12 May 2017

Seth Smith Acquisition Is Paying Dividends

In a move that was roundly praised during the offseason, the Orioles added Seth Smith from the Mariners in exchange for Yovani Gallardo and cash (about $2 million). Because of the difference in salaries, the trade netted the O's some minimal cost savings as well. In terms of roster construction, the deal was at least a little curious. At the time, the O's seemed to be in the market for speed and better outfield defense. The O's also struggled when facing left-handed pitching in 2016, yet still made the move for Smith, a hitter who wears out right-handed pitching but doesn’t bring much else to the table.

Even though the O’s were and still are somewhat thin in the starting rotation (though they do have a seemingly endless supply of long relievers riding the Norfolk shuttle), it made sense to dump Gallardo, who was terrible and not 100 percent healthy in his first and only season in Baltimore. And the O’s were not only able to shed Gallardo, but able to land a competent player in Smith at the same time. (To Gallardo's credit, he's throwing harder this year, seems healthy, and has been decent.) It's hard to find an ideal fit when you're trying to dump a player that you don't want, but it's hard to argue that the O's could have done much better (except, you know, how the whole signing Gallardo part went in the first place).

The Orioles have not just received a good hitter in Smith, but one who has, so far, flourished in his leadoff hitter role. While playing almost exclusively against right-handed pitching -- 73 of his 75 plate appearances have come against right-handers -- Smith has been on a tear since the start of the season. His 160 wRC+ leads the club (he's two points ahead of Trey Mancini), and he’s consistently been on base. His .400 on-base percentage leads the team, comfortably ahead of Jonathan Schoop (.355).

A few things stand out when digging into Smith's batted ball and plate discipline data a bit (keep in mind, though, that it's only mid-May). He's pulling the ball half the time (career 43.1%), hitting the ball harder (38.5% hard-hit balls compared to 32.3% for his career), and avoiding weak contact (7.7% soft-hit balls compared to a 15.6% career mark). Among players with at least 50 plate appearances, that soft contact percentage is tied for sixth lowest in the majors.

Just take a look at Smith's zone breakdown in terms of exit velocity, courtesy of Baseball Savant. The first chart is 2016, and the next one is so far in 2017:

That's a lot more red, and a lot less blue.

As you'd expect, Smith is seeing the ball well and making lots of contact. He's not chasing as many pitches, swinging a bit less overall, and making a ton of contact when he does swing outside the zone (74.4% vs. 62.4% for his career).

Here’s the part you probably expected: Smith is unlikely to keep hitting this well, so who knows how long this will continue. He’s riding a BABIP of .347 (career .301), and he’s never posted a wRC+ above 131. While the O’s have to love Smith performing 60 percent better than the league average hitter, they’d certainly take 30 percent as well.

Bringing Smith on board was a smart move, but maybe it seemed like more of a luxury addition considering the rest of the Orioles' collection of outfielders. Smith has clearly been a useful left-handed bat, though, in a lineup that is frequently finding itself without the team’s other left-handed hitting outfielder, Hyun Soo Kim. Smith is providing the on-base skills that Kim demonstrated last season, but with more power.

Kim could be on the move at some point during this season, but Smith isn't going anywhere. And if he keeps this up, he'll be the Orioles' latest success story in getting the most out of an undervalued player.


Roger said...

I can't believe you put the words "Jonathon Schoop" and "on base percentage" in the same sentance in a positive light. It would be nice if HE kept it up. Seems like trading pitchers out of OPACY and into Seattle and hitters in the opposite direction might always be a win-win. It was funny that the O's opined all offseason about needing LH OFs and after the Smith trade, all of a sudden it was RH OFs they really needed except they kept talking about LH bats. What they really needed was someone to hit lefties. Having Mancini and Rickard and Castillo really makes a difference. The O's pounded Gio. Smith was expected to bring OBP potential to the club so it's nice that it'a actually happening. Considering how well everyone is performing (even if not from some of the expected sources), the real problems facing the O's right now are Machado and Britton. Hopefully, warm weather and a little more luck (BABIP on hard hit balls) will solve Machado's problems but he has looked really bad on some strikeouts. Don't think the O's bullpen will hang together much longer without Britton. Seems to me like Kim and Gentry are on the bubble (as long as Rickard stays healthy). The O's have Kim's replacement at Norfolk (Bourn or Alvarez). They could use another solid late inning bullpen piece (is Yacabonis ready??).

Pip said...

I'm pretty sure that the Dan did not specifically want to Smith so much as he wanted to get rid of Gallardo. He saw a usable player and an opportunity to get rid of a bad one and he took it. That it has worked out very well so far is quite probably just another example of the luck which has followed the Orioles for several years. I'm certainly not complaining, but "luck" is not a repeatable skill.
By the way, that trade must remain among the most courteous made by the Seattle people in the new regime. Gallardo's success so far must also rank as serendipity.

Pip said...

"... among the most curious"


Pip said...

Roger, always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Gentry has more effective speed and much better defense, so even if he's not hitting a lick, he's probably a better use of a roster spot than Rickard, and Joey can just be sent down to Norfolk without removing anybody, which solves the keep him or lose him dilemma. I love feel-good stories, and Joey certainly is one, but his defense isn't very good. That "outstanding" catch he made the other day should have been a routine fly out: watching the replay brought to mind Joe Shlabotnik

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who is starting to feel bad for the Mariners? Why do they keep dealing with us?

Unknown said...

Corner OF was definitely a weakness at the time of the Smith trade, They played Kim and Trumbo most of the time last year, when Trumbo came back it was assumed he would DH and smith would platoon with Rickard. So far Smith has been working out well.

Roger said...

Pip, don't know if you were watching but right after the announcers went on about how great a catch it was, they said that Statcast said the catch had a 95% probability. I almost laughed myself silly. I hope Rickard becomes a better fielder. He brings speed and youth, which is something Gentry doesn't have. I agree that optioning him would be a good way to keep more flexibility for the roster but I think a LH DH or another LH OF (who can play defense) might be more important than a decent fielding, speedy, weak hitting RH OF (Gentry). Notice that Davis is out of the lineup tonight against the LH Duffy. Unless he starts bashing, this may happen more frequently.