The Toronto Blue Jays got another strong outing from a starting pitcher, scored just enough runs and got a lockdown effort from the bullpen and dealt the Baltimore Orioles their first home loss of the season. In the bargain, the Jays picked up a third straight win for the first time this year.
The Blue Jays’ mighty offence, while still not firing on all cylinders, is beginning to rouse from its early-season slumber.
Russell Martin, who started the season 2-for-31, has reached base in six of his last 15 plate appearances and Kevin Pillar has raised his batting average 66 points in the three games since being taken out of the leadoff spot on Sunday.
Troy Tulowitzki had a big two-run double on Tuesday night and is three for his last 12 with a walk (not great, but way better than the .119 he was hitting through the first 12 games) and Justin Smoak got his second hit of the season. A single in the third on which Tulowitzki was thrown out trying to score from second base.
Smoak struck out in his only other at-bat and drew a pair of walks, and those two results have pretty much been the story of his season.
The big switch-hitter has taken much more than his fair share of heat, as every at-bat he’s had that hasn’t resulted in a hit has resulted in a strikeout, and 2-for-14 with 12 Ks doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
A .143 batting average isn’t pretty, to be sure, but Smoak has augmented that with seven walks and he’s also been hit by a pitch, so his on-base percentage is a tasty .455, which leads the team. Granted, he’s only had 22 plate appearances to Jose Bautista’s 64, so Bautista’s .453 OBP definitely carries more weight, but Smoak hasn’t exactly been chopped liver.
Even with a terrible batting average and no slugging to speak of (yet), a guy who is getting on base 45 per cent of the time is helping his team a great deal. It was a pinch-hit walk by Smoak that helped to kick-start the Blue Jays’ four-run, eighth-inning rally Monday afternoon in Boston, and one of Smoak’s walks on Tuesday night helped to load the bases in the second inning, leading to Ryan Goins’ RBI groundout that opened the scoring.
Of Smoak’s seven walks so far this season, four of them have been part of a run-scoring inning.
There’s been a perversion over the years of the whole idea of “Moneyball,” with many people continuing to believe to this day that it suggests the goal of hitters should be going to the plate looking to take a walk. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, Moneyball is about taking advantage of inefficiencies in the market, and OBP was one of those at the time, but more to the point, no one wants a hitter to go to the plate trying to walk.
What is beneficial, though, is for a hitter to go up to the plate looking to hit the ball hard, and to not swing at pitches that aren’t strikes, nor ones that he can’t handle (until he gets to two strikes – then you have to swing at strikes you might not love). That approach will lead to walks, and walks tend to be the glue that helps put big innings together.
Smoak is a “three-true-outcome” kind of hitter, which is to say that a great deal of his plate appearances will result in walks, strikeouts or home runs.
As a Blue Jay, he’s come to the plate 312 times and has hit 18 home runs, has walked 36 times and has struck out 98. That’s certainly a lot of strikeouts, and there’s no question that Smoak strikes out more than you’d want, but he hits the ball far – his isolated power (SLG minus AVG) of .244 last year would have ranked 13th in the majors if he’d had enough plate appearances to qualify – and he takes his share of walks.
Smoak is never going to hit for average – he’s a .224 career hitter – but his batting average will most certainly climb from the .143 at which it currently sits, and even when he’s not hitting, he’s helping by being a tough out.
Right now, as crazy as it seems, no Toronto Blue Jay is tougher to get out than Smoak.