The late-season audition of Dominic Smith

When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.

For such a long time, many fans couldn’t wait to be rid of Lucas Duda and put someone, anyone else in his place. And then this year when Dominic Smith was in Triple-A, those desires became even more vocal. Didn’t matter that Duda was being productive and that Smith had an ISO in Las Vegas less than what we saw there from T.J. Rivera.

But then a funny thing happened. Smith started to pound the ball, producing slugging marks like we hadn’t seen from him previously. Here’s what I wrote on Aug. 1:

But in his last 182 PA, Smith has a .380/.440/.650 line. That .270 ISO came about thanks to 26 XBH, including nine homers. This is the type of hitting a top prospect should do in Vegas. But is 182 PA enough of a sample to declare victory? Usually, it’s not. But if the Mets want Smith to be their Opening Day starter at first base in 2018, they would be best served by getting him as many PA in the majors that they can this year.

Smith got the call shortly afterwards and made his major league debut on Aug. 11. Since then he’s been playing pretty regularly. Sure, he got some pine against lefties early on but he’s seen more time against LHP than Michael Conforto did. Conforto saw just 15 PA against southpaws in 2015 and Smith already has 20 in 95 fewer trips to the plate.

Perhaps because his exposure to lefties was limited, Conforto put up an .841 OPS in his debut season. The early returns for Smith have not been nearly as good. He enters play today with a .187/.215/.373 line. The hits aren’t falling in for him and his walks have been nearly non-existent. But at least what hitting Smith has done has been for decent power, as he has a .186 ISO.

There’s a school of thought that you never put too much stock into what a player does in April or September. Some take this to disregard the output because of the quality of play but it’s always been more about sample size to me. But whatever your starting point with that thought is, the result is similar – don’t be fooled into making bad decisions.

Generally, this is used to keep from getting hopes up too high over a good performance. But what about the opposite? If a player does poorly in a small sample, should that be held against him? What if Smith finishes 2017 with a Plaweckian sub-600 OPS? Should management view that as proof that he’s not ready for the majors? Does acquiring a first baseman get added to the offseason shopping list?

The answer to that is not so easy.

There’s a difference if a player has a .588 OPS with a .179 BABIP, like Smith has now, versus that same OPS with a .279 mark. It seems everyone thinks that Smith will hit and that the question is if he’s a Punch and Judy hitter or if he’ll bring consistent power. If the hits don’t fall in, that can be somewhat forgiven providing that he’s driving the ball on a regular basis.

Another factor to consider is that Smith has a history of slow starts. In 2014, he had a .508 OPS in April. In 2015, he had a .487 OPS after his game on May 17. Last year he had a .699 OPS on June 4. Each of those years were at a different level. He’s shown the ability to adjust to the level of competition. Given that’s part of his history, should he be given that same opportunity in the majors?

It’s one thing to give a first-round pick a longer leash while he’s climbing the minor league ladder. It’s another thing to give him a free pass for poor performance in the majors. It could very well be the right call. It could also mean sticking yourself with an offensive anchor, which could be extremely problematic if Amed Rosario doesn’t hit right away and Juan Lagares is manning center field.

My opinion is that Smith needs to get as many PA as he can in September. And he needs to do something with that opportunity. At the very least, he needs to continue to show the same level of power he has so far. Otherwise it will be hard for me to advocate for him to be the starter next year. And the last thing the Mets need is to have to put another position on the to-do list in the hot stove season.

12 comments for “The late-season audition of Dominic Smith

  1. Jimmy P
    September 3, 2017 at 9:58 am

    The BABIP makes sense because, in his case, it’s not about luck. Guy is not barreling up many baseballs. Bat looks slow to me; I’m getting Butch Huskey flashes.

    However, he does have that track record of struggling mightily for 100 or so ABs every time he gets to a new level. That’s the hope. Keep giving him ABs.

    It’s why signing Jay Bruce is important. A clear need for a backup plan. He could shift to 1B. Of course, as I wrote before, it makes the Mets trading away Jay Bruce look penurious and short-sighted. They saved a few million, but diminished their chances of getting him back. Bruce will look more attractive on a winning team.

    Personally, I’ve never believed in Smith, but at same time I’ve never strongly disbelieved in him either. I’m not positive that he can’t play baseball in the major leagues, though I’m pretty sure he’ll never be a Top 10 first baseball. And yet, and yet. He’s 22 years old. Getting to watch him now — and admittedly, I’ve not been glued to the games these past few weeks — there’s not been a lot to like.

    He’s not looking like the answer to any important question I can think of.

  2. Chris F
    September 3, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I agree we need to let him play. However, its certainly worth remembering he has already played more games than any previous season and had more PAs. While im sure he is excited, like the other kids, to be playing big league ball, its worth considering these kids are at the end of their seasons and its natural to see some tailing off.

  3. Eraff
    September 3, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Smith looks very well balanced at the Plate. I believe his skills and production will eventually “translate” at MLB. The timing of that is a question…and the issue of placing him in a lineup of Lightweights(Lagares) and Teethers(Rosario,,,Checcini) is also a big question.

    • Jimmy P
      September 3, 2017 at 10:31 am

      I am not seeing the balance you refer to. Quite the opposite. A lot of waving at balls, fouling them off. Pujols was a guy with balance. Smith doesn’t strike me as a guy who is consistently taking strong, powerful, well-balanced swings at the plate.

      Not yet, anyway.

      I believe if he had great balance we’d be seeing much better results.

  4. NormE
    September 3, 2017 at 10:53 am

    As Jimmy P. pointed out, Smith is just 22 years old. There are too many holes on this team that can possibly be filled immediately. 1B is one of the places, so Smith offers some hope. The Mets should look to filling gaps at (in no set order) 3B, OF, 2B, C, pitching staff. Give Smith a fair evaluation in 2018 especially since the team probably won’t be a contender.

  5. John Fox
    September 3, 2017 at 11:10 am

    If Smith doesn’t cut it for the rest of this year and the start of next year, I’d put Wilmer Flores in as the everyday 1st sacker against both righties and lefties, 1st base is the position where Flores can give you at least average defense

  6. Dean
    September 3, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    How about we give Dom some time vice jumping to quick conclusions. We all can see he’s not hitting yet but he does have 4 HRs already in 75 ABs. I think he will hit for a decent average (he has always hit), and give you 20-25 HRs while striking out 20%. If you look at what Duda has done since being traded hitting .186, he does have 8 HRs along with striking out 33% of the time and mostly serving as DH. Dom will give us what most of us having been asking for, a better all around player who can hit for average, less strikeouts and can actually field his position above average.

  7. MattyMets
    September 3, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    You had me at “Plaweckian sub-600 OPS”

    • Jimmy P
      September 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Yes, Plaweckian was a masterstroke that got my attention, too.

  8. Eraff
    September 3, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    I still believe in Plawecki

  9. Jake
    September 4, 2017 at 8:32 am

    One of the dumber articles ive seen. He just turned 22 for godsakes. He is getting used to the majors but it will take time. People for aaron judge struggled at first too. Smith has zero protection in the lineup as a youngster. He does have 4 homers Considering everyone bitches about his lack of power. Basically stop bitching and let the kid find his way….he is gonna be a good player

  10. Stephen Steele
    September 5, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Whether we like it or not, Smith is the first baseman for next year. The most hopeful sign I see is that he seems to be tightly focused with runners in scoring position. I haven’t looked up his stat line, but he appears to come through in those situations. He looks off in the field, which was supposed to be a strong suit. His Mo Vaughn-like physique probably won’t age well either. The Mets will have more question marks going into next season than they did this year. It’s not looking good.

    I’d love to have Bruce back too, but not as insurance at 1B. His footwork was terrible and he bails on throws in the dirt, and that’s OK because he’s not a first baseman.

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