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.