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Seth Smith is fourth in the majors with a .333 batting average. Seth Smith is third in the majors with a .434 OBP. Seth Smith is third in the majors with a .608 SLG. Seth Smith is second in the majors with a 1.042. Basically, Seth Smith, the man who perhaps the most boring name in baseball (why I mentioned it over and over again by the way), has been one of the most effective offensive forces in the game through the first quarter of the big league season. Who exactly is Seth Smith and can he keep it up?
Seth Smith appeared in 729 games over his first seven big league seasons. Usually effective, he never did much of anything to stand out. He hit .265 in those 729 games. He got on base at a .342 clip. He produced a .456 SLG. Nothing more than slightly above the league average there.
Smith hit better than .265 just twice in six seasons (2008-13).
Smith never hit more than 17 homers in a season.
Smith never had 60 RBIs in a season.
Smith never scored more than 67 runs.
Smith had only one season with more than four steals.
Smith only had one season with more than 385 at-bats. I'll explain that more in a bit.
Smith was never anything other than a league only starting option or an injury fill-in for mixed leaguers. That's all changed in 2014.
You read the numbers above. Totally elite and completely out of nowhere given who Smith is would be the best way to characterize his start to the season. Besides the obnoxious improvement in the slash numbers (top-4 in all three), there's plenty else that is haywire here.
Smith has a 13.9 percent walk rate in 2014. His career number is 10.3.
Smith has a 16.0 percent K rate. His career mark is 19.1.
Smith has a .376 BABIP. His career mark is .308.
That last number is particularly odd given that his line drive rate right now is just 17.3 percent. Not only is that nearly three points below his career 20.1 percent mark, but it's simply not a mark that can sustain a .376 BAIP (you might also consider who Smith is and the fact that he's simply not capable of surpassing his baseline by this much. For more see BABIP: Skill Meets Luck).
Without having to get all fancy and start tossing out all kinds of crazy explanations and odd acronyms, let me just hit on two aspects of his game this season that show just how unlikely that it is that he'll still be producing at a level remotely similar to where he is currently residing moving forward.
(1) Petco Park is a pitcher's park. Everyone knows that. Current Park Factors show that Petco is 20th in runs scored as well as 20th in homers (both those numbers are up substantially from years past, a situation to monitor throughout the year). So despite hitting in a yard that clearly favors the men on the bump, Seth Smith is performing as if he was Babe Ruth at home, and I'm being serious. In 20 home games Smith is batting .426 with a .506 OBP and .779 SLG. Context? Try this on for size. His career OPS is .812, just barely above his home SLG this season. None of that makes any sense, nor will it continue along at these asinine levels much longer.
(2) You may have noticed above that I mentioned that Smith has only one season with 385 at-bats on his baseball card. Why is that? The fact is that the lefty swinging Smith can't hit lefties. A quick glance at his career slash line show that in spades: .203/.276/.317. He's so poor against lefties that in his previous seven seasons his managers have only given him 375 at-bats against portsiders. That's the context that explains why he will never play every day (even this season he has all of 11 at-bats against lefties). He can't hit lefties, and thus, his playing time will always be limited and with that fact his fantasy value will always have an artificial cap (more on that below).
Before I render the final verdict on Seth Smith, think about this. Here are the names in the outfield mix for the Padres right now:
Unless the Padres suddenly move to the American League or they add a ”rover” like they have in softball, there's just not going to be enough playing time for any of these guys to rack up 550+ at-bats. Look at the at-bat total of Smith right now (120). The three men above him in the major league batting race – Troy Tulowitzki, Charlie Blackmon and Chase Utley – are averaging 152 at-bats a piece. That's a 32 at-bat advantage through roughly a quarter of the season. If that continues, do the math, Smith will be more than 120 at-bats behind the leaders by seasons end. That lack of playing time will cap the upside of Smith. The fact is with his playing time limited his counting numbers, even if he goes nuts all year, just won't impress that much.
Given that he plays in a poor offensive environment, that he won't be playing daily, and that he's simply not this good, it's tough to envision a scenario where he's anything other than a 5th outfielder in mixed leagues moving forward, and honestly, that might be the best case scenario. I would recommend trying to do the old “sell high” with Smith. He might have the best numbers of his big league career this season but it's not likely he is going to vie for NL MVP honors or anything. Come September Smith's production will have fallen back to the level that it's always been – solid but boring.