After a start to his career that could politely be described as unimpressive, Dominic Smith has exploded offensively with a .315/.404/.567 line over 146 plate appearances and a 158 wRC+ that ranks eleventh in the majors among hitters with at least 140 plate appearances this year. He started out so hot, I had to explore where all this was coming from all the way back in May and he’s only gotten better since.
The sample size is certainly still on the small side, but it’s increasing faster now that he is demanding a greater lineup presence. And it’s time to start asking the question: is Dom Smith good?
Less than a month removed from his 24th birthday—and six months removed from diagnosis and treatment of his sleep apnea, a sleep disorder with wide-ranging health effects—Smith is starting to show all the signs of a true adjustment to the challenges of major league play. Always a slow adapter to each promotion in the minors, it was a reasonable assumption that he would take his time settling in to the highest level of all, but after two seasons of legitimately atrocious play on both sides of the ball, patience had understandably run out.
Smith is finding success in several different regards that suggest he is doing more than scraping by on lucky bloops and favorable matchups. His peripherals—a walk rate of nearly 13% and a strikeout rate of 22%—are the best of his major league career by a wide margin and bear a much closer resemblance to the high-contact hitter he was in the minors. He has largely reversed the free-swinging ways that got him into trouble early in his career, with a huge drop in out of zone swings and an overall increase in contact rate.
And despite the adjust in approach, Smith is actually hitting for more power this season than when he was attempting to sell out on every swing. This probably has as much to do with the changes in the baseballs as any other factor, but he is taking full advantage of the new home run reality by picking his pitches better and making solid contact to all fields, one of the trademarks of his most successful minor league stretches and something hitting coach Chili Davis is a big believer in.
The .376 batting average on balls in play is definitely the sticking point. A player with poor speed is going to really struggle to keep up a number like that, although I said the same back in May when he was at .387. It’s still true that that number will regress, although his all-around improvements at the plate mean that his regression will be less severe. And his ability to comfortably hit to the opposite field means teams are less able to utilize the shift to drive his BABIP further down.
Without being able to read the future, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this Dominic Smith, with this hitting coach and this baseball, is indeed good. He’s even managing to appear to the naked eye to be a reasonably acceptable left fielder. He may not put up an MVP-like 1.009 OPS forever, but he looks very much like a .280/.360/.480 kind of hitter, and that will play on any team in the league. What team that might be remains to be seen, but with his positional flexibility and low salary, the Mets have every reason to keep him around.