Similar to last season, the Seattle Mariners' offense has struggled to produce runs. Miguel Olivo is currently hitting in the cleanup spot and Ryan Langerhans, Adam Kennedy and Milton Bradley all hit in the third spot this week. It is not a surprise then that the club ranks 28th in OPS, 29th in ISO and 27th in wOBA.
With the help of Ichiro, Justin Smoak is responsible for producing enough offense to support the Mariners pitching staff and keeping the Mariners afloat in the AL West at 15-17 record. Last night was no different, with Smoak going 3 for 4 with a home run. Batting fifth in the lineup, the switch-hitting first baseman leads the Mariners in almost every offensive category besides stolen bases.
He has posted an impressive slash line of .315/.410/.573 in 105 plate appearances with five home runs and he is third in baseball with wRC+ and wOBA. Smoak (wRC+ of 178) has produced 78 percent more runs than the league average and his wOBA of .423 ranks behind only Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera.
So what has Smoak done to dramatically change his fortunes from last season?
Smoak has chased fewer pitches out of the strike zone (a drop of 27.1 percent to 23.9 percent) and as a result he has seen walk rate increase from 11.6 percent to 14.3 percent and his strikeout rate dip from 26.1 percent to 23.6.
Smoak's fly ball percentage as increased by three percentage points from last season, but most importantly he has significantly decreased the number of infield fly balls and that has resulted in the increase of his HR/FB ratio.
Smoak has benefited from a BABIP of .359 and this suggests that he will not continue hitting above .300 for the entirety of 2011 and the lack of line drives may be a problem. Pitchers will pitch carefully to him for the rest of the season because of the lack of protection in the lineup, but Smoak has proved that the Cliff Lee trade will benefit the Mariners for many years to come.