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July 10, 2010

Transaction Analysis

Surrendering Lee

by Christina Kahrl and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired 1B-S Justin Smoak, RHPs Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, and 2B/OF-R Matthew Lawson from the Rangers for LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Mark Lowe, and $2.25 million; recalled LHP Luke French from Tacoma (Triple-A). [7/9]

CK: On the major-league level, for the Mariners this is an interesting move in that it's a double kiss of death—to their bold gamble to win now, and to Casey Kotchman's future. The latter was a big problem for the former, so that's just as well. But there's still the matter of resolving the question of whether or not the Mariners' ongoing process of rapacious agglomeration, outright mutation, and transmogrification, their move from Bavasi superfund site to inspired contender, is actually heading in that general direction. Adding talent, retaining their biggest big-name star in re-upping King Felix, it seems like they're heading the right way, even when it comes to adding Lee for talent and then flipping Lee for talent. But motion and action is not necessarily direction, let alone achievement.

Smoak is an obvious improvement on the worst first-base regular in baseball, but his track record as a hitting prospect has been something less than excellent, making him more of a deep purple than a true-blue prospect. Still, with his reputation as a plus glove, and the Mariners' love of leather, you knew they had to get a whiff of that, to stay in character to add some Smoak on the water. But will that love of leather just leave them where it has gotten them so far, as occasionally trendy pretenders?

Smoak's progress as a hitter has been less than perfect, although he has had to deal with an accelerated rise through the system. That was what was expected, but that doesn't necessarily make it easier for him. Consider his performance in his career so far:

Year
Place
PA
AVG
OBP
SLG
TAv
UBB%
K%
ISO
2009 Double-A 227 .328 .448 .481 .289 16% 16% .153
2009 Triple-A 237 .244 .363 .360 .243 15% 19% .116
2010 Triple-A 66 .300 .470 .540 .312 24% 12% .240
2010 MLB 275 .209 .316 .353 .241 13% 21% .144

For a 2008 first-rounder with a subsequently limited pro track record, that's a pretty straightforward snapshot of success and promotion, struggle and adaptation. He hasn't gotten a big benefit from hitting in Texas, but given that he's still in OTJ training territory as far as facing big-league pitching in his age-23 season, that's not really surprising. He's also showing a huge platoon split, consistent with his abbreviated track record in the minors: .244/.367/.397 against right-handers, against an unemployable .139/.207/.266 against lefties. Unemployable on a contender, perhaps, but on a Mariners also-ran, it's just another something that he'll have to work on before the team should really give up on him and apply that SHINO tag to him for good.

His production this season hasn't been notably better than Kotchman—the disastrous winter selection was contributing a .240 TAv to Smoak's non-smoking .241. But the age differential is the key here, as well as that development curve suggested by Smoak's brief resumé. It wasn't enough to impress PECOTA this winter, but that's what makes this so interesting: It's very definitely a scouting-informed pickup, a bet that the upside growth potential that people saw in Smoak before he'd been picked, and have still seen at times since, is going to kick his baseline projections into a much higher trajectory.

If it works, Jack Zduriencik will reap kudos for years after the fact, what with the money saved, a potential franchise first baseman secured, and the hoped-for success that follows. Those kind of compliments are as easy as they are obvious, however. If it flops, it's a move you have to evaluate in terms of whether or not the draft choices Lee would have brought via an arbitration offer he'd obviously spurn to pursue free agency's big payday would be a better selection than Smoak. That seems unlikely—Smoak was an 11th choice overall in a good crop, while Lee would likely sign with a contender, meaning you're getting into a late-round pick and something supplemental. Getting Smoak plus the balance of this package has been deemed a better grade of swag than riding Lee to the inevitably bitter end plus picks, and I agree with that logic.

The question is less that than whether or not this was the best possible deal for Lee, and there, I'm less supportive. There's the matter of the player they didn't get, in the much-reported, much-anticipated, never-consummated Yankees/Mariners package deal: Jesus Montero. I know that I'd rather have him than Smoak, so seeing this transpire in its place leaves me a bit disappointed from Seattle's perspective. Whatever the virtues of the supporting players in the package from Texas, so much stuff ends up not adding up, while Montero's 2010 season is a disappointment, so too has Smoak's campaign been, and Smoak's 2009 didn't exactly live up to his billing as a blue-chip prospect either. The difference—between a 20-year-old prospect who might be the best young hitter in the minors, and a 23-year-old who isn't—puts a ton of pressure for the remainder of this package to live up to Zduriencik's confidence in them, and that's where I'd have to defer to Kevin's judgment.

The other interesting thing is that this trails their decision to pick up Russell Branyan, who has been DHing instead of playing first base of late. That was less of a reprieve for Kotchman and more a matter of Milton Bradley's bad wheels. That said, adding Smoak isn't just going to put Kotchman out of Seattle's misery, it also crowds the left field/DH proposition, because Branyan and Bradley can't both DH. Whatever the state of the space between his ears, Bradley isn't hitting enough to make a sensible swap-in for prospect Michael Saunders, and sitting Saunders would also beg the question of what it is that the Mariners are trying to do. They're on the hook for Bradley's $13 million-plus salary for 2011, and have Branyan's $5 million option ($500,000 buyout) for that same season to ponder. Bradley's value in trade is close to nil at this point, so while they could let matters ride and keep everybody through October, a subsequent move between now and the end of August, either in the form of flipping Branyan or learning to love Crispy Cash Bearnaise by eating Bradley's deal, wouldn't be the least bit surprising.

KG: The top minor leaguer heading to Seattle in the deal is Blake Beavan, a first-round pick in 2007 who has undergone a unique transformation since being taken with the 17th overall pick three years ago. When he was drafted, he was a classic big righty from a Dallas-area high school who stood 6-foot-7 and consistently got into the mid-90s with a dominating fastball. Mechanically, he was a mess, and when the Rangers tried to fix his mechanics to avoid what most felt was certain injury, he lost the zip on his fastball, usually sitting in the upper 80s during his first full-season at Low-A Clinton. Still, as a guy who threw downhill, pounded the strike zone, and has over the years developed a good changeup, he found a different kind of success, and he's been at his best this year at Double-A Frisco, with a 2.78 ERA in 17 starts and just 12 walks over 110 innings. He throws a bit harder now, sitting in the low 90s, but he still lacks that one true big-league out pitch, as evidenced by just 68 strikeouts in that time. His ceiling is as a No. 4 starter, but if I was to wager on which prospect in baseball would throw the most innings from 2012-16, one of the first names I'd think of would be Beavan's.

A 16th-round pick in 2007 out of a small college in Kentucky, Lueke has dominated as a closer at both Low- and Double-A this season, as the 6-foot-5 righty has whiffed a whopping 62 over just 38 1/3 innings while showcasing a plus fastball/slider combination, and could fit into a big-league bullpen as early as next year. It's a bit of a comeback year for Lueke, who has a disturbing past, as he pitched in just four games last season before being charged with rape and spending 40 days in prison before pleading no contest to a lesser charge of false imprisonment with violence.

Another 2007 draftee (14th round), second baseman Matt Lawson is clearly the third of three here, but he has a chance of turning into a decent bench player. For more of a grinder than someone with impressive tools, Lawson has gap power out of a big swing that leads to a high strikeout rate, but he works the count well, is a good runner, and has played some outfield this year in an attempt to improve his positional flexibility. It's doubtful that he'll ever turn into a big-league starter, but for a throw-in, one could do much worse.

 

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Mark Lowe, and $2.25 million from the Mariners for 1B-S Justin Smoak, RHPs Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, and 2B/OF-R Matthew Lawson; recalled 1B/3B-L Chris Davis from Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [7/9]

CK: Make no mistake about it, I love this deal for Texas. Yes, it's merely a multi-month rental of one of the game's few true aces. Yes, it's a roll of the dice by present management and present ownership, Yes, it cost them Smoak and Beavan. And yes, Lowe's basically a sop to leave the Rangers with something to show (once he comes back from the DL) after Lee defects as a free agent this winter.

And I love this trade just the same. Take the economic aspect: There weren't many guys of Lee's caliber the Rangers could afford. Indeed, Lee might have been the only starter of this caliber they could afford. Not only is Lee's salary cheap relative to what he's delivering, with whatever fraction of his $9 million still due, that was without the Mariners paying a significant chunk of the freight by kicking in Stacks O'Cash to help pay for Lee to be the Rangers' ace. That's an unusual circumstance as is; add in that Lee has been the best starter in the American League, and it becomes a unique circumstance.

Which is that much more impressive because the trade reflects something even more basic: The Rangers understand what's at stake come October. Not for them the annual Charge of the Light Brigade, making a run at the beasts of the East, getting valiantly squashed, and subsequently spoken kindly of. Jon Daniels isn't going to settle the way that, say, Terry Ryan invariably did with the Twins. The Rangers recognize they didn't have a shut-down starter, someone who can take CC Sabathia's best ballgame and match him, surrendering nothing to lead off a post-season series.

Of course, there's still the question of whether Colby Lewis (.580 SNWP) or C.J. Wilson (.554 SNWP) can win the second or third games, but with Lee (.663) in the picture, that's better than worrying about how they'd have done bumping both up a peg. Lewis has already lived up to management's expectation that his most favorable interpretations of Japanese leagues performance would have led you to believe, and Lewis has just as handily delivered on the initially dicey proposition that he'd be able to make the jump. These risks taken have already redeemed the one that hasn't worked out as well, leaving the Rangers with the happier prospect of picking between Rich Harden or Scott Feldman or even Tommy Hunter for the fourth and last playoff assignment in October's shorter rotations. Indeed, they might find that dealing someone like Feldman—moderately useful, and already signed to a multi-year extension that provides the kind of cost certainty some teams crave—could help them secure a fall-back option at first base in case Chris Davis doesn't deliver.

Admittedly, I've gotten ahead of myself: There's still a division to be won in the meantime, and the Angels aren't chopped liver. But this deal cuts both ways: It doesn't simply make the Rangers a much more dangerous matchup in October, it gives them three months' worth of ballgames to not just secure their lead, but build on it. Add in their own, less touted moves to improve their defense—trusting Elvis Andrus last season, working to improve Ian Kinsler's glove work at second, and now Julio Borbon in center—and you've got a team nobody should want to face, for whatever stakes.

KG: The obvious change at first base has Davis re-assuming the role as the everyday player there, and with Smoak gone, there's a sudden surprising bit of job security as well. While Davis has been given big-league jobs and later demoted to Triple-A twice, it's hard to call this year's decision, which took place after just 53 plate appearances, anything but rash. Davis did all of the right things at Triple-A, as he hit immediately without the common sulk period, and kept hitting, to the tune of .354/.403/.555 in 67 games. That said, some of his core ratios saw little to no change, as he actually has a higher strikeout rate this year than his 44 Pacific Coast League games in 2009. When one is a career .314 hitter in the minors while striking out once every 3.8 at-bats, something has to break, and usually the strikeouts win out. This is not to say Davis isn't going to be a good big leaguer as much as it's to say he's simply not a .300 hitter. There's plenty of raw power, but he's never developed the kind of patience that lets him take advantage of it. Smoak obviously had his share of troubles during his first exposure to big-league pitching, and while we have big numbers on Davis, it doesn't necessarily point to him having learned the lessons of his big-league time either.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

73 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

HeavyHitter

I agree with Christina. Montero will be an Edgar Martinez with more power - - a monster in the middle of the lineup. Smoak will be another Casey Kotchman. Jack Z came so close, only to let it slip away.

Jul 09, 2010 22:23 PM
rating: -1
 
Dan

Don't think the comps are fair, but I totally agree with the sentiment. The window dressing doesn't seem like enough to make up the difference between Montero and Smoak. Maybe Jack saw some additional value in pulling a good prospect away from a team in his division?

Jul 10, 2010 06:14 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

KG referred to Smoak as a 5-star prospect and a potential "switch-hitting Justin Morneau" before the season (his perfect world projection in the Top 11 prospects series). This analysis seems far less positive. Has a togh month in the bigs changed his projection THAT much?

Jul 10, 2010 10:43 AM
rating: 3
 
Fresh Hops

You might as well project Montero to be Babe Ruth. That's crazy.

Jul 10, 2010 14:45 PM
rating: 3
 
HeavyHitter

You matched my hyperbole and took it up another notch. No one gets a Bambino comp. No one. And no one gets a Pujols comp. Montero was considered a better hitting prospect than Stanton before this year. He is an extremely talented hitter, the type who is scarcer than hens' teeth. There is a reason he was ranked way above Smoak in everyone's (I repeat, everyone's) prospect ratings. Jack Z swung and missed and he had played it perfectly up to that point. What a shame.

Jul 12, 2010 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

So, for basically a half season of Lee, the Mariners traded J. C. Ramírez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies.

Now they've traded Lee for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.

Are the Mariners better off, or should they have never acquired Lee in the first place?

Jul 09, 2010 22:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Kampfer

I am a Mariners fan and I think we blew it on this one.

Jul 10, 2010 00:11 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I have to admit, I'm not really wild about the transaction if we're setting it up in terms of what they they gave up versus what they got. But even so, they were acquiring the opportunity cost of making a run in 2010 by getting Lee initially; if that opportunity faded, I wouldn't begrudge them the reconversion, as much as the frustration that Smoak and stuff is all they got for it.

Jul 10, 2010 01:43 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I remember before the season, I didn't think the Mariners had much of an opportunity for 2010 with Casey Kotchman as their cleanup hitter.

Jul 10, 2010 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
evo34

Kotchman has batted cleanup exactly zero times this season...

Jul 10, 2010 17:38 PM
rating: 3
 
Richard Bergstrom

He was project to hit cleanup before the season though.

Jul 11, 2010 01:07 AM
rating: -1
 
Nathan

If you're the Yankees, would you rather trade Montero for half a season of Cliff Lee, or 1 1/2 seasons of Roy Oswalt? I wonder whether the Mariners really could get Montero in this situation, without giving up some more talent in return.

As for the "Smoak will be another Kotchman sentiment"...let's remember we're not all that far removed from the era of Tiexiera comps about this kid. Lots of excellent hitters have struggled through their first 300 MLB plate appearances. Among them one Edgar Martinez.

Jul 10, 2010 05:55 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Blalock was a Teixiera comp.

Jul 10, 2010 07:37 AM
rating: -3
 
evo34

Except that they are essentially the same age...not much point of a "comp" unless you know how one of the players developed already.

Jul 10, 2010 14:46 PM
rating: 0
 
ktr

Blalock established himself in the bigs before Tex did.

Jul 11, 2010 18:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Too bad I don't have a 2005 Annual.. kinda curious what Blalock and Teixiera's comps were back then.

Jul 11, 2010 19:37 PM
rating: 0
 
TucsonTumbleweed

I dont see them dealing Montero for Oswalt. Maybe in the Steinbrenner controlled days but not now. Thank goodness I say!

Jul 10, 2010 12:06 PM
rating: 0
 
HeavyHitter

Oswalt is no better than Javy Vasquez. He is no Cliff Lee.

Jul 10, 2010 12:16 PM
rating: -2
 
graignettles

Enough of this baseball talk in a baseball column. I'm more impressed with the well-fitting Spinal Tap and Deep Purple references in the same sentence! Niiiiiiice. I'm going to see Squeeze in Boston on Wednesday - a dare to fit THAT reference in before then. Though it may be easier for Will what with Pulling Muscles (sic) being tailor-made for his column.

Props on the 70s/80s Heavy Metal back-to-backers!

(I have chosen to ignore the Pretenders as other than Chrissie being hot aren't a great band unless you loved college radio)

Great timely writing as usual CK

Jul 10, 2010 05:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Maybe Christina should do the opposite... write about the latest Justin Bieber album (or some other pop culture reference), but do it all in baseball terms.

"Eminem hit a home run with his latest album, who just like Jim Thome, is a white boy who at times seems done but can still hit one out of the park."

Jul 10, 2010 07:39 AM
rating: 0
 
tuckerhagedorn

I know that Ichiro is starting for the AL, but does anyone know what would have happened if Lee had been Seattle's only all-star? Would another Mariner have been picked up?....or if the Royals would have traded Soria this week?....does one representative still have to be taken?

Jul 10, 2010 06:44 AM
rating: 1
 
dianagram

I'm shocked Ichiro hasn't demanded a trade lately.

Jul 10, 2010 08:52 AM
rating: 2
 
hyprvypr

I think the M's wanted Smoak over Montero because of his defense. They've been trying to build on that defense/pitching scheme here for the last couple years and add in the fact that his bat still projects to be at least average and probably plus, he sounds like a very nice player to have. I think they also value his plate discipline highly because most of the lineup is allergic to talking ball four.

On Chris Davis, the more I look at him I begin to see Russell Branyan with less walks, a little higher average and more(!) power. This is hardly a bad thing, as sticking your 6th hitter out there, free to wail-away while socking to the tune of something like .260/.320/.500+ is hardly a bad option when the rest of the lineup is so heavily-laden with thunder. I think Davis might have some upside beyond that as well if he ever learns which pitches to lay off of.

Still love the deal for both teams though and thanks you two for combining on a great analysis.

Jul 10, 2010 07:23 AM
rating: 1
 
JoeSky60

Having watched Smoak, a lot, this season, the Kotchmann comp is definitely premature. This kid has a great approach, has much better plate discipline than Davis, and hits the ball hard. Don't have it handy, but I'd bet his BABIP is real low, as I've seen him hit lots of ropes, right at people. A little more time to adjust, and I see him a lot closer to Teixiera, than Kotchmann, ultimately.

Jul 10, 2010 08:31 AM
rating: 1
 
HeavyHitter

I engaged in a bit of hyperbole when I made the Kotchman comp, which is probably the worst possible scenario. However, Kotchman was also a highly regarded hitter as he made his way through the minors. Like Smoak, he was considered an excellent fielder but he was never mentioned in a discussion of the best hitting prospects in the minors. Neither of them, for instance, tore up high-A or AA ball in pitchers leagues and parks as 19-year-olds learning an infinitely more difficult position. Jack Z has done a great job up to this point and this could have been his masterpiece. Instead, it will become his one true regret.

Jul 10, 2010 11:19 AM
rating: -1
 
evo34

There is not much similarity at all between Kotchman and Smoak. Kotchman was a HS draft pick who always hit for high average in the minors, but with very limited power. Smoak showed great power at South Carolina (.757 SLG with .374 ISO in a pitcher's park his junior year). In the minors, Kotchman was much more of a groundballer than Smoak, with a 59/13/28 G/L/F rate, vs. Smoak's 45/23/32. In the majors, this discrepancy has increased, with Smoak hitting 39% groundballs, and Kotchman 57%.

I have no idea how well Smoak will turn out to be, but using Casey Kotchman as any kind of predictor is not useful.

Jul 10, 2010 15:03 PM
rating: 2
 
lyon812

Smoak's BABIP is .238. It's definitely low. People focusing on his low average aren't adequately assessing things.

Jul 10, 2010 11:39 AM
rating: 2
 
baserip4

Am I wrong or wasn't Smoak injured for much of 2009? (strained oblique?) I feel like that may affect his power numbers...

Jul 10, 2010 12:02 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

The Mariners can now promote their new 1B by coming out with a version of "Smoak on the Water".

Jul 10, 2010 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

ack .... I missed CK's reference to this in her write-up, my apologies.

Jul 10, 2010 08:56 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Oh ... and this is an excellent tag-team piece, CK and KG ... a taut, multi-faceted analysis. The only thing missing might be a MORP valuation of the deal that didn't happen, the one that did, and the value of the draft picks if they just let Lee walk in the off-season.

Jul 10, 2010 08:56 AM
rating: 1
 
Timothy Mennel

Love the tag-team approach--CK's inspired frothiness and KG's impossible depth of minor-league knowledge swirled together in one delicious cone. More!

Jul 10, 2010 09:44 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

Given the so-so postseason performance of ace starters, can we at least on this site stop with the 'oh this really helps them for the postseason!!' crapola? It's like you folks open up that jar of Nate Silver's 'Secret Sauce' every October, and the other 11 months forget that it's sitting there in the cupboard, big as life.

Jul 10, 2010 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
graignettles

Prediction: Highlanders won't see Lee anyway. Tampa draws Texas and whomps them while NY gets the ALCSL (AL Central Sacrificial Lamb) setting up a playoff for the oldest rivalry in baseball: The Rays and The Yankees. :-)

Jul 10, 2010 10:47 AM
rating: 0
 
ofMontreal

Well Cliff Lee actually did the thing last year in the post season and it didn't really calculate out to luck. And he's been doing the same so far this season.

But yeah, it's just July and he sure could break between now and then. And Smoak could catch on too. This deal smells pretty fair as far as I'm concerned and I think JackZ was right to pass on Montero too. He doesn't fit into anyone's plans at the top level if he can't play catcher or 1st.

Jul 10, 2010 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BobbyRoberto
(907)

I'm really surprised at the negative remarks about Smoak in the comments. Another Casey Kotchman? Really?

Smoak was a 5-star prospect in the pre-season, same as Montero. Smoak was #17 on Kevin's Top-100, Montero was #4. Kevin had this to say about Smoak in the Rangers Top 11:

The Good: Smoak projects as a middle-of-the-order run producer who can score and drive in 100 runs annually. He has the best plate discipline in the organization, and among the best in baseball, with plus raw power from both sides. He has good instincts for the game and is a solid to plus defender at first.

Perfect World Projection: The same as before: a switch-hitting Justin Morneau.

Smoak has had 275 PA with a .238 BABIP and now people want to write him off as Casey Kotchman all of a sudden. That doesn't make sense. Meanwhile, Montero isn't exactly lighting up AAA, with his .253/.329/.408 line.

Jul 10, 2010 10:48 AM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

I agree, but Montero is 20 years old. Smoak is 23. That's a huge difference in the developmental curve. I think if you offered Smoak for Montero straight up most GMs would make that deal.

Jul 10, 2010 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

I agree. If someone came to you with "there's a rookie who just got traded that has, in 275 PA, hit 12% HR/FB, 20.8% K, 12.4% (unintentional) BB, 23.9% LD, and his average home run has traveled 399.9 feet (I'm not making that up--he's 1/10th of a foot from exactly 400ft. on average)", you'd ordinarily say "Holy fuck, what the hell made someone part with that?"

Jul 10, 2010 15:03 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Now that you mention it, that average home run length seems a bit on the smallish side... it'd imply that Smoak only has enough power to hit it out in the corners or gaps.

Jul 10, 2010 15:25 PM
rating: 0
 
awayish

are you serious

Jul 10, 2010 17:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Yes I am serious.

I've never seen much in the way of average home run distance or comparison between one player's average home run distance and another's so that number lacks context for me. So I decided to do a bit of research...

From http://www.hittrackeronline.com/, the average major league home run in 2010 traveled a distance of 396 feet. Smoak's average distance, over only 8 home runs, is "399.9" feet.

Is that extra four feet relevant? Is it a sample size issue? How much does it actually matter how far his home runs travel?

What does the number actually mean? He could never hit a home run for the rest of his life and keep the same average home run distance. Are we basing a prodigious power stroke on a mere 8 home runs? Does average home run distance correlate with the ability to make solid contact?

Jul 11, 2010 01:22 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

are you serious

Jul 11, 2010 18:46 PM
rating: -8
 
Richard Bergstrom

Serious enough that I think you might actually contribute something to the conversation besides thumbing your nose at it.

Jul 11, 2010 19:31 PM
rating: 1
 
awayish

look, it's 8 homeruns, and average distance is the wrong number to look at anyway. if he shows the ability to hit the long bombs (max distance), are you going to hold the shorter ones against him? how about the number of fly balls that don't even become homers?

your question is ridiculously framed.

Jul 12, 2010 09:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I wasn't the one using average home run distance or fly ball/home run ratio as an argument for Smoak's abilities, which is why I asked about the average home run distance and why it was relevant or whether it suggests that Smoak only has pull-field power.

Jul 12, 2010 13:20 PM
rating: 0
 
awayish

it's not that interesting of an aggregate stat, you are better off looking at the distance table of all the homers. however, 400 is not on the small side. the conclusions you draw from this 400 number makes it seem like you think he could only hit homers around 400 feet.

anyway, i'm sure if you've invested half of the time and effort into the question as you've done in getting slightly mad with me, you would understand the problem.

Jul 12, 2010 14:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I could not draw any conclusion because I did not understand the context, or as you put it, how "interesting" of an aggregate stat it was. It actually does not seem that we are that far apart in whether average home run distance over only 8 home runs is actually a useful or predictive number on future success.

And I'm not even slightly mad at you ;) Thanks for expanding on your viewpoint.

Jul 12, 2010 19:16 PM
rating: 0
 
baserip4

Richard has a well thought out comment where he's asking a genuine question and this is what constitutes a response? This comment section should be better than this.

Jul 12, 2010 07:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

Richard,

I still don't buy your reasoning. Smoak can't be downgraded for hitting home runs farther than average. You said the number seemed "on the smallish side" and implies that he has only "corner and gap" power. You're own research reveals that he's above average. So average is smallish, or would you like to take that back?

Since you've brought hittracker data into the analysis, it's worth noting that Smoak's average hittracker "true distance" is 404 feet, 8 feet greater than average true distance. Adam Dunn's average true distance is 408. So, Smoak's home runs are more like Adam Dunn's than like average. I admit it's small samples, but your original claim that his home run distance figure is "on the smallish side" and only enough for corner/gap power does not withstand scrutiny.

Jul 12, 2010 15:59 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I agree my original comment about corner/gap power does not withstand scrutiny because I did not understand what value or context there was to average home run distance when I made that comment. I've gained a bit of understanding regarding the context, but am still unclear how useful average home run distance is in projecting whether someone will be a quality major league hitter (as opposed to, for example, a Home Run Derby champion).

Jul 12, 2010 19:14 PM
rating: 0
 
Schere

Richard,

It's only application that I am aware of is an attempt to separate luck and maybe park effects from "true skill." If a guy hits many home runs just over the fence, some of that is simply luck. If a guy hits most of his home runs 400 feet...not so much.

It's certainly not perfect.

Jul 13, 2010 08:57 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

Don't underestimate the long term value of Beavan in this deal. He is going to be a big league starter for 10 years, eating innings with the best o them. He'll be a valuable 4th/5th starter that does not give up walks in a park that favors a pitcher that makes the hitter put the ball in play.

That said, it's a great deal for both teams. The Rangers already have that same pitcher in Tommy Hunter and Davis is worth the risk with the lineup they already have.

I just wonder why the GM's didn't fix their own problems by adding Bradley and Harden in the deal. Bradley already has success in Texas and Harden might rebound in Seattle. I predict they both get released before the season's end.

Jul 10, 2010 11:34 AM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr

Wow, that's a nice little bit of genius there actually. While Bradley might not garner regular at-bats(or return to form), Texas certainly could afford to take the risk.

Harden seems a natural fit in Seattle as well and Texas probably doesn't need him now.

I'd imagine Bradley's history as a dug-out problem-child would keep this deal from getting done though.

Jul 10, 2010 15:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

The answer to that is money. Texas already ended up taking on about $2 million of Lees salary plus Mark Lowe's salary and Seattle only took on the little bit which was Smoak's draft contract (and Beavan's, which wasn't much either).

If you include Harden and Bradley, then the Mariners have to kick in another $3 million (half of $9 million minus half of $15 million?) plus the Rangers would be stuck with whatever remained of Bradley's contract going forward while Harden can be bought out for next year. Yeah, if I'm the Mariners I definitely do that, but not only would I not do that as the Rangers, I'm not sure Selig would allow it at this point in the process. If the sale gets done by July 31, then they might do that at the deadline, but not sure about the motivation for the Rangers. they don't need another bat, especially one which doesn't have a position, as they have Hamilton, Cruz, Davis, and Guerrero for their COF, 1b, and DH position and its not like either Guerrero or Bradley will play first.

Jul 12, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 1
 
pobothecat

Great article, great discussion.

Haven't heard, though, a discussion of what Plan B might be for Texas if (when?) Davis doesn't work out at 1B. I mean, if there's anyone for whom you'd want to have a Plan B, it's Chris Davis. He's proven that --- and so have the Rangers, losing patience with him --- for a second time --- one month into the season.

Chris Davis or Bust? Really?

Jul 10, 2010 16:24 PM
rating: 1
 
HeavyHitter

Davis is a better hitter and fielder than Smoak.

Jul 12, 2010 11:11 AM
rating: 0
 
Dave Holgado

"Bavasi superfund site..."

Brilliant!

Jul 10, 2010 18:41 PM
rating: 0
 
calhounite

Kotchman is one of the most putrid hitters around. Very slow bat causes him to cheat greatly on fastballs, which means he has to turn the top hand over to slow the bat down on off-speed stuff which causes his typical, monotonous contact...slow dribbler to the 2nd baseman.

And he's SLOW..holey moses is he slow. For a first baseman, he's the pits.

The hitting talent evaluation of this organization sucks. Unlikely to be popping the cork on a real hitter...another unathletic, slightly improved Kotchman clone is more like it.

Jul 10, 2010 19:39 PM
rating: -2
 
graignettles

Smoak whiffed three times in an Oh-fer debut. I think I heard "we want Casey" in the background :-)

Jul 10, 2010 22:52 PM
rating: -1
 
Ira

since the trade:


Smoak: 1-8, 0 walks, 3 K's
Davis: 3-8, 1 walk, 0 K's

SSS applies.

Incidentally, in Texas Davis is considered by far the superior defender at first base.

Jul 12, 2010 11:02 AM
rating: 1
 
Aaron/YYZ

Just wanted to echo the comments about Smoak's numbers masking his good performance.

He's got a high line drive rate, a low BABIP, and a good walk rate. Those three typically mean he's getting wicked unlucky and is actually playing very well.

All the pundit comments I've seen are that the Rangers should have gone back to Chris Davis earlier since he was killing the ball in AAA (with a .400+ BABIP) and Smoak's surface numbers were worse than Davis' when Davis was demoted in April. Those pundits are crazy. Smoak is playing well but not getting the results yet. Davis was getting eaten alive.

Jul 11, 2010 07:48 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I've been brought around to Colin's way of thinking, that line-drive rate is a tough stat to attach a whole lot of value to, because of the subjectivity that goes into determining what is and is not a line-drive. At best, I'd consider it suggestive at best.

Jul 11, 2010 17:05 PM
 
baserip4

I agree with this; until we get more widespread access to Hit/FX, I think we can basically categorize balls in play as "ground balls" and "others." I suspect that will change rapidly, though.

Jul 12, 2010 07:34 AM
rating: -1
 
Fresh Hops

Christina,

You're ignoring the more general point that his BABIP is low. While line drives aren't a great BABIP projector (i.e., you're right as far as that goes), you're ignoring the bigger issue which is that almost everyone has a BABIP between .300 and .320 over long intervals. Smoak's slash line is a misleading source of analysis until we have a long run (a couple seasons, at least) to see if he's a Carlos Pena or just unlucky.

Jul 12, 2010 16:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

No, I'm not, but here you're potentially making the mistake of blurring the line between cause and effect. The BABIP is low, but BABIP is a a symptom of other factors. It is not some external absolute that moves independently of everything else.

The kid was hitting in Texas, or more properly he was not, and Texas is paradise (for hitters, and Texans). Now, happily, he rallied a bit in June, and his strikeout rate (around 21 percent) isn't ghastly, but overall even his good month didn't involve his hitting well enough to be an adequate big-league first baseman, and there's still the problem of separating out his performance against lefties. I'd say there's work to be done, which is what will pull his average up, not some effortless drift towards .300 or better as a matter of mere existence in a competitive environment where "almost everyone" is between .300 and .320.

Being in Seattle certainly isn't going to help him as he makes the adjustments he has to, but I think we can take his June as a hint that things were at least getting better, consistent with his previous track record for improvement over time.

Jul 12, 2010 17:37 PM
 
Aaron/YYZ

I agree that there's more to BABIP than just something simple like guessing at line drives. Smoak _has_ been getting jammed a fair bit so the infield flies would drag his BABIP down. And certainly, minor fluctuations in LD% aren't something to put too much stock in, but when league average tends to hover around 18% (however that 'line drive' categorization may be arrived at) and Smoak is all the way up at 23%, there's clearly something there. That's 12th in the majors per Fangraphs.. The numbers just scream regression candidate (not swing the other way, but certainly produce closer to what you'd expect from a player with those numbers going forward).

Jul 12, 2010 18:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

If he's getting jammed, doesn't that mean he should be taking those pitches for balls and swinging more at pitches he can hit with authority? If he is allowing himself to be jammed, doesn't that indicate a flaw in his swing or in his hitting approach that might also suggest why his BABIP is low?

I'd love for Matt to chime in, he's done a bit of research on BABIP and line drive rates.

Jul 12, 2010 19:18 PM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

This is all true, but he also doesn't appear to be trading line drives for popups.

At this point, based on all the information I can find on his peripherals, I'm inclined to believe that Smoak is going through some growing pains but generally getting unlucky on batted balls. More data is required to make a definitive judgement though. I do not believe this was the case with Chris Davis -- he was getting eaten alive by strikeouts.

Jul 13, 2010 08:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I'm looking into this, and it definitely might be worth writing a blog post about, so look for that. Thanks.

Jul 13, 2010 15:01 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Thanks Matt.

Jul 13, 2010 20:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

I'm not blurring a distinction between cause and effect. I have no doubt that there are causes when a player's long-run performance shows a low BABIP. My claim is that give the short run we have on Justin Smoak, there's little reason to think he is one of the unusual sorts who's long-run performance will show this as a sustained effect. In short, I'm saying we have no basis for thinking that his current BABIP reflects a cause that has to do with him rather than a cause such as luck.

Jul 12, 2010 20:29 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

The data is basically inconclusive... we can't tell if his BABIP is due to luck or due to some attribute of his hitting. He doesn't have a huge strikeout rate and has a decent walk rate, so there is potential for him to improve. That being said, as a first baseman, the offensive bar is higher too.

Jul 12, 2010 22:42 PM
rating: 0
 
Tony Mollica

"Smoak on the water". I love that Christina! Fire in the sky.

Jul 13, 2010 17:10 PM
rating: 0
 
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