5 Justin Smoak, 1B, 9.14.11


Once knew an aikido sensei who would set his students to drills, then watch from the sidelines to see if he could catch anybody with .... compressed lips.

Body language isn't a sham science, like astrology or palmistry.  We human beings are hard-wired to express our emotions through our faces and through our gestures.  We do it automatically, without thinking about it.

Take your autonomous response to lying, for example.  If you think I'm lying, or about to say something really embarrassing ... well, that second part is nothing you'd blanch at, on SSI, but you know what I mean ... you cover your mouth with your hand as a completely subconscious reflex.  Why that is, we can argue, but whether that is, we can catalog with confidence...


Justin Smoak wears a pained grimace on his face in the batter's box.  

Contrast Dustin Ackley, with his comfortably parted lips and slumped shoulders.  Contrast Ichiro, with his completely relaxed assassin's stare.

A person who is pained, who is grinding his teeth or grimacing, whose knuckles are white gripping the bat or the armchair, has all sorts of performance issues.


First of all:  try this.  Grit your teeth real hard.  Then grab your chair so hard your knuckles turn white.  Then?  Try to think creatively...

Think about a plot for a new novel, while gritting your teeth.  It can't be done.  Creative thought occurs only under relaxation.

As Dustin Ackley prepares for the next pitch, he is relaxed, and he is thinking.


Second of all:  try to grab a quarter out of somebody's hand, a reflex game .... while your muscles are loose, and try it when your muscles are tight.

You can't be tight constantly, and then explode.  You relax, and then you explode.  Again, watch Ackley and Ichiro.


Wednesday night, Smoak grimaced, tensed his body, took a mighty swing at a pitch... and bounced it to second base.  He's a study in massive strength and massive power leakage.

I notice that Justin Smoak is one of the few Mariners who doesn't chew gum or tobacco at the plate.  Wouldn't that be hilarious, if a pack of Big League Chew was the key to his 2012?  :- ) But that is exactly what my sensei would have told him his fix was.  Gotta relax before you can perform.


Justin Smoak will relax, eventually.  He did for a while, earlier this year.

But it's odd, that somebody so large, and so talented, would feel so out-of-place in a baseball stadium.

Relax, man.  You'll live longer.  And hit more home runs.



He was fine earlier this year, a placid, calm HR-hitting pool of deep water.  He had his yips early, then settled in fine for a month.  
And then his dad died, he hung in there for almost a month and after that...he's never been the same.  It's completely understandable.  His dad was also his best friend, his swing coach, his biggest cheerleader...everything to him.
The injuries, the pressure and the frustration mounted as the Ms crashed and burned without their RBI man hitting RBIs.  He had 32 RBIs the first 2 months, and  19 in the last 3 and a half.  He teetered in June, and the Ms started to waver.  He crashed and burned in July, and the Ms lost 17 in a row.
I have complete faith that the Smoak we saw the first 2 months is the one that'll come out of Spring Training.  If he can stop breaking thumbs and noses and there are hopefully no more family tragedies, he'll be fine.
And he'll relax.
If we can get another bat to share the load of the offense (I don't think he trusts Carp yet and he seems to believe it's his job to drive in Ackley, not Ackley's job to drive in runs) he'll get right in a hurry.
Just take a little pressure off.  Even a low-stress Southern boy can get wound up if he's gotta do it all.  I didn't give credence to that argument when Wedge made it earlier in the year, about keeping Smoak out of the 4 hole.  It had more psychological weight than I thought it would on him.
I'd like to see us get a legit cleanup hitter in here so that Smoak and Carp don't try to kill themselves over the role.


I watched the Braves lose for 20 years while having guys like Murphy and Horner hitting 40 HRs a year.  The teams won 70.
But, what did the FIRST Braves playoff team of the '90s look like?
1991:  Ron Gant - 32 HRs - Pendleton 22-HRs. David Justice - 21 HRs.  Justice got 91 games at cleanup.
1992:  Justice - 21 HRs (110 games as cleanup hitter), Penleton 21-HRs; Gant 17. 
The 1995 team that WON the WS:  McGriff 27-HRs (144 games - he played every day in the 144 game season).  Justice 24-HR; Chipper 23-HR; Klesko 23-HR;
How many HRs does it take to be a "legit" cleanup hitter?  In 2010 there were a total of 8 AL players to hit 30 HRs.  The problem with Seattle's offense has never been that it did not have a 'legit' cleanup hitter.  Branyan did not prevent the 2009 Seattle offense from finishing last in runs socred.
The problem with Seattle's offense has been having too many guys that cannot hit at all. 
G notes (correctly) that Smoak was relaxed and hitting just dandy early in the season, (so who was the legit HR hitter then?  Cust?!?)
Smoak's issues are NOT in the lineup around him.  His issues are in his head.  Smoak hit great 5th with Olivo behind him.  He hit well batting 3rd with CUST behind him.  He sucked batting cleanup, mostly with ACKLEY behind him. 
Sorry, but that combo says very clearly that Smoak's performance has ZERO to do with the ability of the hitter behind him and a lot to do with what is going on in his head if he happens to be in the cleanup slot. 

ghost's picture

I don't think anyone here was arguing that we needed a 40-HR clean-up hitter to "proect Smoak"...what we're saying we is that we need a guy who is experienced with and comfortable in the clean-up spot. We'd be fine with Edgar Martinez as his 24 HRs in the clean-up spot...or John Olerud and his 19. What we don't want is a KID in the clean-up spot...let the kids play other roles...let them believe they don't have to carry the whole burden of the offense...and you'll see fewer prolonged slumps. The problem isn't when Smoak is hitting well...the problem is when he hits into bad luck for a week and, beacuse the Mariners don't have enough line-up depth, the team goes 1-6 and he starts pressing. He won't press as much if other guys can pick him up.

OBF's picture


paracorto's picture

... in his head.
I'm seriously interested to discover what Smoak really is as a baseball player. Looking forward for watching his performance in a 2012 season without any further trouble for him. Then we'll know for real, no more promises required just facts.

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