Smoak vs Clement: Pedigree


We talk a lot about track records.  Okay, let's look at the track records.  In the NCAA, Clement's OPS was 1000 as a soph.  Over the next two years, he warn't goin' nowhere.  Here are the OPS's for both lefty mashers in college:














Ain't that the kind of thing Sandy talks about?

Minor-league records are often apples-to-oranges ... big park in AA at age 22 vs. small park in AA at 21 vs normal park in A+ at 21 after the best pitcher got promoted.  

But the NCAA lines above, them are apples to apples.  It was a chart just like that, that had SSI screaming bloody murder over our taking Morrow over Lincecum...


And the scouts' consensus was starkly different.  Clement was always controversial; he was drafted in part because he was a catcher.  

His upside was obvious; Clement was the HS record holder for home runs.  But if you'd have polled 100 scouts, as to whether Jeff Clement was going to star in the bigs, I'm guessing that 70 of them would have demurred.

Justin Smoak has always thrilled the scouts -- in part because of his HIT tool.  They have watched him hit 9,000 kinds of pitches all over the field.

Not just hometown hype here; Smoak is the batting X's and O's the way you draw it up on the chalkboard, a guy who looks like .350 standing still and .375 in the batter's box.  

The swing itself hits all the checkpoints - the right amount of load, and the quickness on good velocity, and the line-to-line power, and all that.  Scouts love guys like Justin Smoak.


Do you know what other scout liked Smoak?  Jack Zduriencik.  You go back to the 2002 draft.  In the first 15 picks there were 13 fails, and there was Greinke ... and there was Jack Zduriencik with the 7th pick, taking a big fat Prince Fielder.

We did a runoff of an NL All-Star team, and the only NL All-Star that year, taken in the first round, was a guy Zduriencik took.  Ryan Braun, a #5 overall.

Rickie Weeks was a #2 overall.  You've probably heard about Dustin Ackley.  It is almost a defining characteristic of Jack Zduriencik, that if you give him a top-10 pick, he can grab you an ML impact player.  

Brewers did good on their real high draft picks.  So have the Mariners.  Justin Smoak was, in effect, a Jack Zduriencik 1-1 draft pick.  That's a piece of evidence that counts in his favor.


Dr. D will frankly admit that it makes him smile, to hear that if the M's landed Fielder, that Zduriencik would shop Justin Smoak.

SSI readers are more sophisticated than to immediately conclude that this means Zduriencik has lost confidence in Smoak, after his 2H washout last year.  Evidently, it could just mean that you were chasing Mariano Rivera in the FA market, and if you get him, you're going to try to cash Brandon League in for another missing part.

Still, it is an intriguing plot twist, the Fielder vs. Smoak theme ... 




Thanks for noting Smoak's college stats.  I had never seen them before.  So, I went to the Gamecock site and though they don't have his career stats combined, I did manage to assemble them:
2006: 244-AB; 18-2B; 17-HR; 40-BB; 39-K; .303/.407/.586 (.995)
2007: 260-AB; 16-2B; 22-HR; 54-BB; 40-K; .315/.434/.631 (1065)
2008: 235-AB; 19-2B; 23-HR; 57-BB; 28-K; .383/.505/.757 (1262)
That does demonstrate some adaptability that I had not seen in his minors lines.  However, it solidifies my stance in one regard.  I think his actual power (HR) potential is limited.  All things considered, I think Ackley has more long-term power potential than Smoak does.
In truth, his hit ability increased and his eye improved while at USC (East).  But, his power numbers were pretty darn flat.  Moreover, in looking at his team, in 2006 Robbie Grinestaff also had 17 HRs.  In 2007, James Darnell 19 and Travis Jones 18.  And in 2008, Darnell had 19, Disher had 19 and Reese Havens had 18.  Basically, in terms of power, Smoak did not distance himself from his own teammates.  Ackley did. 
Now, I don't know college baseball well enough to say definitively that USC hits like High Desert ... but my take on Smoak from the get-go has been that his power potential is over-stated, (just as I believe Ackley's is understated). 
But, the college line does make me think that his MLB (and AAA) batting average is not where it should be.  My take on Smoak has changed due to this foray into his college stats.  I'm thinking that his 'natural' production line is more Mark Grace than Mark Teixeira.  My sense today is that he's pushing (or being pushed) to produce more HRs.  I think his tool set (and mindset) would be better served to concentrate on just making solid contact, (doubles are fine), and let whatever his MLB HR rate work itself out.
At this point, I think his development may have been somewhat slowed by trying too hard for power ... or perhaps ... too soon.  This is not to say that he doesn't have some inate power.  But, he really shouldn't be hitting under .230 for 3 months in a row, (which is what he did from May-July).  I think optimal Smoak should be running something closer to Rickie Henderson lines (without the speed, of course) - .280/.400/.440
To succeed, I think Smoak has to maximize his natural talents - (eye and contact) and not be pushed into trying to be a slugger.  Let him be Edgar for a few years and maybe he ups the power numbers later on, (Edgar didn't hit 20 HRs until he was 32). 
Sadly, I still get the feeling that the Mariner organization is working 'against' the talent they've got rather than with it.  I'm not quite as down on Smoak as I was previously - but I may be more down on just how much Seattle has changed their developmental practices.


Both Clement and Smoak were picked in the 1st round out of college at 21, signed during the summer and went to the Midwest League:
Clement: .319/.386/.522 (30 games)
Smoak: .304/.355/.518 (14 games)
Both started their age-22 seasons at AA:
Clement: .288/.386/.525 (15 games)
Smoak: .328/.449/.481 (50 games)
Both got the call to AAA during the age-22 year:
Clement: .251/.321/.347 (67 games)
Smoak: .244/.363/.360 (54 games)
Clement spent most of age-23 at AAA working on catching, while Smoak started at AAA, got called up, traded, then sent back down in his age-23 season:
Clement: .275/.370/.497 (125 games)
Smoak: .279/.404/.497 (50 games)
I do get that each roll of the dice is independent.  I do get that most first-round picks never show the ability to play in the majors.
But . . . Clement did show the kind of stats that indicate the ability to play in the majors.  He slugged close to .500 time and again.  He drew walks.  He didn't strike out all that much.  In fact, he put up pretty much the exact numbers as Justin Smoak.
My puzzle is: where is the red flag that tells me Clement is a bad bet?

Anonymous's picture

other than to appreciate the discussion and learn from it, but to me Sandy your hypothesis that the M's are pushing Smoak to hit HR's despite that not being his best approach illustrates perfectly what I have been saying all along, 
While theoretically a full-blown Kiddie Corps approach to 2012 to make sure we don't let a blue-chipper get away has a definite logic to it, asking the Kiddies to carry the offensive load without significant veteran help has its own risks. One obvious risk is not having the luxury of letting the Young-uns find their path based on their own skillset. You've gotta plug 'em in the MOTO and your whole season rides on their production or lack of same. You need some HRs? Smoak has got to be a key provider of same. Got to. No batting seventh and figuring it out while the proven vets carry the load.
In the end, you really are risking the development of the potential blue-chippers you're aiming to hoard. I don't want to overstate the problem. A true blue-chipper will likely overcome such obstacles, whether in 2012 or some season soon after that. But that's the point. You don't yet know who the blue-chippers are. At least not for sure.
OK, I WILL overstate it. You can get greedy, saying "I'm going to deploy FOUR (or whatever) young guns in the same season. I don't need no stinkin' MOTO vets." Now all of them can shoot lilke Sundance. But none of them is Butch Cassidy. None of them has yet proven they can go into the OK Corral and come out the other side alive with the other guys dead. In fact, it takes a special sort of wiles (developed by experience) and guts to come out the other side, not just shooting talent.
In the movie Sundance tells Butch, "You just keep doin' the thinking, Butch. That's what you're good at." In other words, "You point the way, you figure out who, what, when, where and how, that'll free me up to worry about one thing...shooting the bad guys."
Back to the OK Corral metaphor, if you go in with four Kids and no vets you're liable to see some of those beautiful shooters go down with bullets in 'em because they didn't have the experience to know how to conduct the fight. If that is indeed what happens, you could look back and in hind sight say they never really had a chance.
Again, I realize I may be overstating the problem, but when I saw your point about Smoak I just had to connect the dots. Both our POV's in this case are hypothetical.


Eric Wedge, early in the year, said he didn't want to put Smoak in the 4 hole because it would put too much pressure on him to be the producer of the offense, the HR hitter.  The RBI man.
I scoffed at this, stating bluntly that Smoak was our best hitter, so he needed more RBI opportunities. Sure, he was hitting great out of the 5 hole but he was starting off too many innings as the first 4 guys failed to produce runs, and his HRs were solo jobs.
He needed to hit 3rd, or 4th, so that there was at least the potential for guys to be on base for him, because nobody behind him was driving him home either.
Batting 5th (comfort level GREAT): .290/.360/.460
Batting 3rd (comfort level EH...): .230/.320/.440
Batting 4th (comfort level AHHH!): .120/.230/.170
Wedge was right.  Smoak also had his father's death and his thumb injuries to deal with, but he changed his approach when he hit 4th and it did him no favors.
Asking a guy with a couple hundred at-bats in the bigs to be your RBI man puts pressure on him, and he's already under pressure, both internal and external.
I'm not concerned about Smoak's power (he has plenty) or his batting eye (it'll be fine) or his attitude (also good).
Justin damaged both thumbs, lost his father, took a ball off the face, and still posted a 105 OPS+ in his first real season.  If he'd broken his hamate bone and sapped his power that way no one would have been surprised. can't swing a bat at full power with busted thumbs either.
I would not want to trade Smoak even if we did somehow sign Fielder, but I guess it would depend on what void we were filling.  Since I don't expect to get Fielder, I'm looking forward to seeing a healthy Smoak tear it up in his 2nd full season.
And probably while hitting 5th.  I'd love a vet cleanup hitter, though.  Ackley should hit 2nd or 3rd, Carp can hit 3rd or 6th, but I'm dying for an RBI man in the 4 hole who's done it before, so he DOESN'T put too much pressure on himself as a rookie/second year man.
Fielding a lineup almost entirely made up of players with less than 2 full years experience (Smoak, Jaso, Carp, Wells, Ackley, and Seager could all be logging significant starting time) is asking for trouble.
And we ran into that trouble last year.

Taro's picture

I still think Smoak can hit. Just never thought it was likely he develops into a star with his swing. Needs to get back to opposite-field hitting and he still can turn into an above-average 1B.
The positions of concern are OF and DH.


Now I think I see what you're getting at.
 ... and as you know, when we go into a lecture about things that are obvious to you, there's no condescension intended.  I know that you know about dice rolls, but we use a "Baseball for Dummies" style that we hope will be useful for the 50% of the audience that doesn't live baseball.  :- )
Personally, I enjoy the " ... for Dummies" books.  They're scannable.
Will cheerfully concede your point.  There was nothing in Clement's pre-MLB record to tip us off.  Nada.
And will also concede your implication:  "If you were wrong about Smoak, how would you know? You wouldn't."
If Smoak were a AAAA hitter, I *wouldn't* know -- not from his minors performance.
I think we know that he's not a AAAA hitter based on his plate coverage, the flashes he's shown and the way the scouts have assessed him.  He'll tell us soon enough.  :- )


As you say that G, it brings up this tremendous visual of Ackley-Fielder-Carp doing all the heavy lifting and Justin Smoak sitting there incognito in the six hole, nobody looking at him except when he trots around the bases...
Gracious admission of you re: Wedge, and you can bet that Wedge has seen this syndrome many times during his years in baseball.
Some guys like low expectations, and enjoy the "wow" reaction when they surprise people.  


Until your and Gordon's posts.
I mean, it's axiomatic to the pro's, that if you have a Straw that Stirs the Drink, the other guys will often start popping tall and playing better.
What had not occurred was the case of a player like Justin Smoak, a fragile young guy who likes the bar set low, and how much a Fielder type can do to help set that bar lower for him.
Sabermetrics hasn't yet written its first word on --- > what causes a Justin Smoak to have a good year.  Sabermetrics cannot pretend to be able to even comment on the impact, or lack thereof, of a Straw That Stirs.
But I think if you've watched sports, you've noticed that some athletes make the players around them better.


I've just been puzzling through how well we can figure MLB success from minor league results.  Clement was one of the guys that checked every box, but still was a flop.  Then I realized how close his lines were to Smoak, which gave me some pause in my confidence in him.
This occurred just as Sandy was posting bearish about Smoak, and you were posting about "naturals" who overrated as a result of being "aesthetically pleasing."  Then came the rumors that Smoak will go if Fielder comes in.
Good discussion, and no need to be sorry.


The bottom line, for me, is that we can't rely too much on minors performance.  It's one thing to be aware of, maybe the biggest single thing, but life is not simple ...
Baseball execs these days actually express it in fractions.  Are you 60% minors stats, 40% scouting?  80-20?  or what?
I used to be 95% stats, and now am quite alarmed to find myself more like 30% stats, 70% eyeball.  Heh.


I don't know what would happen with Prince in the middle of the lineup...but I know what I THINK would happen:
1 - Ackley scores a hundred-plus runs hitting in front of Prince and gets a million grooved fastballs (or alternately, has his OBP hit the stratosphere since he refuses to get himself out).
2 - Smoak settles down and breathes, knowing that it's not All On Him to produce any runs for a pitifully anemic offense.  He crushes an easy 130 OPS+.
3 - Carp is sandwiched between Fielder and Smoak and starts getting pub for his phenomenal year and work ethic while playing a decent LF.
4 - We can better absorb another off year from Ichiro or Guti (though I would think we would move Guti to help afford Fielder, put Wells in CF with Trayvon or the new kid backing him up, and get even MORE lineup production at the plate in the process thanks to Fielder's presence).
I think Fielder helps our offense out at multiple positions.  Like I said, I wouldn't trade Smoak if we got Fielder - I'd be relying on Fielder to help boost Smoak's performance back to where I think it should be, so I definitely want Justin on the team.
I don't always believe in a Straw That Stirs The Drink phenomenon, but on a roster with a ton of young kids all being asked to do more immediately than they should have to?  I absolutely believe it.
Did Pineda throw so amazingly in part because he didn't have to try to live up to being the Ace, since Felix was already here dominating that role?  Could be.  "Just do your thing, kid, we've got a monster standing over there who is the point man for this rotation/lineup" can be a wonderful tension-breaker.
I don't think Prince will be on our roster, but I think it would make massive improvements to said roster.
Here's hoping Justin can relax even though we will be counting a whole lot on his production this season, IMO.


I don't always believe in a Straw That Stirs The Drink phenomenon, but on a roster with a ton of young kids all being asked to do more immediately than they should have to?  I absolutely believe it.

A-Gone wasn't the straw that stirred the Boston drink, and you could find a hunnerd examples of FA's who didn't affect their teams much.
But like you say.  If the Straw that Stirs is not a factor for THIS team, it's not a factor for any team.   You've got to believe that Jack Zduriencik has made exactly the same assessment.
What do you make of Zduriencik's noises that he would deal Smoak?  Is he really ruling Mike Carp out as a left fielder, under any conditions?
I certainly hope not.  My kingdom for a corner OF who can bomb away.

Jpax's picture

I remember Wedge saying he didn't want to put pressure on Smoak by batting him 4th, which I took to mean any rookie.
However, Wedge had no difficulty in batting Carp 4th.


If the latest rumors are true, Seattle fans may get to see the very thing they are hoping for ... except it will be the Miami Marlins that attempt to buy their way from 70 to 90 wins via the check book.
The Marlins have some interesting similarities in that they have a very young core of talent that didn't score many runs.  Of course, the Marlins are further along in their rebuild ... Stanton, Sanchez, Morrison, Bonifacio all have at least 800 MLB PAs, while Hanley *was* the face of the franchise (until his nightmarish 2011 campaign) with over 3000 PAs as a Marlin.
In truth, I view the Marlins much closer to the point where I would say spending big could be rewarded ... except the club went so far backward last season. 
They've gotten a MUCH better look at their young talent, and NONE of their top 11 hitters posted an OPS+ under 80.  They don't have the gaping maws of production to fix like the Ms have across the entire OF.  But, it'll be interesting to see if bringing in Reyes and Fielder, (assuming they land him) results in the massive turn-around that the money is obviously chasing.


The Ms were in the race for how long?  Until that 17 game losing streak.
When did Carp hit in the 4 hole? Once they were out of contention.
Smoak was trying to score runs when it mattered.  Carp did his damage for a team that had plummeted out of the race and into being one of the worst teams in baseball with the least expectations.
It may not have been as much of a value judgment on the relative toughness of each man (I remember Mike Carp being sent back to the minors this year, possibly for being a cocky non-listener) than a situational one.  Smoak batting in the 4 hole with nothing on the line might not have affected him at all either.
Doing it when the team was hovering in the divisional race and there were ZERO other hitters on the team was a tougher thing.


He was 10 feet tall with a thousand pounds of swagger, no argument.
Since I'd seen him get tossed out of a minor league game for cussing out an ump and get sat by his manager just a few weeks earlier I was happy to see that his original demotion didn't deter him, and just focused him (once Darren Brown got in his ear, anyway).
I hope he comes back to Spring Training with the same swagger and carries it the whole season. A powerful sophomore performance by Mike would help us so much...

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