Dominic Smith is a first baseman who’s athletic enough to fake it in left field. That’s a good thing because the Mets have a 1B who hit 53 HR and while he’s not as good defensively as Smith, he’s not going to sit for him, either. Last year, the planets aligned for Smith to get regular playing time. The National League had the DH as a response to Covid, offering an extra spot in the lineup. And while at first that was the home for Yoenis Cespedes, a bunch of strikeouts and a questionable path for playing time going forward helped convince Cespedes to opt out of the remainder of the season, which opened up regular playing time for Smith.
In a year where the leader in PA amassed 267, Smith came to the plate 199 times. There’s no DH this year but Smith did so well last season that it makes sense to use Smith in LF, even if his defense there is below average. That’s assuming that he hits somewhere close to what he did in small samples in 2019 and 2020. If his bat can’t maintain that pace, he’ll find himself on the bench as the club looks for better defensive options in the outfield. Let’s check in to see what the computer models think:
ATC – 511 PA, .268/.331/.482, 22 HR, 77 RBIs
BAT – 575 PA, .254/.320/.438, 21 HR, 74 RBIs
MtM – 488 PA, .272/.342/.505, 22 HR, 71 RBIs
RCh – 564 PA, .270/.330/.489, 23 HR, 81 RBIs
STE – 530 PA, .256/.320/.454, 22 HR, 73 RBIs
ZiPS – 541 PA, .271/.329/.474, 21 HR, 80 RBIs
That’s a pretty big gap between the high and low in PA but an understandable one given that Smith has never reached 200 PA in a season. The surprising thing is how these models all predict this much playing time for him. Over the past two seasons, Smith has a .299 AVG but none of the models has him particularly close to that level. That’s not a surprise, as Smith posted a .320 BABIP in 2019 and then a .360 mark last year. He’s not going to approach last year’s BABIP, so the question is how close he can get to 2019’s results. Of the four systems on FanGraphs that list BABIP, ZiPS has him with the highest, giving Smith a .325 BABIP this season
The other big question with Smith is how his ISO will fare. When he was a prospect, the conventional wisdom was that Smith was a foul line to foul line hitter who lacked great over-the-fence power but would add homers as he aged. But he’s displayed HR power since his initial call to the majors and has 35 HR in 664 ABs with the Mets.
But it’s not just homers, as Smith finished second in the league with 21 doubles in 2020. All told, it led to a .299 ISO, which is a terrific number. For a point of reference, Darryl Strawberry’s career-high in ISO was the .299 mark he posted in 1987. From our computer models, the best ISO forecast for Smith in 2021 is the .233 mark of Marcel. The BABIP projections for Smith make sense. The big question is if you think the ISO projections do, too.
All we have for Smith is small samples. But in his last 396 PA, he has a .272 ISO.
So, what do we have here? We have an unknown with his ISO, a big unknown with his BABIP and questions if he can hack it in the outfield enough to keep his bat in the lineup. It’s not difficult to make the case that Smith deserves a more-bearish projection than any of our six computer models gave him.
It’s also difficult to imagine that his ISO is just going to be cut by a third from what it was last season. Smith had a .214 ISO coming into 2020, so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that he’s going to post a .198 mark in the category like Steamer forecasts. No doubt that Steamer is still incorporating minor league data into its projection. Smith didn’t produce like this in the minors, putting up just a .159 ISO in 884 PA in Las Vegas. My opinion is that what Smith did in the majors in 2019-20 is more important than what he did in the minors in 2017-18.
Furthermore, my belief is that Smith’s defense won’t materially affect his playing time. Sure, the expectation should be that he’ll be removed in the late innings of close games for a defensive upgrade. But it should still allow him to play seven or eight innings and get four plate appearances most games. So, here’s my totally biased forecast for Smith this season:
568 PA, .278/.336/.527, 26 HR, 78 RBIs
You’ll have more credibility if you weigh in now with what you think Smith will do this season.