Here Is What's Going On with Justin Smoak
Wile E. Coyote Dept.


=== Just The Fa'ax, Ma'am ===

Coming into Monday's game against the Reds, Justin Smoak had the following statline:

49 7 4 .408 .434 .796 3 13
  90 45       35 140

Then today he had two more hits in his first two AB's.  The third line gives a projected total over the course of about 550 AB's, after those two AB's.

The single-season record for doubles is 67, set by Earl Webb in 1931; all the highest doubles totals are from the 1930's.*  In recent times there have been a few seasons in which batters got their doubles into the 50's.

We know, LrKrBoi29, we know.  Eight doubles doesn't pro-rate.  We're just saying, eight doubles and 4 homers in 16 games, that ain't just "good."  It's great.


From a scouting standpoint?  Geoff Baker was axed, what are the chances that Smoak is going to break through in 2013?  On a scale of 1-10?

He said 7, and only as low as that because it isn't the regular season yet.  Want to see it carry in to April.

When the Mariners comment on it, they certainly speak as though they are optimistic.


From a scouting standpoint, SSI has also now had its chance to see Smoak live and in the flesh, bab-eh.


=== Super Slo-Mo, Dept. ===

Starting with THIS ARTICLE, and clicking through the bottom right NEXT POST hyperlinks, you can find our 5-part breakdown on Justin Smoak's slow-motion training.


You'll remember that last year, Michael Saunders identified a couple of very specific swing dynamics that were absolutely the keys to his success.  He needed to:

  • Direct his ki "up the middle," not around the corner into the 1B coaches' box
  • Have his belt buckle pointed at the SS, not the 2B, at moment of contact
  • Finish his bat followthrough at the 1B line, not at the catcher

This spring, from what we've seen, these changes have now "taken" and seem to be automatic for Saunders.


The reason we say that is, Justin Smoak's swing key has emerged, and it is just as crystal-clear as Saunders' was.

Last season, Smoak's problem was that he was HURTLING his weight -- acceleration -- ki -- CG -- forward from back to front in a jerky fashion.  

Now, having practiced his swing in slow motion, he has BALANCE at all points through his swing, and the CG does not have to HURTLE forward in order for him to maintain his balance.

Picture a Wile E. Coyote cartoon in which the Coyote has himself in a giant slingshot.  That was the way with Smoak's lefty swing in 2012.  As the pitch arrived, his weight was wayyyyy back on his left leg, and he LAUNCHED that weight forward at the incoming energy.

This created an obvious problem with TIMING.  Imagine yourself in that slingshot, trying to intercept an incoming arrow.  If the arrow arrives a little slower than you expected, you're done.  If it arrives a little faster than expected, you're done.  It's hard to time your slingshot action to varying speeds of incoming arrows.


Smoak's forward acceleration is now totally controlled.  He sits back and sees the pitch, and then he lets go of the bat after having perceived the amount of velocity on the ball.  Also, his forward launch is not THROWN forward desperately; it is MOVED forward deliberately.

Saduharu Oh once asked the founder of aikido if he had any advice for baseball hitting.  O'Sensei said, "Don't try to anticipate the speed of the ball.  Let it arrive at its own pace, and be there to greet it."


The irony is, now that Smoak's swing is more compact, he is free to attack with more gusto.  Now that he's not wildly attempting to slingshot himself, at confusing instants from swing-to-swing, he is actually letting the bat go with real optimism.  

His EYE is way reduced, and in this specific case that may simply indicate that he's dialed up his attack.


We'll see whether Smoak's results carry through.  From an aiki standpoint, it surely looks as though it is all systems Go.





to see Justin Smoak turn in something like Mark Texiera's age 26 season (conveniently enough, this will be Smoak's age 26 season), .282/.371/.514. Maybe not so many home runs, so lop around 30 points off that slugging, but right now he's looking every inch of Texiera-lite.


In 2012, Saunders started well with his new swing ... and there was much rejoicing. Then he lost it (for awhile).
Then he worked and found it again.
For Saunders 2012 showed QUICKLY the "potential" of the new swing. But, he certainly didn't lock it in early. It was still work - but work that he was willing and able to do.
I can accept completely every word above about Smoak and his new swing. I can also hold simultaneously the opinion that his odds of breaking through are closer to 3 than 7. Why?
The problem with Smoak was NEVER how good he can hit. Over short spurts, he repeatedly showed the goods.
2010 - Sept - .340/.421/.580 (1001)
2011 - April - .284/.393/.527 (.920)
2012 - Sept - .341/.426/.580 (1005)
The problem was precisely how bad Smoak gets when he is NOT "in the zone".
2010 - July - .145/.181/.233 (.414)
2011 - July - .141/.211/.188 (.399)
2012 - June - .147/.248/.211 (.458) - which extended into July - .134/.194/.269 (.463)
The history of Smoak is that when he slumps, he wallows. The prime spark to break a slump for Smoak has been a return to the minors or a stint on the DL.
Hey I'm happy to hear Smoak setting the bar higher. It's certainly a good sign.
But, the tell on Smoak's career isn't about his streaks. It's about his slumps. If he slumps to .700 ... he could be something special. If he slumps to .450, (like he has his entire career), then he doesn't have much career left.
I'd certainly love to see a Carlos Pena-esque late blossoming. But, I, for one, am glad the club brought in Morales.

ghost's picture this specific case I think it does not apply. Smoak showed flashes of ability in the past not because he was using proper form but in spite of his improper form. Now that he has FOUND proper form, he's a different player and the past is not really all that relevant. The mental part of the game may still challenge I'm not expecting miracles...but I think he has tools now that he never had before to work his way out of slumps.

4 Smoak didn't just rework his swing, he talked about reworking his preparation and his attitude. One of the primary things that Am oak's Winter Hitting Coach had him focus on was entering each plate appearance the same way, and not focusing on what he needed to do to keep his job at any moment. Saunders talked last season about having a short term memory for hitting and not getting wrapped up in recent failures or successes. A lot of ballplayers talk about about not reacting to failure because as much as baseball is a game of adjustments, any player needs to make sure those adjustments don't subtract from their ability to perform their individual swing or pitching motion.
Because Smoak now understands better what his swing should feel like, and because he understands that he does not necessarily need to add pressure to himself or make adjustments every time he has an 0-10 streak, he should be better equipped to maintain what he has gained over the off season the same as Michael Saunders did last season.


Sandy is dead on here.
Is this just the tantalizing J. Smoak that got him here, the one with terrible and long slumps,.....or the new real J. Smoak, less slumpy.
M's are all in this year on Smoak. This ST streak guarantees that there is no real short leash.
There is a possibility that a longer leash is bad. Call it 1 in 3.
I'm less thrilled by the numbers, and more so by the change in approach.
As always, I'm rooting for the guy. As always (so far), I can't be all in.
Certainly not yet.

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