Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fun Baseball Trivia: Justin Smoak Has Actually Been Awesome This Year

The Following is from TC Fleming, intern, blog contributer, and sports thinker. Enjoy

Jeremy Moran, normal board operator in the mornings for Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket, started his summer vacation Monday morning. Since about Thanksgiving last year, I get to fill in during these vacations. It's really neat. But Monday, I had to sit quietly through two segments (one by the Musers, one by Norm Hitzges) about how badly Justin Smoak is doing. As a board op, folks (quite understandably) don't smile on the idea of you getting on the air to explain how the hosts' views are flawed. When you do that same thing on a blog though, that's showing initiative. So here we are.

Justin Smoak is having just an astounding start to his career. People do not believe this because he has a batting average of .165. There are about a million things that indicate whether or not a hitter is doing well, batting average being just one of those things. After taking into account that batting average, all of the other factors--seriosuly, all of them--indicate that Smoak is every bit as good as the hype suggested. Just to run through some of them real quick, as a means of demonstration: his Strikeout-to-walk ratio of 0.89 is third on the team and would be about 25th in the majors if he qualified; his line drive rate of 22.8% is second on the team and would be about 22nd in baseball; his homerun-to-flyball ratio of 11.8% and isolated power of .155 both rank fifth on the team and are very comparable to Michael Young. For a rookie, that's mighty impressive.

But what about that batting average? Batting average is one of those things where a lot of the factors go into it, and a lot of them are out of the hitters' control. Consider it: a batter can certainly hit a ball hard, hard enough to be a hit the great majority of the time, but it happens to be in the immediate vicinity of a fielder. Or, what about the quality of opposing defenders? If a batter were to have 100 at-bats against a team fielding Elvis Andrus and another against a team with Yuniesky Betancourt, the hitter could do all the same things and end up with fewer hits against Elvis not because of the hitter's talent but because of Andrus's. There are just a lot of things outside a hitter's control that have an impact on batting average.

One can take the things a hitter does control and guesstimate a luck-neutral batting average. The big component is to look at how many line drives a hitter hits to figure out his expected batting average on balls in play (BABIP), then compare it to his actual BABIP and adjust his actual batting average accordingly. Then you can use that to guesstimate adjustments to his on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It's all kind of a fuzzy process, but I think the results in this case are very telling. If you do all that to Smoak's numbers, you come up with the triple slash line of .353/.475/.508. Those are easily All-Star numbers. You put those up over the course of a long career on a good team with some decent glove work, and you've got a real nice shot at the Hall of Fame, I'd think.

I can realize this seems like a crazy thing to say about someone with a batting average of .165. I think it is still true, but I can see how it sounds to some. So let me make this last attempt at convincing you that Justin Smoak is doing things right now in the major leagues that are a strong indicator of future success. The scouting report on Smoak has always been that he would be an on-base machine. He would probably have real nice power, but he would truly make his hay with a relentless ability to get on base. That ability starts with commanding the strike zone, something you can get a read on by one's strikeout-to-walk ratio. So what you say we look at Smoak's ratio and compare it to some of the more awesome first basemen going when they were in their rookie season? Now, if we're going to compare him to these guys, let's also throw in their isolated power numbers to get a fuller picture.

Justin Smoak0.89.155
Kevin Youkilis0.73.154
Mark Teixeira0.37.221
Todd Helton0.98.215
Joey Votto0.58.209
Adrian Gonzalez0.27.180
Albert Pujols0.74.281
HTML Tables

So you can see, Smoak definitely hasn't yet brought the power of many of these hitters, but he is on pace or ahead of all of them when it comes to plate discipline. It will be interesting to see if/how the power develops, but Smoak already has control of the strike zone matching or exceeding the rookie efforts of some of today's finest first basemen. Now, where he goes from that start and how he progresses will be key, and it's not like anything is a lock. But even setting aside scouting reports and minor league performance, Justin Smoak has shown in his brief time in the majors that he has serious potential, and it would be kind of an upset if he weren't awesome.

I guess all of this might be a little soon though, given how brief his time has been. He's only had 115 plate appearances in the majors and trying to make any grand predictions based on 115 unaccompanied plate appearances is folly. But whatever. Sports is more fun with exciting story lines like this. Why not try to find reasons to get excited about a young player?


Charles said...

Oddly enough, I knew I could count on you to provide some sort of evidence to deflect the Smoak-naysayers.

Josh said...

I don't care what stats you produce, there's no excuse for a sub .200 BA in the majors. The kid could use a little more AAA seasoning.

Ryan Rinaldi said...

Furthermore, he is seeing 4.01 pitches per plate appearance. That would put him right behind Mark Teixeira at 27th in the league if he qualified. Currently, Elvis Andrus is the only Ranger in the top 60. Because of their lack of patience, the Rangers don't get enough at bats against the often weak middle relief of other teams.

Jason said...

A wise man once said that you can make stats say anything that you want, and that is all you did here.

Basically what you told me with all of your stats is that Justin Smoak takes a few walks and he hits an ass ton of weak ground ball outs and pop flies.

The real story here is that Justin Smoak can have all the plate discipline in the world, but it means jack squat if you aren't getting base hits or knocking in runs.

Smoak has had 97 big league at bats.
Batting Avg: .165
OBP: .287
SLG: .320
OPS: .607
Hits: 16 (3 doubles, 4 HR)
RBI: 11

What I really think is important to look at is his last 10 games.

31 At Bats
3 hits (0 doubles, 0 triples, 0 hr)
RBI: 1
Walks: 5
Strike Outs: 7
Runs: 2

This shows me that he did all of his "damage" when he first came up and now that no pitcher will throw him a fastball, he is doing jack.

Or Moyal said...

I hate you, Josh. I don't know you, but I hate you.

Justin said...

Sure, you can adjust Smoak's average with the whole line drive -Andrus/Betancourt theory and arrive at a higher average.

Your next responsibility is to take the rest of the Rangers and the rest of your rookie 1B stats, and adjust those the same way you did for Smoak.

How do those stats look?

By the way, here are my recalculated HR stats for Michael Young from last season.

M. Young HR: 47*,**,***

* - 22 Home Runs
** - 10 Balls caught on the warning track.
*** - 5 Balls went over the fence, but were on the wrong side of the foul poles.

With these adjustments, Michael Young led the league in home runs last season.

Josh said...

...and we wonder why this country sucks at math.

Smoak is, and will be, beastly. Dude hits the ball on the screws. Patience.

TC Fleming said...

BB/K and ISO are defense-independent. I didn't adjust those for Smoak, there would be no need to.

Josh Campbell said...

Great job TC. I'm sorry you have to put up with a bunch of DMN blog comments and total ignorance to valid statistical analysis. They should go listen to Galloway and read Jennifer F Engel to find someone to agree with. Most of them probably didn't even know who Justin Smoak was until after he had been up in the majors for a week. Batting Average is the WEAKEST stat in baseball, only slightly weaker than RBI.

Or Moyal said...

Not quite as weak as pitcher Wins, though.

George said...

You can make such arguments about the 'unreliability' of all statistics. Sure a guy could have 5 hard hit balls right at someone and be 0-5 while a guy can have have three terribly hit balls that squeak through or bloop in for hits.

However, if a hitter shows obvious trends in hitting the opposing team is able to position themselves and pitch to players in a way to minimize their ability. Why do you think Carlos Pena hit under .200 in 2010? Teams know if they play him with a shift and pitch him inside he'll be forced to hit to the defense... or go yard.