let me elaborate.

OK. So. His overall roto/fantasy stats probably merit his overall ranking and minimal ownership. Right now, Smoak is hitting .270 with 14 home runs, 34 RBI, 42 runs scored and 0 stolen bases and is currently batting seventh in a somewhat better, but still-not-so-potent Mariners lineup. Overall, His 2013 stats are an improvement over past seasons, but nothing that should get you overly hot or overly bothered. Certainly not both. However. Where things start to get "hot and bothery" is when you look at his splits in 2013. Specifically his splits between RHP vs. LHP.

We are far too far into this post without some sort of Smoak pun. Am I right? So. From a pun perspective. In 2013, Smoak is on fire vs. RHP. Pun quota filled.

Batting Average:

Ignore April. In fact. Go ahead and ignore May and the start of June. OK. Now. Since returning from the DL in mid June, Justin Smoak has been scorching hot (is that considered a pun?). He hit .315 in July and in August he has hit a monstrous .364. This coming from a career .233 hitter. This coming almost entirely vs. RHP.

In 229 AB vs. RHP in 2013, Smoak is hitting .306. Right now, in terms of first basemen, only Chris Davis, Joey Votto, Allen Craig and Freddie Freeman are hitting for a higher average vs. RHP than Smoak. Perhaps you have heard of them? I'll assume you have. Then you know they are all fantastic. You also know they aren't available in over 60% of leagues. With trade deadlines passing it's likely they aren't available at all.

Now. I'm sure some of you will point to his .357 BABIP vs. RHP and write this all off as a fluke. After all, his BABIP vs. RHP for his career is .279 and "flukeness" is the very essence of BABIP at times. But. It should also be noted that he has increased his LD% this season vs. RHP as well as improved his BB% to an impressive 13.5 (9.4 vs LHP). It certainly seems that for whatever reason, Smoak is seeing the ball extremely well vs. RHP, is being more selective and more often than not he is driving the ball when he does swing.

Let's not forget that late in 2012 Smoak was banished to the minors. Since then, he's been much better, hitting well over .300 down the stretch last year and carrying that performance into most of this season. It's possible he made good use of his time in the minors. Changed his approach. Etc. It's possible we are seeing a new Smoak as he enters his prime. One with value.

Extra Base Hits / Home Runs:

With a .541 SLG vs. RHP, Smoak only trails Davis and Votto among first baseman and his .236 ISO is good for seventh overall at the position. That's Top 10 in both. Once again. Available in over 60% of all leagues.

In terms of home runs, Smoak has hit 14 vs. RHP (0 vs. LHP) in 2013, which puts him just outside the Top 10 at the position. But. From a per AB standpoint. He's actually well within the Top 10 as he currently averages one home run every 16.5 ABs vs. RHP. Better than stars like Prince Fielder, Anthony Rizzo, Freeman and Votto.

Power can be hard to find on the waiver wire. Especially this late in the season. Right now Smoak is able to provide power vs. RHP that puts him in a tier with the best first basemen. In fact. If used correctly. I'd prefer him to Rizzo at this point. Uh huh.

RBI:

Smoak currently has 31 RBI vs. RHP. Admittedly, that's not a great total, and from a per AB standpoint (7.3), it's not much better. Part of this can be attributed to the Mariners lineup and Smoak batting seventh in said lineup.

Ideally Smoak would bat closer to the cleanup spot in the Mariners lineup than he does currently. It's possible as we enter September that Raul Ibanez will see less time on the field and another Michael Morse injury is never too far away. In the event of either, Smoak could find himself batting fifth down the stretch.

Either way. It's best you focus on the BA and SLG he is currently providing and hope/assume that RBI will follow if those stats continue. They should. And. The good news is that it's very possible they will. Because ...

More Splits to Consider:

While the focus of this article is on his elite production vs. RHP this year, let's not forget that splits come in all shapes and sizes. Not really. But. It should be noted as we approach H2H playoffs that Smoak is a career .321 hitter in 190 September ABs and that the Mariners have 15 road games in the final month, with Smoak currently hitting .282 away from Safeco. Small samples? Sure. But H2H is all about small samples.

There's no reason to think Smoak will be out of the lineup vs. a RHP in the entire month of September. Therefore. There's little reason he shouldn't be in your lineup as well.

Conclusion:

If you can channel your inner Billy Beane, and play in a league with daily lineup changes, you can get elite production from "The Smoak Monster" down the stretch. It definitely requires that you sit him vs. LHP, where he has hit 0 HR and a miserable .189 BA this year. It also means you need a bench deep enough to carry Smoak and his replacement when he faces LHP. Fortunately there are plenty of replacements to choose from.

Personally. I'd recommend a combo of Smoak and Garrett Jones, Brandon Moss, Adam Lind or James Loney. All are enjoying nice seasons vs. RHP this year and all are widely available in well over 50% of leagues. Odds are both Smoak and your other option won't be facing a LHP on the same day. And. If both are facing RHP, then someone like Moss or Jones could be placed in your OF as well.

Smoak combined with any of those hitters could put up phenomenal BA and SLG stats throughout the remainder of 2013 at any one of the 1B, CI or UTL positions in your lineup at a very, very cheap cost.

To me, the only setbacks I see is that he is complete zero in the SB category and owning him (or any split heavy hitter, really) might require you to stash one less SP or RP on your roster, and possibly put pitching stats like W, SV and K in jeopardy. Something to consider if your pitching isn't a strength. But something you can likely work around via streaming, etc.

So. Is Justin Smoak worthless? In some ways, yes. In a lot of ways. In fact. But sometimes even the seemingly worthless can be valuable. You just have to get a little creative. And you have to know your splits.

all stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com

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