Justin Smoak’s slash line for 2011 is currently .220/.317/.387. In other words, bad. After a promising start to the season, Smoak has struggled recently and now finds himself on the disabled list. The Mariners hoped to see improvement from him this year and, at first glance, it just hasn’t been there. So far, he has played one more game in the majors this year (101) than he did last season (100). His numbers are very similar. In only 23 more plate appearances this year, he has two more hits, one less home run, ten fewer runs, four fewer RBI and his batting average is only two one-thousandths of a point better (.220 this year vs. .218 last year). Still, despite all the evidence against it, Smoak has improved. He’s just had a bit of bad luck.
The improvement I’m referring to is in his plate vision. Between this season and last, Smoak has walked four more times and struck out six fewer times. It’s not much, but it’s something. Definitely something considering his crazy season.
Smoak has dealt with some very unlucky circumstances this year. For instance, at some point in late June, he developed a “stinger” on his right thumb. The Mariners kept it quiet while he played through the pain. Based on his production, I’m guessing it happened around June 24th, because that’s where his hitting disappeared. Going into the June 24th game against the Marlins, Smoak was hitting .264 and had hit safely in 17 of his past 19 games. In those 19 games, he hit 4 home runs, 6 doubles, drew 13 walks (2 were intentional), and only struck out 8 times. While this is a small sample size, Smoak was getting on the right track.
However, Smoak suffered the injury to his right thumb and it all fell apart. Over the next month, his batting average fell from .264 to .218. He did hit any home runs and began striking out more frequently, culminating with 8 strikeouts in four games against the Yankees and Rays. Still, he played through it all and when he was finally starting to heal, bad luck struck again.
In the game following an encouraging 2 for 3 performance, where he drew a walk, hit a double and scored twice, Smoak jammed his left thumb fielding a ground ball. This new injury, forced him to miss a few games, but he was able to avoid the disabled list. When talking about the injury, he was quoted saying, “I thought it was going to hit me in the face.” Which is ironic because in his first game back following his jammed thumb, Smoak took a ground ball to the face which broke his nose. Thankfully Mike Carp has been playing out of his mind in Smoak’s place because it might be best to have Smoak DH for a while and keep him away from those pesky ground balls.
While Smoak’s overall numbers haven’t been great, we’ve seen a few impressive stretches from him. Some fluky injuries have kept him from stringing it all together. In addition to the injuries, he has also had to deal with the unfortunate passing of his father early in the year. I thought this would be his break out season, but I obviously overlooked the luck factor. Next year, there is always next year.