Some very good baseball players are doing some very bad things this year.
Baseball Prospectus’ True Average report is endlessly fascinating. Matt Kemp’s .376 TAv is absurd, and Mike Trout, the just-turned-21-year-old rookie superstar, is right behind him with a gaudy .370. And how about David Ortiz in fifth place with a .342! Who saw that coming? The top of the list is an amazing mixture of quotidian greatness (Votto) and fantastic surprises (Jaso??).
But I’m equally fascinated by the bottom of the list. Change the pulldown to the right of TAv from DESC to ASC, set the min. PA to “200,” and hit View Data. (Alternately, you can just click here. At the top of that list are the very worst hitters in Major League Baseball. Just like with baseball’s best hitters, the bottom-dwellers run the gamut from “duh” (Yuniesky Betancourt at 25th-worst) to “huh?” (Ryan Raburn, worst in the majors).
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It's been 4 years, and Smoak's not yet a force in the middle of a big league lineup. What gives?
Smoak was drafted by the Texas Rangers with the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft, viewed by many as one of the top bats available. After the unexpected fall from the top 10, Smoak signed at the deadline for a well above-slot bonus ($3.5M) and reported to the Midwest League, where the switch-hitting first baseman showcased his talent in his brief full-season debut. Coming in, Smoak was lauded for his approach to hitting and his smooth stroke from both sides of the plate, a swing that projected to produce both a high batting average and over-the-fence power, making Smoak a potential middle-of-the-order monster.
Smoak’s first full-season in the minors had its peaks and valleys, crushing in his Double-A debut, then getting injured for a month with a strained oblique, then returning and struggling in his first taste of Triple-A, then finally rising back up to his potential and leading the USA to gold in the World Cup. His swing was still praised for being fluid and easy from both sides of the plate, and his mature approach was said to be among the very best in the minors. His glove at first was seen as a well above-average tool, and he possessed a total defensive package at the position that could make him a weapon at a less-than-premium spot on the diamond. He lacked speed and plus athleticism, but the footwork was good, the arm was strong, and the glove was called a vacuum.
Justin Smoak isn't producing for the Mariners, and he isn't a particularly interesting character, either, so when you research his woes, you end up in a time warp.
You look for things to write about the Mariners. You watch some games, flip through stats pages, maybe think about clever puns for Justin Smoak. Because probably that hasn't been done to death.
You ponder how Smoak has done since coming over from Texas for Cliff Lee in July 2010. Smoak was supposed to provide power, but he has five homers and isn't hitting or getting on base. Still, that is more homers than Albert Pujols, and he is hitting more and getting on base more often. Also, Smoak is seven years younger and a tad less expensive.
Albert Pujols may be struggling, but there are major-league regulars doing even worse.
Albert Pujols you know about. The $240 million man has yet to get untracked for the Angels and ended the month of April hitting a paltry .217/.265/.304 without a homer. He's hardly the only hitter who has begun 2012 in a funk, though. In fact, 41 other hitters came into Tuesday with True Averages lower than or equal to that of Pujols' .225 in at least 65 plate appearances, i.e., enough to qualify for the batting title. Sure, those are small samples sizes, but we're 14 percent of the way through the season, with one page of the calendar wadded up into a ball, so it's not like we can't at least gawk at the outliers. What follows is a look at a half-dozen AL hitters—none of them as good as Pujols to begin with, admittedly—who are struggling to an even greater degree than the Angels slugger, and where they and their teams might go from here.
The Mariners have some nice building blocks but are still a couple of bats short.
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.