Justin Smoak is on a roll in September, seemingly out of nowhere. He has performed like the first basemen he teased us fans into imagining he could (or would) be after his strong start last season. I want to believe Smoak's September success is more than a mirage, maybe even proof that his altered swing is working out.
I went and broke down Smoak's batted ball data for each month this season. I noticed his BABIP is easily the highest in September out of all his months, and sometimes BABIP suggests good or bad luck in limited sample sizes. However, based on the batted ball data I present in the following chart, there is much more than luck involved with Smoak's surge:
To be clear, each bar represents 100% of Smoak's at-bats in a month. Each section represents a rate, not a raw number. This allows for more direct comparisons because Smoak's plate appearances have fluctuated enough to make raw numbers tougher to eyeball and glean some meanings out of.
Smoak's batted ball profile is dramatically different in September when compared to all other months. He is in the process of posting his lowest (by far) strikeout and infield fly (i.e. pop-up) rates of the season, as well as his highest line drive and home run rates. Simply put, Smoak is hitting the ball more frequently, and also hitting the ball harder with much more regularity. Hitting the ball harder and more often is a good recipe for better results.
The bigger question at hand is if Smoak's September is a sign that he has figured something out heading into next year. Can he sustain this September production?
Statistically speaking, the verdict has to be inconclusive but promising. The sample size is too small to draw firm conclusions. With that said, I believe it is noteworthy that so many of Smoak's numbers moved in positive directions a drastic amount. The problem with small sample sizes is that they have large margins for error, but huge shifts cannot be ignored. Just because the statistics cannot offer firm conclusions does not mean they offer no conclusions.
Justin Smoak's swing looks different. His results look different. The reason scouts and GMs get paid money is because they are the ones that interpret all this hazy information to draw conclusions. I am still skeptical that Smoak has turned a corner, but I was ready to give up on him three weeks ago. I am convinced a revival would look pretty much exactly like Smoak's September, and his altered swing gives me a plausible cause for different results that can be sustained. His September has changed my outlook on him.
My hypothetical Mariners offseason plan will be revealed after the World Series is over, but finding a solid first basemen is a priority. Some version of this September Justin Smoak could be more than good enough for the 2013 Mariners to contend.