Toronto Blue Jays: All-Star Justin Smoak the real deal or just smoke and mirrors?

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 21: Justin Smoak
ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 21: Justin Smoak /

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman and soon-to-be All-Star Justin Smoak is in the middle of a career year. The unexpected performance is certainly worthy of praise. One must wonder though, is he the real deal or is it all just smoke and mirrors?

Last year, another Blue Jays All-Star had an amazing first half. Outfielder Michael Saunders slashed .293/.372/.551 before the break. He also belted 16 home runs while adding another 25 doubles. Saunders did still strike out at a very high rate with 92 in his first 344 plate appearances. Still, with all the power he displayed and the other great numbers, it was acceptable.

The second half was not nearly as kind to Saunders. After the All-Star Game, Saunders slashed .178/.282/.357. He would add eight more home runs before the season ended along with another seven doubles. September was an especially rough month for him. In the 75 trips to the plate to finish up the regular season, Saunders hit only .149 with a single home run.

Based on Smoak’s career numbers, it’s possible he suffers the same second half decline Saunders did. Both actually have very close career batting lines with Smoak’s biggest advantage being slightly more power. Expecting Smoak to fall back down to earth in the second half is fair. The bigger unknown is whether he crashes hard or sustains a softer landing.

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The Blue Jays have to consider themselves lucky with the kind of production Smoak has provided. He’s having a far better year than former first baseman Edwin Encarnacion is with the Cleveland Indians. At a fraction of the cost, Smoak has smoked the baseball with far more authority than designated hitter Kendrys Morales.

After his first 290 plate appearances, Smoak has smacked a career-high 21 home runs. He has also delivered an outstanding .296/.362/.581 batting line which far exceeds his career totals. At 30, it’s rather unusual for someone to spike up this high and maintain it all year. While we can expect Smoak to continue hitting well, at least a slight decline is reasonable.

Smoak’s career numbers in the first half certainly suggest a slump is on the way. He has slashed only .187/.252/.334 in the month of July over 485 plate appearances. He hasn’t been much better in August, but has put up some very good career numbers in the month of September. His overall numbers are better in the first three months than the last as well, but not by a significant margin.

This season has been statistical outlier for Smoak. He’s hitting out of his mind and performing far better than anyone could have imagined. His incredibly hot June, which includes a .333/.396/.656 after 101 plate appearances, is unlikely to continue into next month. However, a sharp decline is not inevitable.

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Instead, Smoak may slowly see his batting average drop. After all, even including this season’s fantastic performance, Smoak is a career .230 hitter who has never finished the year hitting above .238. It would take a horrid second half to fall to those numbers.

Regardless of what Smoak does in the second half, the 2017 campaign has been incredible. Even if it is just smoke and mirrors, this is one great illusion Smoak has put on display.