Player of the Week (5/5 – 5/11): Seth Smith, San Diego LF


Week Stats: 7 G, 33 PA, 14 H, 5 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 4 R, 7 RBI, 5 BB, 6 K, .500/.576/1.000

Since Seth Smith’s Platoon Smash on the first day of San Diego’s season, it’s been the same story: Seth Smith comes up against righties, Seth Smith smash. (Others would say Seth Smith smartly strikes a single to center. Silly Seth Smith semantics.)

Seth Smith’s statistics have a story of their own. Smith is riding an eight-game hitting streak that started May 3. In six of those games he had multiple hits and he reached base at least twice in all eight games. Eric Hosmer of the Royals also had 14 hits last week but 10 of them were singles. Smith hit five singles and nine extra-base hits, for 28 total bases to Hosmer’s 20. His success raises a morbid philosophical question: if only one Padre is hitting the ball well, does it make a difference?

Well, no. You’ll see above that Smith had seven runs batted in last week. All seven RBI, as well as three of his four runs scored, came Friday through Sunday against the Marlins, when the rest of the San Diego lineup joined Smith in the world of the living. In the first five games of Smith’s hitting streak, San Diego won once and scored a measly 2.2 runs per game. Even with their recent outburst against the Marlins, the Padres haven’t averaged three runs per game on the season, and Smith has been hitting well pretty much the entire time. Despite Smith’s contributions, the Padres offense had been so much worse than every other team’s that it compelled me to say this when I previewing their weekend against the Marlins:

The Padres are eight runs away from 100 on the season. Whether they get those runs this series is a toss-up.

That was last week’s edition of me being laughably wrong; the Padres got more than eight on Friday alone. But who could have expected 10 runs from the Padres in a Jose Fernandez start? Smith knocked a 95 mph Fernandez fastball off the top of the wall (or Giancarlo Stanton’s glove, hard to tell) in right field for a triple.

Just a foot more and that’s a home run. The next day Smith jacked a 96 mph Nate Eovaldi fastball to the right field seats. No fastball is too much for him, especially if it’s coming from a righty. Smith sports a career .282/.361/.492 slash line against righties; against same-handed pitchers Smith’s line falls to .204/.276/.319. By now it should be beyond dispute that you don’t want Smith facing a left-hander. Padres manager Bud Black knows what’s up.

sethsmithplatoontable

So far this season, Smith has had more than nine plate appearances versus rightes for each plate appearance he’s had versus a lefty. Essentially his plate appearances versus lefties have been halved, from 17 percent of all PA on his career to 9.6 percent this season. Graphing some of the information from the table above makes the connection easier to see. The measure for offensive productivity on the vertical axis is wRC+, which is good here because among other things it adjusts for home park, and Smith has gone from Coors to Petco in the last few years.

sethsmithplatoongraph

The seven dots represent the six seasons from 2009 to 2014 and one point representing Smith’s entire career. That’s not a lot but Smith’s career will never be long enough for me to be really satisfied with the sample size. Besides, it’s plenty convincing. The linear equation lines up with what we would expect: set x to 0, meaning Smith faces only lefties, and the equation gives us a wRC+ of 54.9. Smith’s actual wRC+ against lefties is 56. That’s good enough for me. (And that outlier at the bottom is unduly influenced by a low BABIP, I would contend.)

Bud Black can afford to use Smith so optimally because he two other options who can cover for Smith against left-handed pitching*. In a lineup full of problems, left field ain’t one.

*One last link because I had so many in the research stage of this article: just look at Smith’s career futility against lefty breaking pitches.

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