Examining Dominic Smith’s Dominant Start To The Season

After sweeping a four-game set with the Nationals and taking two out of three from the Tigers, the Mets failed to live up to expectations on their latest road swing in which they lost three out of four contests against the Dodgers and two out of three against the Diamondbacks. The Mets bullpen continued to struggle mightily, as Edwin Diaz blew a three run lead in Los Angeles and Jeurys Familia and Robert Gsellman dropped the ball in Arizona on Saturday (blew a four run lead).

To add insult to injury, Dominic Smith was scratched from Sunday’s lineup due to a sore thumb. Fortunately, “Mets manager Mickey Callaway said there is no reason to be concerned about this until Smith receives further evaluation. Smith woke up with swelling, so New York decided to play it safe” (northjersey.com). Losing Dominic Smith would undoubtedly be a tough blow to the slumping Mets.

Over his last 22 trips to the plate, Smith is hitting .474/.545/.842 with two home runs. On the year, he’s been worth a robust 1.0 fWAR, a substantial improvement upon his first two seasons in the bigs (2017: -0.6 fWAR; 2018: -0.5 fWAR), but he has yet to receive regular playing time. Assuming the MRI on Smith’s thumb comes out clean, one can expect him to receive more reps moving forward, as Callaway is now willing to play Smith in left field. His defense there will surely be a work in progress, but getting Smith’s bat into the lineup more regularly should be a priority for Callaway and company.

Dominic Smith’s dominant start to the season is extremely impressive. Hard work is certainly paying off for the 23 year old first baseman. During the offseason, Kyle Glaser of Baseball America asked Smith about what adjustments he has made to his swing. Here was Smith’s response:

Less moving parts. I’m a little bit taller now because when I was in my legs I would rock back too far and it would get me out on my front foot, and once I’m out on my front foot I’m trying to catch everything out in front and that’s what causing me to chase a lot of pitches. Now, I’m more tall, so I can really sit on that back hip and really reach and read the pitches now. I’m still really young, it’s crazy. You look at some of the greatest players, you look at (Aaron) Judge, you look at (Mike) Trout—their first couple hundred at-bats wasn’t the best, but they’re some of the best players in the game now. So at 23 years old, I feel like I still have a lot of potential and upside and I worked really hard this offseason, so I’m excited to do what I can in spring.

2018 (credit: Baseball Savant)
2019 (credit: Baseball Savant)

As can be seen in the images above, Dominic Smith is utilizing a much more subtle leg kick (he’s not trying “to catch everything out in front”) in 2019. He’s also cocking his bat in a more upright stance (presumably to enhance his timing), as well as keeping his hands in a lower position.

Additionally, Smith’s plate discipline has improved dramatically this season. After walking only 2.7 percent of the time last season, he is now walking nearly 15 percent of the time, not to mention he’s miraculously lowered his strikeout rate by 12.8 percent (from 31.5 percent –> 18.7 percent).

2018

  • O-Swing% (percent of the time a hitter swings at pitches outside the strike zone; according to FanGraphs): 39.8
  • Swing%: 52.6
  • SwStr% (percent of time a hitter swings and misses): 14.3

2019

  • O-Swing%: 30.4 (-9.4)
  • Swing%: 45.8 (-6.8)
  • SwStr%: 11.5 (-3.8)

Dominic Smith has developed a much more patient approach, which has allowed him to wait for pitches that he can do significant  damage to. While I hate to dampen the enthusiasm, Smith’s staggering .435 BABIP is plain hard evidence of some extreme batted ball luck. Of the 47,239 batters to register at least 70 plate appearances during a single season (1871 – 2019), Smith’s .435 BABIP is the 33rd highest on the list (he’s in the 99.9 percentile!). Often times, line drive hitters run higher BABIP than their peers. But in taking a closer look at Dominic Smith’s batted ball profile, he does not appear to fall under that category…

His career high batting average on balls in play is .380, and that was in 2017 when he was playing at triple-A. Smith’s BABIP has not exceeded .315 since then. To determine what Dominic Smith’s batting average may look like the rest of the way out, we’ll calculate a weighted average of his BABIP from his first three seasons in the majors:

Weighted BABIP: (2017 BABIP [.218] * 0.25) + (2018 BABIP [.297] * 0.35] + (2019 BABIP [.435] * 0.4) = .332

Based on this weighted average, Smith’s batting average moving forward will likely hover around the .270 range (.332 * 51 batted ball events = 16.932 hits; 16.932 / 63 at-bats = .269), which is still a valuable hitter.

Ultimately, Dominic Smith has reinvented his game through implementing a more patient approach, and he looks to provide a jolt to the Mets offense in the coming weeks.

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